March 4, 2009

Dragon Fli Empire

Dragon Fli Empire

Illustration by Pearl Rachinsky
Calgary rap duo Dragon Fli Empire (Teekay and Dj Cosm) have been on-smash for some time now, though one might be hard pressed to hear of them… at least in Canada. In typically Canadian fashion, where many artists working in our wonderful country are forced to find opportunities on other streets, D.F.E. made links with the Japanese rap market. Redefine is their latest effort and it’s jammed with some illustrious talents: Masta Ace, Josh Martinez and Cadence Weapon – to name a few. No stranger to the campus charts, D.F.E. have been ruffling the complacency of the contemporary rap listener with this endeavor. Watch for their video “Outside Inn” and another one on the horizon for their song “Keep the Funk Alive.”

Dragon Fli Empire – “Hi-Fli”

Dragon Fli Empire – “XOXO”

What are your respective roles in the group?

TEEKAY: Raps and once in awhile, I’ll bless a beat.

COSM: DJ, primary producer and half-assed hype-man.

I’ve been meaning to ask you guys, what is a “Dragon Fli Fmpire”?

COSM: A swarm of noisy insects. Word to Digable Planets.

How did you guys make in-roads in Japan?

TEEKAY: A Japanese A&R bought our CDs online and a couple weeks later, Invasion and Conquest gave birth to Inquest. Basically the label’s favourite tracks from our first two albums. It sold well enough for us to release a Japanese version of Redefine late last year and solo albums from both of us are on deck for 2009.

Is the new album Redefine going to be released in Canada?

COSM: It’s manufactured and in our hands. Any day now it’ll be on iTunes and other MP3 sites, plus record stores via Scratch Distribution.

TEEKAY: We had a great release party in Calgary and people here can grab Redefine at a bunch of local spots.

What are you trying to Redefine?

TEEKAY: The title refers to never allowing your self to be kept in a box, whether in life situations or creatively.

How did you guys meet and when did you decide to make a group?

COSM: We went to the same high school, although we didn’t actually meet until a couple years later. I had a chance to see Teekay perform at the talent show when he was in grade 11. We later met through our mutual friends, the ETC crew.

TEEKAY: After high school I performed at a couple of shows that Cosm threw and also recorded a verse for a little 4-track posse cut he cooked up about experiences at William Aberhart High School (with Cam the Wizzard and Grub as well). Later on, I wanted to record a solo album (which I had already tentatively titled Conquest) after my winter semester of college in 2002. I was going to go on a work term in Seattle in mid-June, so I had about a month and a half to do it but was having trouble staying motivated. Cosm to me was a prodigy on the ASR-10, with hard-hitting drums and smooth jazzy samples, so I knew I wanted a beat from him for the project. Our first collab, “Beauty Full” turned out good enough that he asked me if we wanted to do an EP together. To me this was the perfect solution because I could make an album but have somebody there to bounce ideas off of and keep me accountable to the goal of completing it. I was really feeling a full length so we stretched it out and recorded it during a weeklong stay at the studio of my boy Belo’s old friend, none other than DJ Nato.

You’ve got a really dope track with Masta Ace on it. A lot of underground artists are putting big name rappers on their albums. Do you think this trend is ironic and detrimental?

COSM: Two of my all time favourite Canadian albums are Balance by Swollen Members, and The Underground Tapes by Saukrates. Not only were they by dope artists, but they had the most amazing rosters of ‘big name’ guest stars, which at the time really impressed me. I’ve been promoting gigs and hosting a radio show for 10 years and can honestly say I’m a hip hop fan at least as much as an artist. Before the opportunity to work with Ace presented itself, I don’t think Teekay or I would have ever imagined such a collab would even be possible. That is actually the oldest song on the album, and the rent-a-rapper craze really hadn’t taken form up here yet. Not that I would have proceeded differently if it had. I’m a producer after all, and have a never ending wish list of people I would love to hear over my beats. This is our third full-length album and I don’t think we would have enlisted our guests if we weren’t comfortable with our abilities. I have no real problem with an artist shelling out cash for a bit of star power, especially if they are re-investing money they earned from music. But you’d better be ready and able to hold your own next to a certified pro. They are not the ones with something to prove. I’m sure we all have our own opinions on when this trend has worked for and against an up and coming artist.

TEEKAY: What he said.

Have you had a chance to perform in Japan yet?


TEEKAY: We’re working on that, one of my big dreams right now. Slowly but surely if things keep going well over there, the demand will be large enough for us to rock it for our Japanese peoples.

You’re both producers, what do you guys use? What’s in the studio?

COSM: ASR 10, MPC 2000XL, microKORG, two Technics 1200s, Stanton mixer, Yamaha 8-channel mixing board, laptop, Mbox2 with ProTools 7.4 and Rockit 8 monitors. I’m still learning Pro Tools though. My self-engineered stuff won’t be coming out just yet. The D.F.E. albums however would not have been possible without the help of the mighty DJ Nato, and more recently Metawon. They are both engineering geniuses with dope studios.

TEEKAY: For now I keep it simple with just an Ensoniq ASR-X and a bunch of 3.5″ floppy disks. Just a creature of habit. My MPC2000XL hasn’t done much but collect dust since I bought it but I’m hoping to start freaking it more this year.

As you gain more notoriety, do you feel pressured to stop sampling?

COSM: I’m not really sweatin’ it, although I do look forward to working with more live musicians. That has always been a fun and organic process. But I don’t think I could ever completely stop sampling. This is hip hop after all.

TEEKAY: Sampled jazz and funk loops by dudes like Pete Rock, Extra P, Primo, Dilla, Prince Paul, etc. is what first attracted me to hip hop, and the appreciation of that sound is probably the biggest connection that Cosm and I share. You could even say that it’s made the D.F.E. last up to now – the addiction to making that type of hip hop. As long as it’s possible, I’d love to keep that true to the original concept, but if sampling becomes an issue, we’ll just have to get that much more creative with chopping and using live players.

In terms of sampling, do you guys mostly stick to jazz and funk records?

COSM: That is obviously the sound that I go for with most of the Dragon Fli Empire stuff. But I have used other stuff such as Rock, Reggae, Country, Afrobeat, Folk and more to help create those beats. I will always be a sucker for that analog sound that came from the late 60’s and early 70’s, no matter what the genre. Plus when Cam the Wizzard and I finally get around to releasing some of the stuff we’ve been working on for the past few years, you will definitely hear a different side of Cosm.

Do you think that your arguably “boom-bap” sound is sustainable in the long term?

COSM: As long as people such as yourself and I love “that ol’ boom bap knock” then I won’t feel like my efforts are in vain. I’ve never really been concerned with what the masses think, and I’m certainly not the type to try and follow every fly by night trend brought forth by the increasingly short attention-spanned cyber generation. I mean, some of the new stuff I’ve heard lately is scary, 18 year olds rapping like Tone Loc, Lord have mercy.

I honestly look at our stuff as Jazz/Funk/Soul infused rap more than throwback rap. I’m just incorporating the others musical genres I love. hip hop is over 30 years old and has thrived on diversity since the early 80’s. Hopefully it will remain that way. We also took some new creative approaches on this album. The stuff that sounds 80’s and 90’s influenced was done intentionally to help us establish a good variety of songs. Not to mention that the “boom-bap” sound is very alive and well in places like the UK, Germany, Japan, Australia etc…In fact, we will have a couple of upcoming vinyl releases courtesy of Finland’s Traveler Records.

TEEKAY: We keep it interesting with the way we program and arrange, so the sounds are far from generic. On the new album, you got even more variety in there with a tracks like the jazzy house-sounding “Floor to the Roof,” the live Afrobeat-style jam “Just That Nice” and a live bass driven banger in “Watch Ya’ Front” among others. We’ve always used guest producers as well, so that is another key ingredient.

Teekay, do you ever get the need to write some hard, pessimistic raps?

TEEKAY: Even my most pessimistic material usually has a positive spin on it in the end like the track “Rise.” The positive outlook in my rhymes is just me being true to myself.

Teekay, have you ever swore on an album?

TEEKAY: I swear that the people out there will dig Redefine. Pick it up y’all.

Last words, shout outs?

TEEKAY: Peace to all the people who read this who have supported the crew. Lets do a video, Jon B.

COSM: What he said plus check out our new blog:

To hear more D.F.E. check out

Dragon Fli Empire

14 Responses

  1. Fun show last weekend ! DFE and Cam both killed it!
    Album is dope, i especially like Rise!

  2. Sweet shit. I didn’t know about the vinyl – you know I want one.
    And teekay’s response to the swearing question is pure laughs.
    Thanks for the shout out too.

  3. the album is really good,my favorite tracks on it i can bump over and over. it’s exciting to me that something so dope came from my fellow william aberhart graduates lol

  4. Well, I my head has been in the sand (as usual) and I’ve been sleeping on DFE all this time.

    Dope tracks, Dope interview.

    Buying the album(s) first chance I get.


  5. i saw these guys live one time.

    not feeling, i wish you good luck though. From what I hear good dudes