She’s been making music and history since the early eighties and whether you know her as a hip hop or house music diva, she’s always been a genre-busting innovator with an unparalleled pedigree. She got her start in racially polarized Chicago as a punk rocking individualist whose socially integrating presence at early Frankie Knuckles' helmed Warehouse parties, led to her current vice presidency at the label that started it all TRAX RECORDS. Rachael Cain or Screamin’ Rachael more popularly, has made it her business to tear down the walls of convention while taking her place among the underground’s founding elite. On the occasion of the label’s debut CD release TRAX RECORDS: 20th ANNIVERSARY + NEXT GENERATION (June 2004), we got 5-Answers from this veteran vixen on her experiences in the rough and tumble world of music while digging deep for the juice on her personal mentors – Afrika Bambaataa, Larry Sherman and Jesse Saunders. She also reveals her big screen dreams of an in-depth celluloid look into her-story, as well as a look down the road for what’s next from this nearly quarter century old label. Let’s get started…
1. As a reformed punk rocker, music innovator, artist and now label Vice President, you have had a long and diverse journey through life. Take us inside the world of Screamin' Rachael – from the cradle to the stage – and tell us how you got here with lots of juicy details. (Any hints on how you got the name?)
Screamin' Rachael: Going from Punk Rocker to label President has been an excellent journey! By the way, I still consider myself Punk, [which] by my definition [means] being an individual! I grew up at a time when Industrial and hard core, were peaking in Chicago and I was lucky to have friends in bands like Ministry, KMFDM and Die Warzau. These influences are the reason House Music sounds so different and diverse. I still work with Van fromDie Warzau on all my music, new music at TRAX and Jim from the band helped write “Sister Sister,” which is featured on my up coming album, EXTACY.
Starting from the cradle, I came from a broken home. My mom was a feminist who had an interesting collection of friends: gay, hippy, black… our house was open to all. My dad disapproved and that was why he left when I was 6 months old. [My mom] was beautiful – a “Mob Doll,” and all my ‘uncles' as she called them were on a first-name-only basis with me because as I found out later, they were heavy hitters. Neither of my parents had much time for me and unfortunately, they both died early. I was raised by my Grandma… she was my rock! She called me her golden child, and reminded me every day that I could be anything I wanted to be in life. I lived in a make believe world, with my own private stage – all singing, acting, dancing, creating art, and writing. I made some of my most important life decisions by the time I was 6. My role models to this day are Tinkerbelle and Hello Kitty. I promised myself I would never become a grown up or grow old, and would always believe in miracles and magic – like my favorite pixie! As to Hello Kitty, she is perfectly Zen. All the characters in her world are different, but they all get along and live in one house, so to speak. Kitty's world is my idea of the perfect House Nation.
[On becoming Screamin' Rachael,] I remember going to an audition for a slam band [and] the guys said, “absolutely no chick singers” without even hearing me! My manager Jay B. Ross (AKA the Rappin' Lawyer)said, “This is no chick singer. You gotta hear her. I mean, just look at her – she's Screamin'!” And I was, and will always be Screamin'! Screamin' is an attitude!
2. Just as in New York, the Chicago dance scene was born out of disenfranchised segments of the community coming together, creating new art forms and dealing with many highs and lows on the way to success. Reveal some of the greatest triumphs and tragedies you've experienced and how you've overcome some of the harder parts.
SR: Chicago is a beautiful city, but definitely was a segregated and conservative one in the 80's. It was always about north side – white people and Southside – black people. Gay parties, separated from straight parties. I did not grow up with prejudice so I didn't feel it. House music really brought the city together. One of the great tragedy's that hit home was when my warehouse party was picketed because I worked with black talent and DJs. That was at the same time that Jesse Saunders, Vince Lawrence and I started working together on recording “Fantasy.” A horrible flyer was attached to the front door (of Space Place). The so-called bands that were marching outside called themselves Punk, but they were nothing but assholes! The party went on, none of us gave a damn and I told them to fuck off!
Then, a couple months later there was a major raid. On that very night, a black kid I didn't know told me that a DJ named Frankie Knuckles was mixing my record at the Warehouse. I didn't even know what the term mixing meant.
When I walked into the party and saw the way the people were moved and the excitement in the air my life was changed forever. Things happened quickly from that point on. I soon meet Larry Sherman at the Pressing Plant and then Ron Hardy at the Music Box. [I] felt totally in my element. Ron's style was rawer than Frankie's and his scene was a lot more cutting edge. Also, his crowd was very mixed and anything goes. You didn't know who was straight or gay and no one cared – they just danced! Ron would play Afrika Bambaataa, new wave stuff like “Welcome to the Pleasure Dome” and every week, people like Marshall Jefferson, Adonis, Larry Sherman, me and the House posse brought reel to reel tapes, cassettes, vinyl, whatever, and if the music was cool, Ron broke it right then! Our whole world was about the newest jam, the awesome Dub; we lived for the latest sound! Radio was incredible; there was The Hot Mix 5 and Farley [Funkin Keith], which was the start of DJ culture. Those amazing days were magic, we knew the sound would never die, we knew that our music had changed the world forever!
I am blessed by God because I feel the magic of Trax everyday of my life! The uplifting love that I get from the music has seen me through every hard time and tragedy that has come my way. I survived two major scandals in the 90's [fumes from the fire of the original Party Monster, Michael Alig and the mysterious murders of her married, society paramour and his wife] and last year I lost my very dearest friend to what was said to be suicide. On the other hand, I just saved my friend Lewis' life, I have lived my dreams, experienced parties that are legend and can call some of the most incredible creative talents in the world my friends! House music is my life, so I decided to tell the story. I just finished my screenplay “Gotta Have House” and I plan to begin filming in several months with an incredible director from Chicago, Christopher Adams.
3. Your peers include many of the most influential members of dance / club culture from Kevin Saunderson, Farley “Jackmaster” Funk and Frankie Knuckles to Willie Ninja, Afrika Bambaataa and Larry Sherman. What are some of the best things you learned from them and care to dish some interesting details about them that have never been told?
SR: All of those people are heroes to me – though they are definitely not all saints, and neither am I! I could write about each one of them for hours and I will, the book is coming!
When it comes to House music, the true godfather is Larry Sherman. He is one of the most controversial people you will ever meet. He is as eccentric as it gets, but he is a genius and he developed the world's premiere House catalogue. Larry has the best ears in the business and decides on a track within the first 15 seconds. Larry is tough. I have seen strong artists – including myself, break down in front of him. He tells people whatever he feels at the time. Larry can break a person down, if you let him. Thankfully, these days we balance each other out. Trax survived twenty years on vinyl and licensing. This is the first time we have pressed CDs! He forced me to be strong, and I taught him to believe in his label.
I have to mention Sylvia Robinson because she is the woman who influenced my path. This is the lady behind the greatest Hip Hop label, ever Sugarhill. She is a great songwriter, singer, performer and an amazing business woman. She taught me I could do it all, even in a male dominated business. When I got the chance to work with her, I decided right then and there that one day I would run a label that would be the premier House music label. I was not going to let all of the greatest artists in House be replaced by their commercial shadows. Many people believe the Hip Hop genre is all about Russell Simmons. I met Russell and he influenced me too, because he took things to the next business level. I don't think the best Hip Hop artists got the credit that they deserve, I hope to help to change that.
Without a doubt, on the spiritual level, no one has influenced me as much as Afrika Bambaataa. He is the real leader and foundation of Hip Hop, and The Universal Zulu Nation. I like to think that The House Nation has learned a lot through his example. Bambaataa taught me about peace and unity through music and most important of all, not to follow the dark forces that try to suck the life force out of our true culture. Lots of people are afraid of Bambaataa, he has a large imposing presence. He told me that he never smiles in pictures for that reason. In truth, he is a big teddy bear, and loving father to those in his universal family. Never cross him, though or God help you…
4. As the lines between house and hip hop continue to blur, do you think that's a good or bad thing in light of your historic collaborations with innovators in both cultures since day one?
SR: It's interesting that you asked this question. It's been noted in several books, that Afrika Bambaataa and I did the first Hip House Collaboration in 1987 when Prince Ikey Cof Soulsonic Force and I rapped on my cut “Fun With Bad Boys.” In fact, in 85' Afrika Islam put scratching on my house cut “My Main Main”, and that was always natural to me. I don't believe in division lines or boundaries! Way back then, we knew it was a very natural progression. In fact, for a time Hip House blew up with Fast Eddie, Kool Rocksteady, Tyree Cooper, Doug Lazy and the Jungle Brothers etc. It is accepted now.
We were just ahead of our time, because too many people held on to stereotypes saying Hip Hop was macho and House was gay! Stupid bullshit! Everyone is talking about P Diddy's new House album and I am happy about that. I invite him to visit the source at TRAX! Trax has some great new Hip House and cool classics, all ready to go!
I hope to work with all of my pals… great MC's, like Wildstyle of Crucial Conflict, Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Melle Mel. I am currently working with Jah Rista and Soundmaster T at the Trax studio. This movement is a great thing! It takes real skills to drop rhymes on a house track! Also, we are about a positive message and having fun. Gangster is out, profanity is a waste of breath in most cases and women are not bitches or hos! Hip House is about having fun, and that is what the world needs a lot more of right now.
5. How did the Trax family get reunited to produce this pivotal collection? What's coming up from the label in the new millennium?
SR: Everything in life is about timing, and I believe that the best thing that has happened in my life so far was reuniting the Trax Family for TRAX THE NEXT GENERATION. If you are in tune with the world, sometimes you can feel the power that surrounds you. In this case, it really is all about the power of love, for the music, the culture and the small posse of original friends who started it all. Just Look at us, we finally have CD's available everywhere, Maurice Joshua won the remix Grammy for 2004. I just got an email showing my cut “Don't Make Me Lonely” which is featured on the album, at #1 on WMPH with 59 spins a week. Larry is thrilled that he and I can now concentrate strictly on the music and leave the business details to CASABLANCA. We have so much in the works.
Jeri Mc Allister, Joe Smooth, Billy The Kid, Gene Hunt and the entire crew are all preparing for our tour! At the 99th hour, Farley Jackmaster Funk walked in with the final smash that I needed to complete my album EXTACY, which drops in August. Paul Johnson's new album will follow shortly after. Look out for a new sound in the making “Big Room House” coined by Billy The Kid. TRAX RECORDS is finally ready to take House Music into everyone's home.
My new dream is to win an Academy Award, for [my film] GOTTA HAVE HOUSE. I hope to win a Grammy, and Hey, maybe even some kind of House Music Award, if the committee ever calls us! My message is dare to dream and miracles can happen, just be ready when it's your turn.