When did you first start rapping?
I wrote my first song in 1989; in 1991 I got more serious. Did my first guest performance in 1992 and recorded my first song in 1994.
Where did you record in ‘94?
Kelron, he’s kind of like the forefather of Nextraterrestrials he had the first sampler we ever used. He hooked us up with Dylan who got us into recording, there are a couple of demos floating around. [At the time] I wanted to explore. In the early days of my career I recorded “Psychokinetic Forces” used a Jeru sample, had 3 versions: part I, II and II. Next level, abstracty, Pharaoh Monche type of stuff. I just kept rapping, my brother Conspiracy and I made tracks, recorded separately, and we recorded crew tracks, crazy rap energy. It was kind of like Wu Tang back then. Different groups, combinations.
Why don’t people roll in crews anymore?
There’s way less groups. Pure egomania, selfishness. I love Wu Tang. They have separated and come together, done other projects. G Unit was kind of a strong crew a year ago, they seemed pretty close knit and they were always working with each other, but most crews are a lot of individuals. People come together here and there, but you know there are not nearly as many crew tracks as there used to be. You used to hear a crew track like every month. It’s about the money, not wanting to do what L.O.N.S. did, split it into 3. There was Puff Daddy’s crew, Boyz N Da Hood where they wanted to do the same thing. They came together for an album, some of them left, some of them did solos–TI was in it, Little Wing was in it (or maybe he wasn’t). The unity isn’t there in the same way; it’s a different generation, different values, and morals.
How is Toronto’s rap scene? Are people sheltered? Are there factions? Mainstream guys vs. underground guys?
There is most of that…it’s starting to not be so segregated. There are so many different styles and levels. You’ve got underground cats, street cats, fake hustlers, real hustlers, abstract lyricists, spoken work all kinds. For 5 years I did my open mic every week basically and you’d have 20 cats, 3 of them sound alike, but then everyone else is on different levels. It’s hard to connect because people are rhyming on different levels. It was hard for me to connect to people because I was never rhyming like most people and I’d want to connect, but then it’s like: ‘shit, what’s it going to sound like?’ Sometimes you just don’t make the connection. But, I’ve done some collaborations. It is the screw-face capital, there’s a reason for it, and it doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s slowly thawing, but people still hate on each other a little. A little over critical, not very supportive.
It’s probably more cut throat.
Yeah. For nothing. No one’s a millionaire, Maestro’s not a millionaire, Kardinal is not a millionaire as far as I know–not to dis these guys, these guys are my heroes. It’s not like we’re fighting over something. In the states, the guys at the top of the game, the ones who get into beefs, are delusional enough to think it’s worth risking all that money and shit over something petty. [In Toronto] people risk [everything] nothing. Toronto’s good though, no matter how much crusty hate there is, at its heart is the new young blood of hip hop.
Do you think that too many artists in Toronto are trying to sound like they’re from the states?
Some of them do. Some them just don’t know who they are at all in the first place. It’s just like a confusing Canadian-American-Caribbean identity crisis. ‘Cause you know, what is the Canadian hip hop identity?
Toronto is the Screw-Face capital…what are the good things?
When things get aligned in this city, it’ll be just as good as L.A., New York, Atlanta. Toronto will be one of the greatest musical cities in the world, I constantly say it’s world class. We’ve got everything you really need to sustain a career here: 3 and a half million people, there’s radio, television, different magazines; it has everything you need here. And still, Kardinal’s last album comes out, I don’t think it had across the board support. In the states, especially the boroughs–if you’re from Brooklyn and come out with some local rap, everyone’s like ‘yeahhhh!’ this guy, this song right now! This fuckin’ sticker, this poster…this rapper. Toronto rarely gets that kind of unanimous support, but I’m working on it, I just gotta write the right song, enough people know me that I think I could do it now.
Do you think you can make an album that everyone will like?
I think I can get to a universal good as long as I don’t treat my audience like idiots and dumb myself way, way down. I just think it’s really about good song writing, finding a nice balance, choose the right words, have the right music. Just present it properly.
So there needs to be a balance between good production and lyrics?
Hell yeah! I think it’s achievable and I think that some of the best rappers that put out sub par material, they just really underestimated what they could do. Like with that “Change Clothes and Go” single on Jay Z’s Black album, I’m like: ‘dude! This is the album that you said was your going away album? You could do anything! You could put out any beat and people would probably fuckin’ eat it up. Why would you play it so safe with your first single?’ –Really basic Neptunes production.
Are albums stronger with one producer? One concept?
I think what it comes down to is collective vision. If the producers and emcees are thinking in the same way. There have been some albums where a variety of different beats have worked. And then sometimes I think you get a producer and they try to do a whole project. Say the last Gangstarr album, the Ownerz, I thought it was horrible. ‘This is Premier? Man, Hard To Earn was amazing. You ran out of steam, you’re bitching at hip hop?’ He was really in a bad place then. ‘I expect better from you, you could do better.’ I critical on certain cats I love.
I heard some joints on…uh…
Yeah, mind blowing, phenomenal, he’s back. I was outright dissing him when the Ownerz came out, this is not the fuckin’ Jeru the Damaja classic, group home classic beats. I know those beats. You could do better. Yo, why is your shit from 9 years ago better than what you’re doing now?
The stuff on Christina Aguilera is Premier, but different Premier…
Different Premier, like Quincy Jonesish pop producer.
Yeah, so then why are Scott Storch and the Neptunes so popular?
Scott Storch knows how to play the game for sure. He produced a bunch of Paris Hilton records. He’s in it for business. I know he was playing with Dre back in the day, he’s a musician, he’s a talented producer, but at the same time, some of his productions are just…unacceptable. Once and a while he’ll come up with a pretty dope beat–those are the frustrating cats, the ones that can sell out one beat and then make a fuckin’ classic the next.
What about samples/breakbeats vs. synths?
I like it all man. I mean, I’m open to anything that’s executed right. Some of the Neptunes synth stuff is really amazing with Kelis, on the first album. I just heard the new Clipse album and they got some synth stuff on there that’s fuckin’ mind blowing. I wasn’t sure whether they had totally run out of steam or not, but like…no, they still know what they’re doing.
Would you ever work with the Neptunes?
I would drop everything in the world to make that happen.
Is there anyone you wouldn’t work with?
Uh…just super, super wack cats. I can’t think of anyone. I don’t know…Mase? But Mase isn’t even that bad of a song-writer, it’s just he’s a weird person right now, “the gangster pastor.”
Haha, “gangster pastor”…I don’t know about Diddy…
Diddy is interesting because I read this interview in Vibe once and he’s like: ‘I don’t really do anything, I just make it hot.’ He doesn’t rap, he doesn’t produce, he just comes in and fucks with it and then puts his name on it.
It’s “Bad Boy” now.
Yeah, it’s the Bad Boy brand. He was one of the first people to do it. I remember the first Bad Boy ad in 1992. He was a pioneer in a certain sense–which I envy– and he’s a hard worker. I was reading a Pharaoh Monche interview and he was talking about writing that song for Puff Daddy’s new album and he was like: ‘I can’t believe how long this guy has been in the industry and he just does not sleep, he still works this hard.’ What can you say to that?
I’m at the point where I try to get as much information on someone; I’ve met a lot of these rappers and had mostly good experiences with them. Nobody’s all good or all bad, people just want to plug rappers into…‘oh he’s gangster, he’s a positive rapper’–a Mos Def, Talib Kweli. I’ve seen some negative moments with Talib Kweli and I’ve seen some positive moments with 50 cent. Nothing is what it seems in this fucking crazy rap shit.
What happened with Talib?
At the time he had a bit of a conflict with Pound Magazine because Pound published an editorial that said ‘why can we get time with Jay Z and Nas, but we can’t get time with Common Sense Talib Kweli and Mos Def?’ Talib Kweli didn’t like it, so I went, chilled with him and when he found out I was from that magazine, it turned really awkward, he almost cancelled the interview and walked out on me. I met 50 cent once and he was so cool. I was an extra in his movie, I gave him Beautiful Mutant–I gave him that funky abstract shit, that won’t catch his ear as much.
Promotion, what do you do?
Nothing. Not enough, my weakest link. I just don’t wake up in the morning hustle, hustle, hustle. My ego was gassed when I was younger; it’s taken a decade for it to deflate. People told us…you guys are Canada’s Organized Konfusion…you’re like Del, Aceyalone; I’ve been compared to all my favorite rappers. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I should be on Def Jux, I’d be a millionaire.
Have you sent them material?
Oh yeah! I’ve had contact with people at Def Jux, just the timing wasn’t right. They’ve got my stuff…a couple of years ago I was always staying with El P and Cannibal Ox whenever I went to New York. Those guys are genuine friends. Around 2001 El-P pulled out the SBU tape and was like ‘I love this fucking album.’ He told me when things are right, we’ll get something popping. The thing is, I wasn’t handling my business right, I could never put all the blame on them. By the time I learned what I needed to know, Def Jux had already signed 5 or 6 guys, people were doing their second and third projects…just didn’t have time. That’s why Mindbender isn’t on Def Jux. I could make a fucking classic man. I’ve written verses just for them.
Do you have any new material coming out?
I have an acapella album I’m about to release. There’s nothing in hip hop history like it, I’ve been sitting on it for like 4 years. It’s really hard to describe. Sometimes it’s straight raps, sometimes jazz lyricism, it has segments between the songs–kind of like a movie. It’s called “The Musical Rhythm Showcase.”
I’m planning a new album…it’s going to be a double album, that’s all I’ll say. It’s going to be a really enormous project that I hope will encompass the scope of Canadian hip hop history. It’s going to have a bunch of guests with a theme from a classic double album that already exists in hip hop: Tupac “All Eyez on Me” I’m making the Mindbender version. It’s called “All Minds on Me.” I want to have it out by next summer.
What are some of your most positive rap memories?
Feb 2006, free entrance to a Wu-tang show…all access backstage. I got to chill with RZA, I told him ‘I have been waiting my life for this very moment’ I didn’t give a fuck, I’m so humble, I’m so happy, I want to do more in life, but a part of me was like ‘I’ve met the RZA, I can die happy’…he was way more cool than you could ever imagine, he was quiet and just pure kung fu master. Method man was joking around with me, I was going to get a picture with Ghostface, but he had to run off. He comes running back two minutes later he was like ‘yo where’s is that dude who wanted the picture?’—The little kid in me was like ‘Oh my god Ghostface remembered!’
I’ve met tons of my favorite rappers, Vast Aire, El P, Lif, and Aceyalone. I was performing at the show where Mf Doom got punched out by his hype man. It was a crazy show, it was like Atmosphere, Sciencez of Life, Big Jus, El P, Afu Ra, Guru was in the crowd…
Why did he get punched?
They were drunk, I mean fucking wasted. I wanted to say hi to Doom, introduce myself to everyone. I see doom and he’s just fucking wavering, he couldn’t even stand right before he went on stage. I was like ‘you are fucking wasted, you won’t even remember.’ So he goes on stage, him and his hype man do like 3 songs (and this was right at the beginning of Operation Doomsday), and his hype man just starts pushing him back and forth and then Megalon just goes BAM! Punches him in the face, pushes him down in the crowd, pushed a monitor on top of him. Everyone is wondering what the fuck is going on? MF Doom is getting his ass beat and then he pops up his mask was off and his face was all bumpy, yelled something and ran out the club. C-Ray Walz comes on next like ‘funny joke eh? Joke?’ and half the people were like that was not a joke, MF Doom just got his ass kicked.
Any bad memories?
Just when rappers aren’t as cool as you want them to be, but I’ve been caught on bad days myself where I’ve given that vibe…if you want to pick one (I really like his music), but Black Thought. He’s really introverted and not very friendly. I respect him highly, but…it could have been nicer.
Shouts to: Conspiracy, Eternia, all people in Nextra, Edmonton, Canadian hip hop I thought we were gonna blow up with Choclair’s first album came out. We gotta smash these people in the head the same way I got smashed in the head when I heard “Straight Outta Compton.” I’ll never forget, my friend put headphones on me and said peep this—“Straight Outta Compton” just destroyed my mental universe, like ‘oh my god can you even say that on a record?’ What is a Compton? We gotta do that to them. Shit’s dope up here. Birdapres, Dj Moves, Max Prime…so many levels, Marvel, Tara Chase, Theology 3…I think I get slept on…just so many. Way beyond hip hop too. Canada has so much talent it’s stupid. So all you Canadians, everyone who ever met me, you know I fuckin’ love you, I don’t gotta say your name, I love you, you rock!