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.
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.
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.
What’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 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