A rollercoaster ride is the best way to describe Rupee’s route to stardom.
A decade ago he was just another unknown art student hanging out on the block with his brethren. Today, he is a mighty musical force taking Barbadian beats to the masses.
His unique sound, which fuses all the best elements of soca, hip hop, reggae and dancehall has put him at the top of the charts both at home and in the States, and he will soon be making waves here in the UK with his debut single and album.
musicOMH caught up with one of the Caribbean’s biggest music stars for an insight into what makes him tick…
Rupee is a breath of fresh air. Not only does he pioneer an open-minded and diverse approach to music but he is one of the most humble and instantly likeable musicians your correspondent has ever had the pleasure to encounter. While dancehall stars like Buju Banton and Elephant Man court controversy with purposefully inflammatory lyrics, Rupee appears grounded and respectful of the power that his position brings.
“Man, anyone who knows me knows I strive for humility. I’m an imperfect man, I know that, but I just try to better myself as the days go by.”
“I’m an imperfect man, I know that, but I just try to better myself as the days go by.”
– Dancehall star Rupee shows an admirable humility – unlike many of his peers.
Fusion is the focus of Rupee’s music and his self-proclaimed vision is to take soca music to as wide an audience as possible. But with success comes the inevitable backlash. Purists have wasted no time in criticising the American influences so evident in tunes like the forthcoming UK single Tempted To Touch and have accused him of selling out his heritage to appeal to the mass market.
Rupee remains remarkably calm and focused in the face of these attacks, articulating his response without even the slightest hint of anger or annoyance. He is clearly a man on a mission.
“I’m a guy who likes to experiment. That’s what music needs to make it more palatable to the rest of world so they will eventually accept soca in its purist form. Look at what Sean Paul has done for dancehall and the roles of artists like Shaggy and Shabba Ranks in reggae being where it is now. I see the future. I know how to take criticism. I know that I am a soca artist.”
“I see the future. I know how to take criticism. I know that I am a soca artist.” – Rupee defends himself against those accusing him of watering down soca music.
This enviable clarity stems from years of hard work and also a strength of character born out of coping with absolute sadness. From the moment he won a national teen talent competition, singing a reggae version of Casey And Jojo‘s hit Lately, it became clear he had found his calling. By the time he was 24 he was ready to chuck in his well-paid graphic design job and gamble on a career in music.
“I needed to make a decision about how I wanted the rest of my life to be. I was singing in a well- established band at the time called Coalishun but all the rest of the band had day jobs and music was secondary. I came to the point when I wanted music to be my priority. It was a big step leaving my security. But I did it and I don’t have any regrets.”
The most pointed response Rupee can make to his critics is that his music is in fact perfectly representative of his heritage. Born to a black Bajan father and white German mother he was exposed to a wide array of influences from birth. His ability to fuse the best elements from both cultures is a talent inherent in his upbringing and a part of who he is.
“I go into schools and educate children on the perils of the disease… I think that’s definitely the line of work I could go into.”
– Rupee on how his life changed after seeing his parents die of AIDS.
It’s hard to look at this smiling, relaxed young man and believe that as little as five years ago he watched both his parents die of AIDS. His father tragically infected his mother but he again shows no trace of anger, just sadness, sympathy and a desire to channel the emotion behind that experience into his music and the charity work he does for the UN.
“Seeing my parents die of AIDS definitely changed me as a person and affected the direction I was headed in. Initially it was a tremendous blow, losing my mother and father. I felt I couldn’t go on but I turned the situation around for the positive and now I go into schools and educate children on the perils of the disease. After I’m done with music I think that’s definitely the line of work I could go into.”
His openness and sincerity puts you constantly at your ease even when discussing such solemn subjects. Soca music is the sound of carnival and that upbeat vibe seems to infiltrate Rupee’s spirit. He has been playing parties across London, as well as soaking up the vibe at Europe’s biggest street party.
“Notting Hill is blessed with the same vibe, the same energy as Carnival in Barbados. The good thing about Barbados is that you have palm trees and tropical weather but I love it here and I plan to bring all those missing elements to it. This music and vibe will take you as close as possible to paradise.”
Get ready to enjoy yourselves…