November 5, 2008

Corvid Lorax

Corvid Lorax

Photos by Conor T. McNally
Karan Singh (a.k.a. Corvid Lorax) is a rapper from Edmonton, Alberta. He is a dedicated figure in the fields of the milky complexions and a welcome change from hip hop’s often lop-sided conservatism. Superficially speaking, his appeal lies in the fact that he is Sikh rapper, of Indian heritage whom embraces his diversity amongst Canadians, rather than rejecting it. Clad in mostly traditional clothing in the middle of the frozen prairie, Karan Singh is a rapper, whom balances a strident, sometimes religious perspective with hedonistic tendencies. Influenced by a variety of musical avenues and personal experiences, Mr. Lorax brings an innovative, unique and regionally specific voice to the microphone while simultaneously holding his own as a hype, freestyle rapper. His latest project N.I.C.E. (Ninjas in Cities Everywhere) , is a project that exemplifies Mr. Singh’s personality. He manages to mix party raps with social commentary flawlessly, combining his swift and ferocious wordplay with some tracks about his record label, the coming of age and dog licenses.

Introduce yourself, your region and your affiliations…

Karan Singh the Corvid Lorax, A.K.A. Lord Carrington, A.K.A. Donny Canneloni, A.K.A. MC Towelhat, A.K.A. CLX, A.K.A. “That guy with the dogs.” Affiliations include, previously, Eshod Ibn Wyza, Tengu Ninja Team, and currently, Little Whore Records. I’m an Indo-Italian and honorary Ukrainian from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

We both went to the same high school, is that when you first developed your skills?

I was too busy small time hustlin’ at school to think about rap or music at all as a direction I wanted to go in. I figured I’d be a tattoo artist or weed dealer my whole life. I started writing crappy little poems when I moved to the Kooteneys and had no friends. I think I was 19, around 2001. When I broke up with my girl at the time I needed something to get my mind off her so I just freestyled all the time for like eight months, I mean ALL THE TIME. I wouldn’t shut up, my friends just hated it. Since my writing was so infantile, even I knew it was shit, free-flowing and cipher-sessions were my best friends. Those eight months was for me, like a condensed training period, like Goku in the gravity chamber, and my learning curve was evident. I was hungry as fuck. At shows, parties, weddings, anywhere, if there was a mic I’d be eyeing it up like it was the best looking girl in the room, and if anybody left that shit unattended, even for a minute, me and/or Leo would be stormin’ that shit. Good times. It wasn’t till I first heard myself recorded that I made the constant decision to step my game up. I’m still an amateur in so many ways, but I’ve never stopped learning and checking myself to remain innovative.

Corvid LoraxHow do you think living in Edmonton has inspired you to make music?

Immensely. When I was twelve and just getting into the scene, my older sister used to go to all these hall shows ’cause she knew the bands. There was a big legalize weed movement that we were kinda involved in and they would put on shows in parks and shit. Some of these guys were really talented and others were just cool guys who were our friends so we went to their shit too. Since I went to my first show, I was always a little jealous of the guys on stage like, “that should be me up there.” Unfortunately I never learned to play an instrument and lacked the patience and dedication to learn one, so I figured that was the end of it. Later, when I grew up, I realized that I needed to pursue something creative for my own good. Just working, eating and shitting was draining my soul. It was at that point, my younger sister introduced me to the early Low Budget Affiliates who were instrumental in showing me that it’s possible to make good underground rap songs. Shouts to Chazmo!!! That kid inspired me more than anything else.

I know all about crows, but maybe you want to enlighten the people on the meaning/significance of your rap handle…

If I had been thinking straight at the time I would have just gone by Karan Singh, then I wouldn’t have to explain it all the time, hahaha! However, as a young man I was under the impression that since everyone had a cool rap name, I should have one too. Corvid is a Latin word that denotes the genus of the Corvid family of birds. This family includes Crows, Ravens, Magpies, Jays and Cardinals, among others. It’s significant too me, in addition to the archaic connotations, because of the fact that many animals find it difficult or impossible to co-exist alongside human habitation. Not so for the Corvids. In fact it seems that they thrive in cities, but still maintain a certain aloofness, unlike pigeons and seagulls, rodents and insects. The Vikings revered the crow as a symbol of battle ‘cause they would feast after the battles on the corpses of the slain. Hugin and Munin, Psychopomps, the Inuit creation story, and there’s a lot more going on there too. Do your own research though, haha. The Lorax is from doctor Suess. He’s a cool guy with a beard who ditches Earth ‘cause people are fucking up.

What were the circumstances behind Eshod Ibn Wyza forming?

It was totally haphazard to be sure. Eli Klein was promoting a show with Fractal Pattern, an amazing instrumental band, at the Catalyst Theatre. My friend Louis (Crowbox One-string Violin) had been bugging him to get us a show (even though we had no real songs written yet) and much to our surprise, Eli hooked it up. At that point we had like, 5 days to put a 45 minute set together and we weren’t even sure who was in our band yet. It ended up consisting of me, Louis, Maigan (Soular Warrior A.K.A. Tzadeka), Andre (Hypolite), Mark (Madame Wang), Daniel Buxton, and our buddy Doug on drums. I think that was it. After that night, Eli just kept calling us with shows. He always had something on the go and he kept us pretty busy for a long time. Soon, we actually had some real songs written and decided that an album was on order. By the time it was all over, we had changed drummers twice, got and lost a vocalist and had some wild and crazy days and nights, had a demo, two full lengths and a triple disc box-set with over 40 tracks under our belts.

Corvid Lorax - N.I.C.E. (Ninjas in Cities Everywhere)

Corvid Lorax – “Trust Me” produced by DJ Weezl

The new album N.I.C.E. has a few different meanings, how did you end up with Ninjas in Cities Everywhere?

I just thought of it one day. The idea that there are revolutionary minded peopled strategically located throughout the world, in every level of society. At some point, when the time is right, they will spontaneously activate for concerted effort for a common cause. A society so secret event the agents and operatives are unaware of its existence until they’re ready. It’s an interesting concept at the very least. My albums are directed at those people especially. Everyone else is just collateral damage.

What ever happened with your groups Sattori or Tengu Ninja Team?

They were chronologically appropriate. Both were projects me and Leon (Outtabounds) were involved in. Sattori first and the Ninja Team after. We were just trying to make good songs and get the people jumpin’. Hall shows, Cafe shows, strip joint shows, we were down for whatever. Everyone who was in Sattori is still making music. Kendall, the drummer, is AKENDI, who produced a bunch of the beats on both my solo albums. Those were some of my best years and were essential to my continuing stage education. I still haven’t ruled out releasing those old Tengu songs….a fledgling must first make tentative attempts at flight. Is that corny? Just imagine Kwai Chang Kain saying that.

Have your spiritual/religious values impacted your rap subjects?

Very much so. In the sense that they affect everything I do in life. To say that they don’t would be like saying I don’t use my memory to navigate or I don’t use my eyes to try to understand what things look like. On the other hand, what I consider my spiritual/religious values may be quite different from what the average person does. I don’t believe that the fact that I’m a Sikh is any more indicative of my personal spirituality than the fact that I’m half Italian. I enjoy studying all religions and don’t find it difficult to agree with many of them on several points. Sufis sing until they reach a religious fervor so intense, they feel closer to God. I’ve felt something quite similar on stage or in cipher sessions. Everybody already knows everything; we just gotta quit avoiding a few simple truths. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I pay attention. That’s all anyone can really do anyways and those that do are usually a few steps ahead.

“My anger is directed more at the system and it’s ineffectiveness, not the people caught up in it. That’s just the way it is, if you don’t like it, kill yourself, unless you’re Hindu, ‘cause then you’ll just come right on back anyways.”

You’re a pretty technically proficient and versatile rapper, are there any people that you idolized coming up?

Other than Ghengis Khan and Ghandi? If you mean, in rap? I was big on the Jedi Mind Tricks. When I got Violent by Design, it blew my fucking mind. Train of Thought by Kweli and Hi-Tek, Quannum Spectrum, and Illmatic were all I listened to for a few months. I can’t say I ever idolized any of them though. It was more like, “This is the movement that I want to be involved in, if anything. This is the music that speaks directly to my brain.” I also liked Immortal Technique before it was cool to like Immortal Technique. Most of all, I still idolize Miyamoto Musashi.

What’s the biggest hurdle you face with releasing rap music in traditionally Conservative Alberta?

Just keeping the finances funneled into new productions, promotions and the like. At this point, with the resources at my disposal, I could release a full length record every six to eight months, but for the fact that it would exceed what my income allows. No biggie, it just means I have to wait longer between releases, ‘til I can scrape up the funds. However, I honestly believe that a community can never over-fund the arts. Not just rap either. Painting, other music, ethnic music, the whole shit. I do know that when that money comes in, I see the results and the results are good. But that’s just the game and truthfully, we got it pretty good here. The really biggest hurdle I got is keeping myself in check. I can be my own worst enemy.

Personally, N.I.C.E. is the album I wanted to hear from you for years, how did it develop, when did it start?

As soon as we (me and Madame Wang) finished up with Kalashnicancerous, we were still in recording mode, and, if I remember correctly, we had just got a new mic. I just kept rolling with it. The original intention was simply to make a more light-hearted record than the last one. Less swears and more coherent songs. Easier listening. As we kept working on it, just what was goin’ on in my life at the time and my frame of mind got a bit more twisted. Borderline psycho. I’m better now, but when I listen to some of the darker shit I wrote then, it’s pretty intense. I like to get a little goofy on songs too, wait ‘til the next one, some of that shit is pretty loony tunes. So anyway, N.I.C.E. got 90% done and I was dead broke and next to homeless. It was only after about eight months of sitting on it, that the funds were in order. However, all that downtime allowed me to get the jump on my next shit, coming out someday.

Corvid LoraxAny ideas of pushing hard to get your career in music going?

I’m not of the school of thought that advocates hard pushes of any sort. As far as I’m concerned, my “career” is unfolding according to plan and at a speed that’s comfortable to me. I’ve achieved everything I’ve set out to do thus far and what I haven’t is within my grasp. I’m just trying to cultivate my skill so that when I see an expansion of the playing field, then I’m prepared compete on that level. I’m lucky to know a lot of talented cats, rappers and others, whom I haven’t had the opportunity to work with and see what we come up with. If I do have a career that shit’s barely begun. Humans have been known to live in excess of 100 years. So much soul in store for ya’ll.

Could you elaborate on your feelings of government and bureaucrats?

Honestly, I was just in bad mood when I wrote that shit. I had been trying to get an I.D. for weeks and my job at the time wanted me to get a police background check. The name on my Indian birth certificate literally says “Living Male Child,” so naturally it was frustrating for everybody involved. I’ve never been good at getting through red tape, and the desk people and government people and police people were not making it any easier. I also have a lot of residual anger left over from a cadre of asshole cops that used to fuck with me. I guess they just didn’t like me or something, but they would do whatever it took to get me into court. Dog licenses, leashes, jaywalking, they gave me a 40 buck ticket for sitting on the sidewalk once, it was bullshit. But really though, I understand that everybody is just stuck up in the world and trying to get by. My anger is directed more at the system and it’s ineffectiveness, not the people caught up in it. That’s just the way it is, if you don’t like it, kill yourself, unless you’re Hindu, ‘cause then you’ll just come right on back anyways.

Talk about “LWR” (Little Whore Records).

Essentially, LWR is Madame Wang’s computer. In the grand scheme of things we’re barely a blip, but Maigan (Tzadeka) recently released a kick ass record and you can expect something from Hypolite and Lazarush in the near future as well. Also, Paiste, from the LWR track, is puttin’ out 99th St. Pilsner Killers his debut album sometime this winter. Don’t sleep suckaz!

What are your feelings on the oil boom in Alberta? Do you think it adversely affects the social fabric of the province?

Yes and no. On one hand I see a bunch of kids I know making good money in oil and the construction associated with it. Also the bartenders and waitresses I know are also seeing that in their tips and living better because of it. N.I.C.E. was funded by drywall money that wouldn’t have been there if rich oil fucks weren’t buying new houses. On the other hand, let me tell you something else I’ve witnessed. The coke industry has BLOWED UP. With all that dough coming back from Fort McMurray you can be sure a significant portion goes to partying after working for weeks or more. A significant portion of that party money goes straight to coke and the usually associated substances. With the coke dealers cashing in like never before it creates a situation where they can afford to expand and a new generation of small-time hustlers are born. These, usually young guys, know that crack is a better bet financially and I live among the results of that chain of transactions. Ten years ago, it wasn’t like this. Of course it existed, but not on the scale I see today. Oil money is not solely to blame but it is impossible to ignore it’s continuing contribution to the problem.

Any plans on touring with the new album?

Not such as yet. I’m not ruling it out but I’m recording right now, so probably not.

For more info on Corvid Lorax check out

Corvid Lorax – N.I.C.E. (Ninjas in Cities Everywhere)

24 Responses

  1. Dope interview, I always enjoy hearing what Karen has to say, makes me wish those days at The Strat with Chuck, Leo, Jody, Rob etc… still were a regular occurence.

    Tragically HipHop Homey, I need a copy of NICE, see ya around.

  2. its a good album. a leap above kalashnicancerous.
    great interview. plus I would trust his ear to the street more than anyone else

  3. Great interview… the sonG’s are smashers toO… Corvid is serious off the tOP.. a serious freestyler .. we are blessed to have in the scene..

  4. Yeah, Karan Singh should have been on ugsmag like 3 years ago. I’m glad this came together despite the drunken communication at Wildstyle Wed. 3 months ago and the distance thing. Props to the homie Conor for linking up with Singh to do fliks too.

  5. “What’s the biggest hurdle you face with releasing rap music in traditionally Conservative Alberta?

    Just keeping the finances funneled into new productions, promotions and the like. At this point, with the resources at my disposal, I could release a full length record every six to eight months, but for the fact that it would exceed what my income allows. No biggie, it just means I have to wait longer between releases, ‘til I can scrape up the funds.”

    ain’t it true. this was a very insightful interview, great read.

    a very fucked up thing happened as i was reading it- right after i read the part about corvid translating into crows, ravens etc… I got up to take a piss and no word of a lie a huge raven flew by my window. i’ve never even seen a raven in winnipeg but i figured it had to be one cause it was like 4 times as big as a crow and looked like a crow on steroids. fucked up.

  6. Singh spoke and eye heard words that opened my eyes beyond the basic bullshit- eye give credit to this guy for killin’ it every day he wakes up until he finds rest. props to usgmag for giving Corvid Lorax a little room to inspire beyond the streets and the stage. Karan, eye hope you outlive us all

  7. Wise interview Karan. Anticipating the time I listen to your words in Ninjas In Cities Everywhere…stop by WSW this week and hook me up with a disc if you are in the area.

    Love + Peace