September 20, 2009

The Joe

The Joe

Photos by Jon B
Enter The Joe: a rapper and poet from Edmonton and perhaps Alberta’s answer to Pigeon John. Inspired by and embracing the DIY movement, Joe created the new independent rap imprint Old Ugly, so that artists could worry about creating music, rather than concerning themselves with how it should be released. In an effort to continuously stay busy, Old Ugly has become more than a rap label. It is a bourgeoning publishing house (Joe is in the process of publishing a couple of poetry tomes) and apparently a soon-to-be male modeling agency. Joe’s latest album dropped on September 11 and is called Ut Oh.

It seems you’ve been doing fewer rap shows, is it reflective of Edmonton’s rap scene?

I think I don’t get called as often, I would love to do more. I kind of binge at Wild Style Wednesdays, but it just starts so freakin’ late. It’s not premeditated. I find that often times now, when I book the rap show, I book Old Ugly rappers, so I’m still doing rap shows, but with a little incestuous progeny of rap stars and it’s nice because none of us care about money. We’ve set up this mentality where if 100 people come, it’s ‘cause we’re amazing; if 5 people come, it’s ‘cause nobody gets us.

How many albums do you have?

I put an album out in 2006 which I’m not fond of and I came out with a mix-tape the same year. I recorded Float or Flail, most of that was written in the fall and winter and it still hasn’t come out. Ut Oh is going to help pay for that one.

I notice a lot of religious subject matter coming out of your music. Why do you rap about it?

Like I said, my first album I wasn’t particularly fond of…not because I don’t believe in what I believe in; more my presentation of it. My presentation was tactless…I don’t like any kind of art that comes off as self-righteous, no matter what it’s talking about and mine came off as self-righteous. Nowadays, my music’s rather polarized: I’m either being really cheeky or I’m being really serious, there’s no middle ground. My earliest music is heavy-handed and over the top.

The Joe

So why is it important to rap about you religion?

If music and art all together is self-expression…then it’s important to express myself.

Do you get a better response playing a folk/electronic show or a rapitty rap show?

I sort of mold my set to the crowd, so I get a good response from both – but a better response from college kids…

Does rap music ever offend you?

I certainly used to, but now I think it’s so funny. Soulja Boy is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard in my life – I can’t get enough of it…and like Lil Wayne, all that stuff is great, I love it. I don’t own it, but I love it.

What changed?

I don’t know man…reading a lot of literature and realizing what art is. Have you ever seen that video “Turn My Swag On”? – That’s a sociology degree in 3 minutes. It’s really hard to offend me these days…why would anyone who believes in God be that insecure? What’s the point? If you really believe in God, then how is that supposed to worry you? I’m trying to teach that to my parents.

I kind of want to set the record straight, I feel like a lot of people assume that you only rap about Jesus…

I know, I’ve been pigeonholed from day one…I’ve tried to be as legit as anyone else by being at the open mics and hanging out with people. The first thing I put out, I gave it to every rapper I loved in this city. I remember giving one to [Crow-box One-String] from Eshod Ibn Wyza; and to Max Prime, I saw him at a show; I remember giving one to Rollie – I saw him on the corner and just being like: ‘you’re the best, take this record’ – because they are people I look up to. I’ve had to live in the shadow of myself ever since. So let’s set the record straight, give me another shot, listen to my music, maybe you still won’t like it.

Tell me about opening the GZA show in Edmonton…

I booked that gig the same time I started writing this new album, so I thought I had to write some rap songs…like hip hop songs for this show: I’m going to slow down, use a punchier flow – but none of that seemed to matter…when I walked on stage wearing tight jeans. It was over. The main populace there were like 18 year old kids, in Wu-Tang hoodies who had traveled out of town who had never seen a rap show. Touch did a lot better…he sounds like the missing member of Wu-Tang.

The JoeYou seem to think that you didn’t do a very good job, what gave you that impression?

That was the first show with all those songs. I’ve played big rooms, some even bigger on privileged opportunities…it was just weird to play to actual rap fans. For the first time in a long time, I felt I was up against something…’cause I always go in convincing people that rap is okay, but these people know rap is okay, then I have to convince them that I am a rapper. It’s been so long since I’ve had to do that. That show made me really level with myself; I was like ‘I can rap for anyone,’ – but I did it and I realized that over these past few years, I’ve really cushioned myself with a lot of yay-sayers. Wu-Tang is the most distilled, purist hip hop I could really think to name.

Do you think that if you were opening up a Wu-Tang show in a different city, the response would be different?

It would be interesting to see what would happen – as long as I wasn’t wearing what I was wearing that night. If I just came out looking like I wanted to be there, I didn’t look like I wanted to be there [based on the way I was dressed] and it’s sad that that’s a part of it.

In Edmonton (and other rap scenes), it seems like the biggest supporters of the music are the people who make it. Do these cultures suffer because of that?

I think Edmonton’s scene is dope. It’s more concentrated because there are less people, the art scene seems to be [about] iron sharpening iron. The theater scene is huge, people who aren’t actors see plays that’s awesome. A lot of the rappers [in Edmonton] make rap for rappers.

Shouts/last words?

My wife Bethany, my parents, Mikey Mabey – he’s the best rapper I know in the world right now and no on knows about him, we have a crew called Rapper’s Are People, Old Ugly family – all of our bios are short stories I wrote, they are completely unrelated to their music.

For more on The Joe and Old Ugly, check

16 Responses

    1. The Joe sounds like The Joe. I’ll never mistaken his music for anyone else. I will always appreciate his one-of-a-kindness.

      I want to know more about Float or Flail. Joe… elaborate? What label were originally making it for and what happened with it?

  1. Haha, loved the story about giving your cd’s to local rappers. That’s pretty much how I feel most of the time except I don’t even have a cd so i just give them a handshake.

    RE: What Omar said, I think I remember seeing some dope artwork for that one at one point?

  2. Float or Flail was going to come out with an imprint of mega-label Universal Records. I was given a contract and I had two weeks to sign it or it would void and they would have to reissue it. The way I was dealt with, like an employee, like an investment that had nothing to do with music and everything to do with marketability, turned me off. That and the anonymity of getting lost in the colossal workings of something so disengaging and mechanical. It was perhaps the wrong choice but i am still very happy with it. When the record went void they asked me to come pick up another one and make sure to get it signed in time. I never talked to them again. I think they got the idea. Then i recorded Float or Flail. I will go as far as to say that the stuff i did on that record was cutting edge… then, in winter 2006 and then recording it in winter 2007 but i don’t know if it will be such a big deal when it finally comes out. I recorded it with a very talented producer and i worked it to the bone, cutting no corners. Hence it cost 7 g’s to record it. I still owe 2 of them and i am earning it with record sales. Then i will earn the dough to print the thing. Then it will drop on OLD UGLY. OLD UGLY is, of course, the blood when you brush. Thanks for asking. This record, Ut Oh, is pretty good and it is available at blackbyrd and megatunes and online anywhere that sells music. I still need to get one of Paul Barman’s records. Rollie said the same thing. I would rather sound like Rainer Maria Rilke.

  3. that reminds me more of max prime, quite honestly. the two songs posted up here are the relaxed conversational flow but most of the songs on the album have some more versitility.

    i played a show at an anarchist book store in victoria once. it was dope. found three rare ginsberg’s in top shape for only five bucks. they sucked and i sold them for as much here in edmonton.

  4. word i gotta say big ups to The Joe

    really like what ur doing man … original and intelligent and entertaining … a hard combo these days


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