July 17, 2007

Fritz Tha Cat

In Search of Divine Styler
Fritz Tha Cat (aka Ryan Somers) is probably better known as the rap editor for Vice magazine when underground rap was really fashionable. His start in music journalism came with his super low-budget magazine In Search of Divine Styler that began as a collection of photocopied pages stapled together. Although the magazine only had 8 issues, it proved to be somewhat of a phenomenon spawning a number of other counter-culture rap magazines. An anthology of the magazine was published earlier this year and is available through MudScout. In addition to music journalism, he’s also a rapper with a new album and a group he formed with long time friend RecordFace called Ok Cobra. The album covers an array of topics from girls, boobies, atheism, heartbreak and drugs. Normally, I don’t like conducting interviews without meeting the person first, but after missing his book launch in April, I had to “meet” this fellow some how. As a result, I conducted this interview from Edmonton using an instant messenger application while Fritz Le Chat downed a bunch of beers in London, Ontario.

So what do you want to talk about? I assume your new group Ok Cobra.

Yeah, Ok Cobra…I guess that is the business at hand.

To tell you the truth, I’m more interested in Divine Styler magazine.

Then we can talk about that…

So tell the people about Divine Styler magazine; first what it is, maybe why you did it, why it’s so dope and who it’s named after…

It’s named after Divine Styler, he’s a rapper and he’s awesome. When I was a kid, I saw the video for “Ain’t Sayin’ Nothin'” for the first time, I freaked out. I was like “who the fuck is this? This guy is awesome!” and went out and found the tape, which became my favorite album of all time. Then his second album came out, and it was weird as fuck. Around that time I was taking a lot of psychedelic drugs (Lsd, mushrooms, etc) so it was a trippy experience listening to that weirdness. On one acid trip, some friends of mine and I decided that we needed to find Divine Styler. He had sort of disappeared from the rap scene so I took it upon myself to make that my mission and started the magazine. Right after I started the ‘zine, Divine resurfaced on House of Pain’s third album, so I took that as like a sign from god that I was somehow in sync with the happenings of the universe (drugs make you think weird shit).

When you started the magazine, did you have an idea of where you wanted to take it?

No idea.

You just wanted to make a rap magazine?

In Search of Divine StylerI was just a huge fan of rap. I religiously would read every issue of every rap magazine I could get my hands on. To me, making a magazine was the same as writing a song or painting a canvas or acting in a play. Just another way to express something, but I truly believed that I was on a mission from god. I didn’t know anything. I took $40 from my welfare cheque and photocopied the ‘zine. I fell in love instantly with this idea of having a “voice” for our movement…and this was happening at the same time that the “indie” movement in rap was just taking off in the mid 90s… so it was perfect timing in a sense. I think my ‘zine was a few years ahead of its time… it went out of business right around the time that other ‘zines were popping up and becoming successful.

So who eventually was in the magazine? Did you ever get to do an interview with the Divine Styler?

Yeah, I ended up tracking him down. Divine’s ex-wife lived in Atlanta. Her new husband worked at a studio in Atlanta and I had sent some copies of the ‘zine to this studio. He picked up a copy and was like “what the fuck?” and brought it home to her like “isn’t this your ex-husband?” She called me, and was freaking out. Her daughter (Divine’s daughter) “was freaking out like “there’s a magazine named after my dad!” and thought it was awesome. I talked to her on the phone and she ended up calling Divine and telling him about it. He had already heard rumors about the ‘zine, but he hadn’t seen it yet. She gave him my number in Toronto, he called and it was like HOLY FUCK! You know? It was CRAZY. So, we talked on the phone a couple times. [Later] he’s like: “I’m flying up there” and I was “no way” and then I was like: “do you want to do a show when you’re here?” and he was like “hell yeah” so with some help from some friends of mine, we hooked him up with two shows in Toronto (where I was living at the time) and London (where I had started the ‘zine). He flew up to Toronto, with Bilal Bashir (a fucking legend) and brought this new group with him called “Styles of Beyond” and we all rocked these two shows and spent a few days hanging out.

All these people from all over came out. My friends were living in this house on Roxton Rd. in Toronto, where I was staying. Buck 65, Sixtoo and Druncnes Monster drove out from Halifax. All my boys from London came up. It was rad. Just like the whole posse hanging out with Divine and Bilal and the Sob’s for a weekend. He was dope as fuck. We all packed into their basement one night, and divine played us the demos of his new album.

Is he still rapping?

Yeah man, he’s still rapping. He’s doing a beat for my solo album and rapping on it and he’s got some new shit coming out soon.

“My personal favorite was when we tried to do an interview with Eazy-E on a Ouija board”

Did you do all the interviews for the magazine?

I did most of them, but other people did some. My girlfriend at the time did a phone sex interview with Kwest the Mad Ladd. They just had phone sex and we recorded it and I typed it up. My personal favorite was when we tried to do an interview with Eazy-E on a Ouija board. That was fucked up. I got possessed by a demon, I was puking green shit like in a movie. My friends were scared for me. I thought I was going to die. The next day I threw it out and swore I’d never touch one again.

So, tell me/us about this crazy Divine Styler book? Is it an anthology?

We took the highlights from all 8 issues of the ‘zine and compiled them. Throughout the book I just wrote about the story behind the ‘zine, how it started, and all the crazy things that happened along the way. I got other people to write in their thoughts about the ‘zine, like what it meant to them, what it represented to hip-hop culture, etc. Divine wrote the outro to the book, which was cool. He still trips out about it. If you think about it, he is actually, the only rapper ever to have a magazine named after him, created with him in mind. At the book release party in Toronto, Buck 65 was joking that I might have to start the ‘zine again and find Divine Styler all over again, since he hasn’t put out a record in a few years…

It is a pretty odd phenomenon, especially considering that the Divine Styler magazine did really well. What was the circulation at its height?

Between 10,000 and 20,000—fuck, I can’t remember…

So then how did Ok Cobra form, when did it form?

Well, basically, when I moved to Toronto, the first person I met was my best friend Derek (d-rock, from Hip Club Groove/Len). We hung out and instantly clicked and became super-tight. And of course, he was from Hip Club Groove, with DJ moves and Cheklove and he was from the east coast. So through him I met all those other guys: Sixtoo, and Buck 65, and Tachichi, and Gordski, Kunga, etc. Basically through Derek and me, London and Halifax hooked up LARGE. We were like sister cities. All the London guys and all the Halifax guys just got along instantly. We all liked booze and good rap.

OK Cobra – “Child In Rhyme”

So Ok Cobra. What the hell kind of name for a rap group is that?

Haha, man, the name…shit, I don’t know if I can tell that story… Basically, my partner in the group, Tim went to elementary school together. We were buddies. Drank our first beer together. Smoked our first cigarette together. All that shit. When we were in like grade 8, he was a rocker, had a mullet, played a flying V guitar, the whole nine…I was this folk/rap dude. I had long hair with a bandana in it like a hippie but I wore a Public Enemy t-shirt to school every day, I would listen to Cat Stevens and NWA. We went to different high schools, and lost touch. Ten years later, I’m living in Toronto and he’s living in Montreal. I’m in Montreal one time and we run into each other. We started talking and I was like “what are you up to?” and he’s like “I’ve been working on some beats.” We got drunk and went to the studio where he works with our homey Jon Juan (who was in my first rap group in high school with me) and started fucking around, freestyling, etc. The end result was the song “Jugganots” on our album, which is all freestyle. He played me more beats and I showed him more raps and we were both like “I want to work with you” so we started fucking around with songs. I moved to Montreal and we started making tracks. It was rad, ‘cause we had known each other when we were little kids, but it was like we were hanging out for the first time, we just clicked, musically, in a way that worked for us. He was making the type of beats I wanted to hear, and I was the type of mc that he wanted to rap on his shit. There was no bullshit. No ego. No nothing.

I’ll be straightforward and say that I haven’t checked your album. For those like me who don’t know, what do you rap about? Is it distinctly Canadian?

I wouldn’t say that. On this album, I would say it’s 90% emotional content. I have 4 main things I rap about:

  1. girls. heartbreak. fucking. emotion. love. sex. tits.
  2. god. the gods. atheism. being alone. but feeling a part of something greater.
  3. music. what it means to me. artistry. creativity. my relationship with my art.
  4. booze. drugs. partying. having fun. getting laid. laying a smack down.

If you are someone who prescribes to the term “emo rap,” then yes, we have some songs that you might file under that category. Personally, I don’t prescribe to that terminology. All music is emotional.

“If you’re a hipster it’s way more ironic and rad to listen to T.I. or Lil Wayne than to Aesop Rock or Buck 65”

So do you still dabble in non-prescription drugs?

I would say yes, although I keep trying to convince myself that the answer is no. I’ve laid off it since I’ve gotten older. I haven’t done Lsd in ten years, mushrooms in three or four years. I couldn’t handle that shit anymore. My tolerance for psychedelic drugs has diminished to the point of I can’t handle ANYTHING even remotely “trippy” anymore.

Are you still writing for vice?


How did it end?

It just ended with me being bored of writing about indie rap music every month and them being bored of me writing about indie rap music every month. Indie rap isn’t cool anymore. If you’re a hipster it’s way more ironic and rad to listen to T.I. or Lil Wayne than to Aesop Rock or Buck 65. These tight-pant hipsters playing ghetto in their minds who wouldn’t know ghetto if they fell out of a helicopter into one. It’s a minstrel show. I’m not blaming Vice for that. I love Vice. I’ve just never been one to play the “I’m cooler than you” game. I consider myself like somebody who is a frustrated folk singer. If I grew up in the 60s, I’d be Cat Stevens, but I grew up in the 90s, so I’m Fritz Tha Cat. We’re the same guy, expressing the same ideas, but through the medium of our generation.

What are you working on now?

I just don’t want to be a part of anyone else’s plan. The gods told me to find Divine Styler, so I did and the gods keep telling me what to do with my own life so I do it.

In the last two months I’ve recorded a rock album, completed a series of paintings for an art show, toured Germany, shot an Indie film, wrote a few magazine articles, as well as wrote songs for the new Ok Cobra album and solicited producers for the Ok Cobra remix album. I have to jet. My man is here to roll to this party and I’m drunk.

Living Underwater

8 Responses

  1. thanks for the interview man, it was nice chatting with you…

    keep in touch, and next time i’m in toronto i’ll link up with you…

    ryan / ftc

  2. The In Search of.. book is super awesome, i highly recommend it. OK Cobra are also awesome, i can’t wait for the new album to drop!

  3. Fritz the Cat a certified Canadian Legend! Great interview. I am going to go to my dad’s and dig out my old issues of In Divine Styler. The new album will be sure fire and I definately need to grab the book. I checked it out at Selfhelp’s amnd it is classic material!

  4. “If you’re a hipster it’s way more ironic and rad to listen to T.I. or Lil Wayne than to Aesop Rock or Buck 65?

    That quote is on point. thats like the philaflava message board described in one sentence.



  6. Ahh, good interview, I didn’t know much about the mag before a few months ago, so it was nice to be able to read about it a little bit more.

  7. this book is required owning for any and every Canadian hip hop head, period.

    peace to Fritz the Ryan Hanes.

    long live Divine Styler and Styles of Beyond

    Ryan, you still have some of my L.A. pics when we went there, LOL

    one day before our kids are running this rap shit, I want them back

    peace to all true people