January 23, 2008

Jesse Dangerously

Jesse Dangerously

Photography by Jon B
Maybe it’s something in the water, but the Halifax rap quotient is high for a city of just 280,000. It has consistently produced some of Canada’s most successful artists. I linked up with Halifax’s self-professed “rap legend” Jesse Dangerously for a long awaited interview. For all those not familiar, Jesse Dangerously is a member of the Backburner crew, he’s been a staple in the maritime rap scene and he’s pretty much Canada’s version of the esteemed Treach from Naughty By Nature. This consummate rap professional has released a handful of Lps; his most recent being 2007’s Verba Volant. We discussed his new album, the glory days of underground rap and discussed hip hop’s newest bullshit sub-genre “Nerdcore.”

How long have you been rapping?

I’ve been rapping seriously since I was 16, but I started rapping as soon as I heard it. I put out my first tape in ’96 or ’97 and started playing shows after that.

You love Halifax?

I deeply love Halifax! I think that Halifax has been the home to some of the best rap I’ve ever heard in my life. Halifax has been a great place to be.

How much of your rap career is engaged with making beats for people?

I’ve only done a few guest beats here and there for other people. People first found out about me when I did beats for Josh Martinez in 1998 or 1999 and that was back when he’d take beats from anybody. I was making okay beats before I was writing okay raps. My first 3 albums were all self-produced.

What are you working on?

I’m working on 2 more Eps that have 2 producers each, like my last 2 did. I don’t know which one I’ll finish first, I’m trying to get a push on the completely solo record and it’s like 9 tracks deep now, I’m not going to make it super long, but I want it to fit on vinyl; do real things.

You’ve been rapping for a while, how many albums do you have?
Five solo. I wanted people to hear my first tape when it came out, so I guess I’m counting that. There were only 50 copies; I’m waiting for them to pop up on ebay.

Jesse Dangerously

What’s the response to your music?

I feel like people forget what rap used to be like. Rap in the early ‘90s, like the period I romanticize the most (the late ‘80s—early ‘90s) was all over the map. There were still dudes who might have lived different lifestyle than me, but their references are pulled from all over pop culture. I feel like I’m working in that tradition, like a Das FX…just rappers who would say anything as long as it sounded dope. ‘Gangster rap’ as a form of cultural voyeurism has become so ingrained that people ignore all the different ways that rap used to be. I feel a little fronted on because I want the people who like the shit I like to like me. I guess that’s an automatic hope, fans of the classic style of hip hop oughta dig me because I’m working in that idiom. I find that I’m enjoyed more by people who aren’t that big into rap.

How do you think the perception of underground has changed since you started?

I feel like regional support was a much realer thing when I started. I remember when I first started going to bars, people in Halifax loved indie rap. They’d go to a dj night where Gordski or Moves were spinning all the Company Flow records or whatever was coming out on Rawkus. Sole came to town and it was packed! Sage Francis came to town and it was packed! These were just students, young people who fucking loved it. That seems to have dried up. All the enthusiasts are musicians. I guess it’s more egalitarian, but anybody who’s making something needs somebody who just wants it. You can’t just live on CD trades if you want to make music a viable thing. I want fans god damn it!

“…whiteness [is] de facto nerdiness contrasted to the automatic ‘cool’ [of black people]”

What do you think of this ‘Nerdcore’ phenomenon? I fucking hate that term ‘Nerdcore’ and I probably hate 99% of Nerdcore rappers.

MC Frontalot coined the term and he wanted to make good rap. He’s a very tight emcee and he’s also a comic book geek, a theatre geek and a computer game geek, so he rapped about it. I did a posse-cut called “Nerdcore Rising” and the joke was that it was a big movement and it was going to take over. All of a sudden, Frontalot got a lot of publicity; he got popularized on certain blogs and all these dudes wanted to get in on it. They started identifying with it, especially kids, you know, all that identity politics stuff in terms of music genres leads to some [dumb shit]. They just fight about what it means to be truly Nerdcore. Hip hop is a threatening joke to them; I think it’s a form of comedy to a lot of them.

When you talk about hating 99% of Nerdcore rappers–definitely! You know what else I hate 99% of? ALL RAPPERS! Everything fucking sucks. I think people approach it in a really ‘top-down’ way. Anytime you’re trying to ‘be this genre’ you wind up not really approaching your artistry in very artistic sense. You’re not making things good on their own merits. Combine that with the way rap and race play out in Western culture…you know, in white people culture is that rap is very exoticized. Hip hop and ‘blackness’ are conflated, people think of them in the same breath and it’s just defined by its otherness; whiteness [is] de facto nerdiness contrasted to the automatic ‘cool’ [of black people]. Nerdcore winds up attracting all these people who can’t relate to rap. There are so many people involved in what they call Nerdcore that think that rap is made by a bunch of idiots. It plays into a very casual racism; they have preconceived ideas of who want to behave how.

Jesse Dangerously

You’re probably not too concerned about what critics say, but has someone who you think is a fucking goof ever criticized you?

First of all, I’m totally concerned about what critics say. I want people to get it and appreciate the things I do. I find it almost worse when someone gives me a positive review and says a bunch of shit I don’t agree with because it’s kind of disconcerting; it’s pretty easy to shrug off a dismissive review. One of my first reviews I got I actually got compared to Insane Clown Posse and I’m like: ‘this could not be further from what I do’–ideologically, musically, aesthetically…there’s nothing about I.C.P. that’s anything like what I do. Even worse is when people credit me as being a welcome relief from all that other shitty rap because I love rap! I think there’s always amazing rap.

I’ve heard you actually challenge people on the internet.

[Laughs] That was a message board thing and that was Nerdcore related because those dudes don’t like be told they suck either, especially the ones who really really suck. Take this song, I’ll give you the beat for the song “Out Foxed” off of Interalia and I’ll give you a lyric sheet for that song and if you can imitate that song; if you can even do my flow, this argument is over and you win. I know that people can’t do what I do. I’ve been improving my rap for over 10 years; I concentrate on difficult rhyme schemes, rhythm, speed–I’m just a really sophisticated rapper. Whether anybody actually likes it or not, that’s completely taste, that’s cool. I’m just not cool with belittling the craft that goes into it. Nobody who was actually involved in that argument actually attempted it; this is just me challenging you, I dare you to even attempt my flow. I put serious work into it.

Jesse Dangerously - Verba VolantWhat’s Verba Volant about?

It’s got a Latin title like the previous one Interalia just ‘cause I consider those split producer albums to be part of a series. On Interalia Uncle Fester and Dexter Doolittle each gave me 3 new beats and each remixed 2 of my older songs. On Verba Volant I got Freshkils and Timbucktoo to do the same thing. I’ve got a few others on the go that have other beat makers sharing the duties. I was going to make it a branded series, they’re all going to have Latin names and they’re all going to have a mono-chromatic covers and they all have that formula of 2 beat makers, 3 beats and 2 remixes. I’m trying to pick Latin phrases or terms that suit what’s going on in the record. Verba Volant is part of a longer phrase that means ‘words fly, but writing stays,’ so I just took ‘words fly’ because it ended up being really fast.

Shout outs?

Shout outs are a tricky prospect just because I’m going to forget somebody. So I’m just going to shout out Backburner, the ever-expanding posse, the greatest rap crew I could ever hope to be down with. That’s my shout out, Backburner: you’re lazy, talented motherfuckers, I want to hear more from you. Also just everyone from across the country who puts a quarter into the machine, anybody who’s supporting and will come to shows, tell a friend…even downloading, just be part of it. And… hot girls… my girlfriend.

For more of Jesse Dangerously see: dangerously.ca

17 Responses

  1. Never heard too much Jesse Dangerously before, but just checked out a couple of his tracks and they sound pretty dope. Who/what the fuck is this so called “nerdcore phenomenon” though and in what world are they popular??? I mean really, why are you talking about retarded rap subgenre’s on here, this isn’t pitchfork or something, you guys sound pretty stupid. Or was that section of the interview a bad joke i didn’t get?

  2. i dunno if you just skimmed the interview ceej, but if you actually read it your questions kinda answer themselves.

    jesse d is dope.

  3. I agree with ceej and Noyz what the fuck is Nerdcore? I think the focus of the interview was lost with the Nerdcore part and Jesse who I repect and have met comes off as a prentious asshole who is holyier than thou when it comes to hip hop and I don’t get that from him talking to him in person or listening to his music.
    I asked Noyz about doing an interview with Jesse and he said Jon B was doing it and I was really looking forward to this interview but after reading it I am really disapointed in the interview. Anyways I think Jesse’s rap music is dope and he is a good person!

  4. Hey i thought that was a dope interview! It made me want to check out the guy’s tracks. There was only that one bad “nerdcore” question and answer, the rest was good reading!

  5. What did you feel was pretentious about my response, Chaps? I’m just being real… I think some people do wack things for wack reasons. I grew up believing that hip-hop was an environment where you called out the wack and gave it up to the devastating.

    The nerdcore thing is a much smaller phenomenon than it’s been made out to be… it’s just something my name has been associated with since the posse cut, so it’s not that weird that I get asked about it. It could perhaps have used more of a lead-in, but I think I explained the relevance in my response, didn’t I?

    Anyway, it’s pretty much exclusively something that exists online, except for the rare artist involved with it who’s serious about what they do. So don’t worry too much about it.

    Jon and I talked for like two hours.. I’m sure he did his best to strip that down to the most interesting segments!

    (I won’t lie though, it would be nice if people asked more about Backburner than about Nerdcore…)

  6. And Jon – it’s hilarious that you chose the most gorked possible pictures! People are going to think I’m either the Canadian Biz Markie or that I was having some kind of seizure.

  7. You can check out a lot of the nerdcore community at http://www.rhymetorrents.com. They’ve been getting some exposure in legitimate news sources like NY Times. There’s a documentary out there, too. As Jesse explains, MC Frontalot coined the phrase but MC Chris (who many have probably heard through Aqua Teen Hunger Force) is probably the biggest name in the movement. Jesse Dangerously often gets lumped into the nerdcore category (maybe rightly so since he did appear on that posse cut “Nerdcore Rising”). Maybe it’s because I asked something similar in my interview with him, but I think it’s a relvant question for an interview with Jesse Dangerously.

  8. No, the NY Times is not hip hop, but it’s certainly a big enough outlet to give some significance to this nerdcore movement. Add to that a documentary on nerdcore that features Jesse Dangerously, and I think that makes the question relevant in any interview with Jesse Dangerously. I agree though… It would have been nice to hear more about Backburner, the dopest crew on the block…

  9. haa yes.jesse good stuff.big ups to canada ,backburner much respect.okay lemme get this straight,so nerdcore means like fast raps or like the appearence of the rapper themself or there education or ??.does it mean like non-threatning rappers??is it a style of music or the actual contenet of the lyrics??? i mean the word nerd can be a pretty hurtfull slur…sounds like some hater shit to me….ML____

  10. okay,so i did some research on nerdcore.wikepedia,that nerdcore movie with frontalot, google searchs and what not ,and i gotta say this whole thing scares me.it’s like i can see the outcome of this from a mile away.like in that movie what that dead kennedys singer said.it shook me up .Its like dividing the sub genres into sub genres.Is dividing is not good for the local scenes.Jesse i don’t really think you’re a nerd rapper,i think you need to take you’re name off the wikepedia article