FEW FOLKS UNDER 50 hear the word Miami and think: fish! The number of Winter Music Conference attendees who share that notion can be counted on, well, one finger. His name is Mark Rae, and he is the U.K. DJ/producer who serves as one-half of famed underground Brit-hop duo Rae & Christian. The Mancunian has been in South Beach for days and has yet to spend any extended amount of time outdoors; his still-milky skin and squinting eyes tell the sunless tale. Preferring to work up new tracks in the cool calm of his curtained hotel room, the extremely unschmoozy Rae has only one appointment other than his conference gig: a hot date with a slippery, pointy-nosed creature (no, not a major label rep) later in the week. "I'm going to go blue marlin fishing on a big boat!" he pronounces with obvious relish. Not for him the endless rounds of poolside parties and kiss-kiss cocktails.
Soul brothers: Mark Rae (right) and Steve Christian.
I-Spy, Saturday, April 14
This kind of dedication to his work—and general aversion to the flashy side of the biz—has gotten him to quite a place indeed; Rae is not only at work with partner Steve Christian on the duo's third release, he's also developing solo stuff and nurturing the 11 artists on his label, Grand Central. So where's Christian then, you ask—already on the boat? Actually, he rarely travels for shows ("He's a family man," shrugs Rae). So the two become one on the road—that is, if you don't count the 10 other members (percussion, drums, double bass, hip-hop DJ, singer, rapper, keyboard player, saxophone, flute, and guitar) who fill the show out in a live setting.
1998's Northern Sulphuric Soul matched the pair's jazzy, downtempo take on classic hip-hop and soul with a multitude of left-field artists, from Brooklyn hell-raiser Jeru the Damaja to Sharleen Spiterri of Scottish college-rock darlings Texas. This year's follow-up, Sleepwalking, offers further guest-star wonders, from the Pharcyde to R&B legend Bobby Womack. How did that odd-couple pairing come about? "I rang him up," says Rae simply. "At the beginning, he was very abrasively American, as in 'How much money is in it for me and what's the deadline?' but then once he saw that we were white English guys and had this track record of doing good production, he really sort of warmed to it. Because I think more than anything he was a bit intrigued." Intriguing certainly describes the results: two soulful slow jams buoyed by the duo's smart, spare production. Other standouts include the haunting "Vai Viver a Vida," with throaty Brazilian songstress Tania Maria, and the falsetto funk of "Hold Us Down," featuring the Congos.
A label, two successful albums, remixes for the likes of Moby and Primal Scream—can a Volkswagen commercial be far behind? He wouldn't be averse to having his music used in ads, says Rae, with one caveat—"if it was for fishing products, like lures, or 'Catch bigger bass!'"