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Rae & Christian

Mark Rae and Steve Christian, known simply as Rae & Christian, are the North of England's ambassadors of all things hip hop. In the mid-'90s, following a stint managing Manchester's successful Fat City record emporium (since turned label), Mark Rae felt ready to create his own music. In '95 he formed Grand Central Records as a vehicle for his productions. Through his connections at Fat City, Rae started signing other Manchester-based artists, notably Aim and the Funky Fresh Crew. It wasn't long before Rae started looking beyond Manchester's borders for additional material. On a trip to New York, he unearthed Tony D, whose Central J. Parlay EP became Grand Central's first release. Grand Central is now firmly established as the U.K.'s premier hip hop and downtempo imprint, with regular contributors Riton, Finga Thing, Andy Votel (XL), Mr. Scruff (Ninja Tune), and Only Child on the roster.

Steve Christian, while equally as talented, shuns media attention, and as such is extremely hard to write about. As a duo, Rae & Christian catapulted into the limelight with their '98 debut album, Northern Sulphuric Soul. Featuring the vocal talents of NYC's Jeru The Damaja, hip hop legends The Jungle Brothers, New Jersey's JZ, and Glasgow's Texas, the album was a huge success in the U.K. and the States, establishing Rae & Christian as the North of England's new soul brothers. Following the release of Northern Sulphuric Soul, the duo were snapped up by artists such as Faze Action (Nuphonic), Lamb, Moby, and Eagle Eye Cherry (among others) for their remixing abilities.

Sleepwalking, Rae & Christian's sophomore effort, is more refined and musical than their freshman release. The vocal slant has also shifted. This time, the duo enlists Bobby Womack for his fabulous voice on "Get A Life" and "Wake Up Everybody," Kate Rogers for her soft pillowed tones on "Not Just Anybody," and L.A. hip hop crew The Pharcyde for their fiery lyrics on "Let It Go" and the featured track, "It Ain't Nothing Like." The album displays a remarkable breadth, that encompassing elements of dub, downtempo, hip hop, and soul. Released on their own label, the album is licensed to !K7 Records in the U.S. and exclusively distributed by Studio K7.

If you want to catch Rae & Christian in action, get yourself to the Grand Central weekly, Friends and Family (formerly Counter Culture) at the Roadhouse in Manchester. Residents Henry Smithson, Martin Brew, Aim, and Riton are joined by guests such as Geoff Barrow (Portishead), Qool Marv, and Ross Allen.