Introduce yourself and how readers might already know you?
I go by Azrael (formerly Azraelian, and even more formerly Azrael), from east Vancouver. Been making hip-hop music since around ’02, and people may recognize me from a release I’ve been on, shows I’ve played, mutual friends, or from working with a multitude of artists over the years, like Kaboom, Aalo Guha, Chadio, Josh Martinez, Birdapres, POS Crew, The Gumshoe Strut, Factor, The Phonograff, Aspire and Wundrkut, among others.
I find it impossible to believe Doldrums is your first solo CD. You’ve been rapping— you know, at least semi-professionally, in clubs and such — for how many years now?
Well, I was sneaking into the Piccadilly Pub at the old rap night there to get on stage when I was around 17 or 18, so a few years now. But yeah, it’s my first solo disc and it’s been a long time coming.
Here’s what I gathered from your discography: You recorded an album with Cle and Aalo Guha under the group name Castheadwork; you joined POS crew and recorded Buckslice; you are on two Imaginations Treetrunk compilations; you co-created Tapwater with Aspire and put out another album; then you and Chadio released an album under the name Quoted Motives; plus you were in what I called a Canadian super-group when I first heard them, This Dance Dance Revolution Will Not Be Televised (and there’s another album there); and then you recorded the 46 Middles album under the name 50 Fingers with Gumshoe Strut, Kaboom, Chadio and Factor. Finally, you made a solo debut — Bangers and Mash, the Azrael version — that was sort of a download only promotional thing for Get Grounded TV. But Doldrums, you say, is your first solo CD… Did it not occur to you before to put out an album with just your name on it?
I’d have to say yes and no. Starting out, when we made Castheadwork it was just about making songs, I mean, we were young too, and just having fun. And the other group albums I’ve been involved in kind of happened sporadically and whimsically. Like the 50 Fingers album we recorded in two sessions (it would have been an EP if our Red Deer show didn’t get cancelled), or the Kitchen Sink album we recorded in two weeks (give or take).
And that’s my comfort zone musically. I like to do things at the drop of a dime, very spontaneously, which is kind of weird because I’m pretty calculated with everything else. The thing is — and any artist who isn’t a one-man-band will attest to this — timing is key. It has to make sense at the time for everybody involved. I think Guha and I shared a mutual patience with this project which is great because he’s a ridiculously talented producer to work with and he put a lot of work into the album. I tried to start making it a couple years ago, but wasn’t satisfied with what I came up with. So it got put on the backburner.
But it’s not like I haven’t recorded anything solo before this. It was just ideal timing with Guha not being obligated to other projects, while, on my side, the pressure was busting pipes.
What are the benefits you’re realizing now by rapping alone and not as a group?
I can’t really say that I was unaware of any sort of benefits. I guess it’s nice to play your own CD, but its pretty much business as usual. I mean, there is a bit more creative control in certain aspects which is nice. But as far as the songwriting goes, there’s not really a major difference. Oh, and I get to decide the final track listing. Aspire and I are two headstrong Scorpios and almost duked it out on a couple occasions during Tapwater[‘s album Breadcrumbs] coming up with things as trivial as a track list.
What do you miss about group work?
Well, I’ll be honest — nothing! The bulk of my resume is group work, so I’m focusing on doing a lot more solo work in the future. Keep an eye out for new music from me, I’ll be staying busy.
So on the horizon, you’ll be recording more one-on-one with producers.
I have an album produced by Sythe from Ill-Legitimate Productions that is now in its mixing stage. And, immediately after, I plan to get started on an album with Zach W from This Dance Dance Revolution Will Not Be Televised and The Heard. It’d be really cool to do another Tapwater or Quoted Motives album in the future, but the thought isn’t really in anyone’s mind right now.
Seeing as how you’re such a prolific artist, I’m curious about your writing process. Not everyone can come up with that much solid material in a few years. Are you the type of emcee who caries around a notepad everywhere? Do you memorize rhymes on the SkyTrain? Do you just appoint a lot of recording time and write when you get to the lab?
I’m not sure if prolific is all that apt. I might say consistent but I know I’ve been spending more time lately watching TSN than being productive. But I do write in different types of ways. I might spend a while on a verse and bring it to the studio, but more often I’ll write it there. And I prefer to do it on the spot for probably the same reasons an actor would like performing on Broadway as opposed to filming a movie.
Also, from the albums it may seem to you like I’ve written a lot, but I know that that is just the tip of my brain’s iceberg, which might sound like a dully generic answer — but it’s the truth! There’s a lot more oil to strike and butter to spread, I just don’t know how stoked Chadio and I would be to tour via Greyhound again.
The mood of Doldrums is, at times, mellow like a lava lamp. How does the definition of the title reflect that — does it speak to the feeling of the album, or is it more about the atmosphere it was written and recorded under?
The atmosphere of the album was always changing because of the lengthy process it took to complete it. Mellow is my comfort zone and Guha knows that so it went without saying. Like I had mentioned earlier, we had planned to make the album a few years ago but didn’t, yet, I still liked that title so as time passed it just made more and more sense. It’s a good word plus I like the letter D.
Are you born and raised Vancity?
Yes, I’m a born and raised East Van boy.
When I lived there in 2003 to 2006, the hip hop scene was very vibrant. There were rap shows or open mics every second night, if not every night, and Monday Night Live was unmissable. What changes have you observed since when you started rapping and now?
Yeah, I remember those times and they were great. Like you mentioned, Monday Night Live (which is still going) was unmissable, and other weekly nights got solid turnouts as well, plus big name acts seemed to be a bit more frequent than now, which was good for local rappers to be able to open up for. But honestly, I don’t notice all that much difference other than there is a few new rappers bringing their circles of friends to the shows. It’s the same atmosphere that a lot of the country would say is very “Vancouver,” which, translated, means cliquey and pretentious. But I don’t know anything else so it’s fine with me. I don’t get out a whole lot nowadays either.
Lots of the rap shows take place in the Gastown area of the city. Has the recent gentrification and 2010 Olympic preparations affected that at all?
Perhaps, but I wouldn’t know the inner details of it. The Monday Night Live shows are at Modern now, which is at the foot of Gastown, instead of the notorious Lamplighter — so maybe the new owners had plans from the get-go. What I do know is that the city will turn into a police-state once the Olympics get here, so maybe I’ll have to watch what T-shirt I wear in public.
If freestyle rap were an Olympic sport, who should represent Canada in the tournament?
Good question. I’ve been watching all these King of the Dot videos lately, and there is a lot of really dope rappers to choose from. However, I’d have to go with my man Aspire. He’s the best freestyler I’ve heard in my life so I’d choose him. He’s got an archive of rhymes in his head and when he freestyles, he’s not relying on a list of crutches. I could give a couple honourable mentions, but I won’t. When Aspire is in the zone, he’s pretty damn good.