How does a ten year old get exposed to hip hop culture in west-end Edmonton?
When Run DMC came out, when Much Music started playing “My Adidas”; Beat Street, Flashdance, Breakin’; when those movies came out, it blew up. They banned break dancing from our elementary school because there was a rumor that some kid broke his neck [head-spinning]. We were rebels. We would bust the cardboard out and kill it, then pack it up when the teachers came.
I never heard of anyone in the culture until ‘88 being involved in hip hop. I was fortunate enough to know these [local] guys; they used to baby-sit me back in the day. One day Point Blank was just in the neighborhood and said “yo, I’m bringing Ice-T!” I never knew you could bring a rapper to Edmonton and that was when I understood that they were doing other things. I stumbled on to CJSR and heard “Fuck the Police” and thought “what the hell is going on here?” It turned out to be AOK and Point Blank running the station.
Was there a tape or record that inspired you to rap?
Ice-T “Rhyme Pays” that’s when I knew I had to get on this rap thing. In grade 8, I used to write down Run DMC’s rhymes on paper and recite them.
How did you get the name Touch?
I used to go by “The Friendly Neighborhood Mic Toucher.” I carved it out and went by “Mic Toucher” and then just “Touch” to keep it simple. Before that I went by “Intellect” and “The Traveler”—that was from Star Trek, straight up. I wanted something that didn’t imply anything. I chose “The Friendly Neighborhood Mic Toucher” because it was very simple: I touch mics and rap into them.
When did you start recording?
Well, we were dancers back then; we danced for rappers, so I knew lots of rappers by ‘88. We did shows for Taskforce, Maximum Definitive—I merged from a dancer into a rapper. I recorded my first song in ‘88 for this girl Voya a singer. Her mom was trying to get her albums out and she had way more hookups in the music industry.
How often were you recording?
I recorded a lot with Task Force back in the day. Then I hooked up with 118. Rellik pretty much started my solo shit. He recorded a couple of my first tracks and made a couple of my first beats. I did a lot with 118 in my early rapping days. Hooked up with Stray from my neighborhood (we were kind of rivals when we first started) then we formed DGC around ’94. Stray got his ASR 10; I was learning from Point Blank on his EPS. Stray and I got together, banged out some beats at his crib and formed a crew. Our first studio was in our bedrooms. I had my Akai s950 and my Atari with Cubase on it and Dice had his turntables. At one point we decided to put everything together because it was easier than doing things separately. We got our first studio at the [Municipal] airport hangers, right after 9/11. That lasted for 3 months. Then we found this spot. I knew the leasing agent from elementary and moved everything in here.
I heard a song you did a while back where you slam HMV pretty hard, what was that about?
We were trying to get the DGC album at all the HMVs in Edmonton and all of them have different policies. It’s a pain in the ass to consign at HMV or at least it was back then. Some people would put it in hip hop, some people would put it in the independent section, so we would have to ask them to make sure it was in hip hop—because who the hell is going to listen to the independent section. We got every HMV in the city to do that except West Edmonton Mall’s HMV which is our hood. I asked the person in charge of consignment—some chick—to get it in the hip hop section. She said she’d talk to her manager. At that point, Advokit was working at HMV so I thought “okay, everything is cool.” The next week I went over to see if we could get it in the hip hop section, she said she was speaking to her manager the next day. Then Advokit comes to me and says that I threatened her–if the album wasn’t put in the hip hop section. It was a blatant lie. I went there in a suit, trying to be nice and professional about everything. So that pissed me off. The only way I deal with things like that is I write, that’s how that song came out. If you go to that hip hop section, there are 23 slots for Tupac albums. Does he need 23 spots? Can I have just one slot? I don’t think he had that many albums. I made the beat, recorded the song, gave it to CJSR and they played it. It was just me venting.
How did you hook up with DJ Nato?
I moved to the Southside, so I used to go to the Black Dog every Tuesday–they had hip hop nights there. I didn’t know too many people, but I guess some people knew of me. Nato handed me this CD, told me to check this beat out see if I wanted to do something on it. I put it in. It was the bomb. I wrote a song to it, went to his studio recorded it. It turned out to be awesome, he put it on [Mixtape vol. 1—First Flight] and that’s how a lot of people heard of us. The Black Dog was the hub of hip hop at that point; it was where I met a lot of people.
It ended in 2003?
Yeah it ended with me and Nato, we closed that shit down. They fired us because of the clientele we brought in. They didn’t like the fact that it was all guys. It was the hip hop community so we were all broke and we didn’t buy massive amounts of alcohol.
I know you’ve done some touring in Canada, what’s it like touring? Do you have any favorite spots to play at?
I did my first tour ’97 or ’96 and it was thrust upon us because me, Edot, Angeline and our band City of Champions did a show on Whyte Ave, we charged and made enough money to rent a van and the next day, we left. So I left with like $20. We booked a show in Winnipeg and the guy who we stayed with (I can’t remember his name now) was involved in the youth, getting them off drugs and out of gangs, but we were smoking some big-ass “[Joints].” We didn’t know that! Back in those days we weren’t mentors, we were just rappers.
The hip hop community in Canada is good because we all know we’re broke. So anyone comes here, I’m offering my house and I get the same treatment when I go other places. That’s the key to the hip hop community in Canada—the networking. Straight up, the only way you’re going to get your shit out is if you tour. Touring is something I deem a necessity or you’re not going to sell an album.
I love doing shows in Calgary. Saskatoon. I like P.E.I. too…Halifax. I gotta say Calgary is my favorite because it’s the easiest to get there. Saskatoon is really growing on me as my next favorite. Chaps is a strict hip hop head, I love going out there because we’re like two of the same soul. I like the boom bap and that’s it and it’s nice to meet minds like that. I like the fact that Chaps takes care of people. I went on a flyer run with him and he does his job. He goes to all the high schools, does all ages shows.
Are The Representatives (Touch and DJ Nato) touring?
Yeah, we’re just booking shows right now. As in a whole long tour, we haven’t planned anything yet. We’re trying to get Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, and Vancouver.
I heard The Representatives promo, there’s lots of shit talking: my samples are better than yours, CDRs are shit…
Yeah, The Representatives is all over the place. The promo lets you know that we aint fuckin’ around. If you need a hot track, I’ll do it right now. The album is more wide-scoped, because it never started as an album. It started as Nato handing me a beat every once and while and me trying to do a different kind of song. The last 6 months was us wrapping these tracks up into an album. A lot of the concepts weren’t even mine, Nato had some input in the subject matter of the songs. It’s probably going to be the first album that’s distributed outside Edmonton, so I consider it my first album. But I got albums cooking right now, I make my own beats and I’ve been doing tracks for all kinds of producers over the last 2 years so those tracks are still chillin’ because of The Representatives. It’s a hype album.
Anything else you want to mention?
We need more of these rappers putting out albums to start trying to infiltrate groups like AFA (Alberta Foundation for the Arts). Send your shit in and get some money from these cats. They’re not going to give anybody money unless they see a lot of hip hop. Right now they don’t understand what hip hop is, they don’t know why we do it. Especially Alberta artists, we need to step our game up, get a little more professional instead of just pressing your album, sitting on it and selling it to your buddies…
Hahaha! [We both laugh]
There are some good ass albums that I have only because people give them to me. We need to show some more presence in the province so the up and coming artists can get grants. Have something to compare it to. They don’t understand what hip hop is. Jay-z could come here, live here under a different pseudonym apply for a grant and he wouldn’t get it because it’s rap music. Let’s try to get some distribution. Clowning Edmonton rap is over. When groups come here, we straight up rock them. It’s been happening since the early 80s, steady…Ghetto Concept, K-OS, Rascalz; they come to our city and our openers will straight up rock them. Let’s start getting more presence in the record stores.
Is it possible to maintain a Canadian rap identity without sounding American? Is that important?
Canadian identity in hip hop is necessary…if you want to find your niche. Canadian rappers are not pop rappers. Kardinal is not a pop rapper, if he goes to the US and he drops an album, he’s not going to sell albums because it’s not pop, he’s going to be an underground rapper. The Canadian identity is that we’re all underground emcees. If you’re trying to be a pop emcee, it’s not going to work because Canadians know better. The Canadian identity is to stay underground and to realize that you have to sell to your own people and people who don’t listen to pop music. You need to sell to cats in Australia, Great Britain, Russia…these people aren’t about the American scene. You are Canadian, sorry. You’re not fooling anyone. All you’ll do is alienate your Canadian demographic and fail in the US. Epic hasn’t changed, he’s not trying to be anything different, he’s a Saskatchewan-ass rapper and that’s why he’s selling albums and getting tours overseas. He is not trying to emulate anything, it’s who he is. It’s all I’m trying to do, I am a Canadian rapper—sorry. If you don’t like Canadian rappers, get out of my face. I’m not going to pretend that I’m something else. I don’t expect other Canadian rappers to do the same. But I hear that all the time “It sounds Canadian.” Shut the fuck up, so what? What do you want me to sound like?
Word up Politic Live, Marlon—working in the scene forever, keep doing your thing. Edot, Nato, look out for Ira’s album. DGC. Anyone who’s an emcee, B boy, DJ… do your thing… I don’t know, I’m not good at shout outs.
Check out myspace.com/touchandnato for info.