Kwest tha Madd Lad on Label Experiences with American, NEW EP, Chopped Herring, and Eminem [Interview]

SPITRIt’s not very often that you get the opportunity to speak to a New York legend like Kwest tha Madd Lad, even more so as a Canadian hip-hop historian… But the opportunity arose, and I felt it would be foolish not to accept it and seek it out. Signed to Rick Rubin’s American’ in the early to mid 1990s, Kwest finally saw his first album released in 1996 creatively titled “This Is My First Album”.

Since then, he’s participated in battles, rhymed alongside Eminem, and has recently linked up with Monsta Island Czars emcee / producer King Cesar to release a new EP titled S.P.T.R. In addition to a digital / CD release through Bandcamp, Kwest has partnered up with Chopped Herring Records to release the EP on wax, along with a b-side of unreleased joints previously released on CD through No Sleep Recordings.

A lot of gems were covered throughout the interview, so for my fellow hip-hop heads and history buffs. Grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy the read!

[Transcribed from an Audio-Conversation, Wednesday, April 24 2019]

RR: Your project titles… “This Is My First Album” “This Is My First EP.” “This Is My Second Album: Sophomore Slump”, “These Are My Unreleased Recordings”. You were dedicated to following this theme it seems like EPMD was “Business”. What was the idea here?

[laughs] being totally honest, it was just being literal. It was my first album, it was my first EP. Not that I couldn’t think of any title, but just literally. “This Is My First Album”, “This Is My First Album”. It deviated a little bit when I did the new EP “S.P.I.T.R.” (Smartest Person in the Room), but the next album after that, and I’m getting ready to start recording for the new album, will have the same theme. Probably “This is My Fourth Album” or “This is My Album in 2020”, something crazy.

RR: Debut album has production from Poor Righteous Teachers Tony D (RIP). What was your experience like working with Tony D? And if that was set up through American? Or?

Tony DIt was set up through American if I remember right. I think Dan Charnas knew him, well I know Dan Charnas knew him as he worked for Profile which had Poor Righteous Teachers as an artist at the time. He [Tony D] did a lot of work with Poor Righteous Teachers on their first album. We were scouting around, looking for producers… and I like Tony D. You know; I’d heard his production on their album, on another couple songs. You know I wanted him to rhyme on the album actually, but he didn’t want too. We went to his house in Jersey, he played me some beats. I came up with the two songs we did on the spot; “Herman’s Head” and “Check It”. I know we got out there early that afternoon, and we didn’t leave till later on that evening, we left with two full songs recorded.

RR: Firehouse Recording Studios, was that in California? Pasadena? If so, did you record most of your debut on the west coast? Is that because American was based out of LA?

Nah, that was in New York. A lot of famous producers used [the studio]. The RZA, from Wu-Tang at the time, when they first dropped; that was their first studio.

RR: Did you run into a lot of those guys?

Funny thing is, there’s a story… I’ve only told it a few times. I was in the studio recording, I think it was “Skincare” at the time and one of the studio engineers came in and was like “Somebody’s outside”.

I’m like “who?”

He said “RZA”.

I was like “Oh shit, I wonder what this dude wants to speak to me about.” You know, they had just dropped the 36’ Chambers album, and the album was big everywhere. […] He said; I heard your record Lubrication and I think that’s some funny shit, keep doing your thing.” That was dope, that was one of the highlights.

Carlos Bess, who was the producer for Ghostface’s “Cherchez La Ghost” record, he was the engineer for the majority of my sessions. He was the engineer for most of RZA and the Wu-Tang’s sessions when they were recording there as well.

RR: In an interview I read you had stated that you felt American didn’t give you the freedom to make your record the way you wanted to make it the way that they had done for The Nonce, or Chino XL. Why do you think they treated you differently?

It’s not so much that they wouldn’t give me the freedom, they let me have total control over everything on my album. It was more the fact that when it came time to put it out, they lingered and they sat on it for basically two years. I recorded the majority of the album late 93’, early 94. It was supposed to come out Fall of 94’, it didn’t come out till Fall of 96.

I don’t know, maybe they thought they saw better opportunities in other artists that they had signed. I know I was told I didn’t have enough single material, that I had to go back and record more songs that were more radio friendly, and more radio worthy that I wasn’t trying to do. Cause I know there were at least 4 or 5 songs on the album that were at least radio ready.

RR: So the final project then, when it was finally released in 96’, that had more of a radio appeal than you originally anticipated and wanted for the album then?

Nope, that was the exact same album that I submitted in 94. Nothing changed on it. The records you heard on “These Are My Unreleased Recordings”, some of those songs  (not all of them) were supposed to be swapped out. There were songs that I felt that were supposed to be on “This is My First Album” that I thought would beat it. Flow wise, subject wise, the majority of the record, there was a lot of sex on it. Everyone who’s heard the album knows, there was a lot of sex on it. In the two years from the time I had recorded the album, to the time that it came out, I had grown as an emcee. Leaps and bounds. I wasn’t even rhyming the same anymore, different topics, newer material, I had gotten better with storytelling. So I wanted at least 5-6 of the songs that were on the original album swapped out for newer songs that I had. I think it would have made it a more well-rounded 96’ sounding album. They let me record maybe 6-7 new songs, but when the time the album dropped, I was told some of the songs were going to be swapped out, but it never came about. When the album dropped in 96’, they put the exact same album out that I gave to them in 94’, so I had felt that I had recorded all those songs for nothing.

[…] If songs on the album that I didn’t like were taken out for the newer songs I had did, I probably would have stayed on American and had a second album. As I would have been happier on the finished product. […]

RR: American at one point had both Rhyme Cartel and Wild West (Morris Taft’s label), along with a few artists directly signed to American, which included yourself, Art Official, Blaque Spurm and 5-One-Six. How tight of a family was the label, and I’d love to know what happened to some of those cats. Do you know the status of artists like Blaque Spurm and 5-one-Six.

I was cool with 5one6. Erik Romero from 5one6, we just recently got back in touch together. We were talking about doing new songs. He still rhymes, he’s still nice, and he’s still dope with his production. I was cool with them, most of the other people; being that I lived out here [NY], as opposed to living in LA, and was always being thrown out there to record and do business stuff, I wasn’t in the office a lot. So I didn’t get to meet a lot of the other artists. I never met Milk, I didn’t know Blaque Spurm, I never met Sir Mix A Lot, I knew Chino, cause Chino’s from out here, and when him and Dan were first doing songs I met him with Dan Charnas when we were out here. So I knew him, but there wasn’t any super-interaction with me and a lot of the artists.

Really, every artist at American, they gave people the freedom to do what they did. I know The Nonce did what they did at a home studio, and they just came in to clean it up. But I’m not sure, a lot of the artists, we didn’t really interact with a lot of them. A few times when I was in the office, we’d see each other walking around, but nobody really went out of the way to speak. I only met Rick Rubin once, and he’s the head of the label. He’s the one who signed the check for my album and I only met him once.

RR: What’s your relationship with the M.I.C. Monsta Island Czars? And what’s still happening with that collective? I see the poster for their debut hanging up in one of your latest music videos, and there seems to be a connection now.

I know a few of them. I don’t know the whole click, like I never met DOOM. Shout out to DOOM, I’d love to meet him and do a song with him. I’m tighter with King Cesar, AKA X-Ray. He did a lot of the production and rhymed on the majority of the Monsta Island Czars records. He reached out to me, and he’s the reason I’m back in this, truth be told. I hadn’t rhymed in years, I stopped rhyming I think in 2000-2001.

[…] I was still a fan, always a fan first and foremost, but I was done with hip-hop. But X-Ray reached out to me on Facebook, he told me he was a fan and always wanted to do something with me. He had a studio in Queens, a dope home studio, that’s where you see the posters at in the video. The video your talking about is for “World Premier”, and that’s on the EP I just put out; S.P.T.R.. He reached out, and we started doing songs together. His clique of producers is Organik Poisons, and he has a label “Mindbenda Recordings”. I was on one of the songs on the Chemical Monkey Wrench album [by Organik Poisons], go pick that album up, that album is dope. And we just started working from then.

RR: So you hooked up with Bob recently at Chopped Herring to put out that Old and New. A lot of that Old stuff came from your 2007 Unreleased Project through No Sleep. Did you have to go back to Dan Charnas and James at No Sleep in order to get approval for Bob to green-light the project?

Old and New CoverNo, not at all. James and Bob have a decent relationship. I thought there was going to be a conflict of interest as well being that James put it out on his label back then; “No Sleep”, but he gave the green light. We haven’t spoken in a while, but I’m always going to have love for that dude. He said it’s fine. We picked the best five songs, they say hindsight is 20/20, but I didn’t realize a couple of the songs we put out were actually on wax already. But those were the songs Bob wanted. I sent him over 5-6 songs, but he’s the guy writing the checks, he can have what he wants. As long as we’re putting the new EP on one side, and he wants to put the older material on the other, I think it’s a dope idea.

I don’t think the songs generated enough revenue that there would have been a conflict of interest, but like I said, James gave the green-light. […] Shout out to Bob and shout out to Chopped Herring too, thank you!

RR: What was your experience like working with Bob?

I was just really like; he wants to put out the EP? Okay, let’s hear what his ideas are. X-Ray really dealt with him more on the business aspect of it though. He reached out to me, he told me the idea before I ran it past X, and said it was cool. I thought it was just going to be the EP, and then he came up with the idea and said “You know what? Let’s put the EP on one side, and I already spoke to James, let’s see if we can put 5-6 songs from the Unreleased LP on the other side, and let me get a complete project.” He already had the green-light from James, and I was like “Okay cool.” He was real cool.

I didn’t see the artwork until it actually dropped. As I was on a little clause where I couldn’t say anything about the wax until the day it came out, and I guess he wanted me to be surprised with the artwork. Once I seen the finished product and then I found out the wax was green and purple, I thought that was so dope! I’m pleased with the project, I have nothing but good things to say about it. And Bob, if he wants to do something in the future, I’m more than willing to work with him again, cause he seems like he’s a really cool dude, and I never hear anybody saying anything bad about him, so he’s cool in my book.

RR: Last question; Eminem just posted on Instagram and Twitter that he’s doing a merch release of artwork done up by Skam and posted a photo of the Five Star Generals along with it and an interview with Skam himself. What was your reaction to this post when you first saw it?

D42i-NCWsAYYFnG[I saw that!] You know what’s crazy? That picture has been floating around for the longest. Because I posted that picture a while ago, and A.L. [also] posted that picture. We all knew it, and I’m not sure if any of them interact with Eminem, I haven’t spoken to him in years, since the Rap Olympic battles. But being that he posted it up yesterday, dude, it’s gotten such a good response. And such a good wave of feedback. No lie, within the last 24 hours, I’ve gotten like 100-150 friend requests on Instagram, more friend requests on Facebook, etc.

All that came together from Shabam Shadheeq. Shout out to Shabam. He asked all of us to be on his record when he was signed to Rawkus. He asked us to be on the B-Side to his record on Sound Clash, and said “Hey let’s do a posse cut.” He had approached me and I said I’m definitely down. He had approached Em, we all came together. That was at DJ Spinna’s house where that picture was taken. There were so many dope emcees in the room that night, and then Spinna through the beat on and it was like “Holy shit. That beat is bangin!”. I don’t think we knew what order we were gonna go in, but it came together beautifully. That record is classic. That record came out to be a classic.

You can pick up Kwest’s new album on Bandcamp below, or Chopped Herring at the following link: Chopped Herring Store: Kwest

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M-Phasis & Factor – The 3 Days EP (Early 2000s)

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The early 2000s were an amazing time for the Saskatoon hip-hop scene. Factor and Muneshine had departed the storefront to focus more heavily on music, and Soso’s Clothes Horse was beginning to establish itself more firmly.

M-Phasis existed in the 90s era of the city as a member of the Beat Comber Crew alongside Chaps, DJ Innate, Soso and Epic. In the 2000s however, he began to work on projects for Factor’s new record label “Off Beat Productions” (later renamed into Side Road). He recorded a handful of projects during this time period, three of them as apart of a “3 Day” series. All three projects are incredibly rare, but they did exist.

We sat down with M-Phasis to talk about one of these; The 3 Days EP, which he recorded with Factor (Chandelier). Enjoy the read, it’s some good prairie rap history!

RR: I know of “3 Days Later” and “Another 3 Days” that you recorded with Factor for Off Beat, however I was told that there was another project preluding 3 Days Later which was a “3 Days EP”. Are you able to verify the existence of this EP? And what happened with it? Was it pressed on CD? CD-R’s? How many? Etc.?

M-Phasis: Funny how you should ask that, the intentions for the “3 days series” was originally to contain 3 projects but it never did happen. Each of these projects had about 50 copies that went out mostly on a cross Canada tour and close friends so anyone who does have a copy it’d be rare. 300657_10151610220603936_1676770866_n

A bit later there were a few singles recorded on offbeat that were non related to the series that landed on various  projects. Well there was a hidden EP that was produced by So-So in 1997 that did eventually end up on the “North end journals” CD-R release that had approx 30 copies that included other tracks produced by Factor and myself in 2001.

RR: You were quite a bit older than Factor and at this point Factor didn’t exactly have a name for himself (at least not like we know him now) what made you work with him in the first place? Especially to this extent? How did he even get in touch with the Beat Combers Crew?

M-Phasis: Chaps and myself were good friends in high school and I had been graduated for a bit, Beatcombers was in its early stages but I remember Chaps was telling me about this guy in grade 10 at our old school who was popping out sick beats on the regular. Currently they were working together on the CF crew album with Forgetful Jones (Patty C) and Chaps was like “you gotta do a do a feature on it “. We had a great chemistry in the studio and I’ve worked with him ever since transitioning to Sideroad Records…This was around the time So-So and myself were working and preforming on our project . I’d definitely say that Chaps was the neutral friend among all of us that had introduced Factor with everyone in the Beatcomber crew.

RR: Was this CD also recorded in three days?

M-Phasis: Yes each of the “3 days” projects were produced, written, recorded mix and mastered in 3 days.

RR: Could we ever expect to see these albums resurface online digitally? I know Factor isn’t too impressed by his mic skills lately, but it’s an important piece of history!

M-Phasis: Well a few singles from both EP’s could very well resurface digitally in the future, But we have actually have talked loosely nothing serious about possibly re-opening the “3 days” series last summer but nothing is set in stone.

RR: Do you have any stories associated with this release?

M-Phasis: Looking back working on those “3 days” projects were some of the most tiring but musically satisfying days of my Hip Hip journey. Between my job at that time and sacrificing all that sleep for these experimental projects, I remember being a complete zombie the following mornings catching the bus falling asleep on the way to work missing my stops listening to those cuts on replay.

 

Psybo – Wherewithal (2007/2018)

 

a2780277009_10Last year one third of London’s Toolshed; Psybo, released his long-awaited solo debut album titled “Wherewithal” through Thomas Quinlan’s Hand’solo Records. The project was recorded from 2003-2006, and finalized in 2007. However, as with many creative endeavours in the hip-hop sphere, Wherewithal never got released, despite a proper cover, a mixing and a release ready to go. That is until Quinlan’ stepped up to the plate.

We sat down with Psybo to go over the story of this record, and to chat about the prospect of future work. Hopefully you enjoy the read, and it encourages you to peep the record, as well as Toolshed’s back-catalog. (Oh and Backburner too, cause that’s a thing!).

RR: I guess the obvious question to get it out of the way, is what took so long to get this out in the public?  When did you actually begin working on it?

Psybo: I wrote the rap for ‘Above the Water’, the first track off of the album, back in 2003 while I was on a trip to the west, where I would eventually make my future home.
Vanessa, who is now my wife but girlfriend at the time, was attending film school in T.O. Kils had just moved back to Toronto from the east coast and lived just down the road from her place at that time. So while I would be staying with her by night, as she attended school by day I would head over to Kils and kick it. That would’ve been circa 2004 or 2005. It was in these sessions that Wherewithal began to truly take shape.

If i had to put a date on it i would say that the majority of the album was written in 2005, and ironed out and edited down in 2006/2007. It was around this time that we were starting to yearn for something more out of life, and not just Vanessa and I, but Toolshed as well on a whole. We were all 27+/- years of age, and needed a stick in the spokes to thrust us forth. For us that took the form of uprooting from our homie hub of a house in London Ont, and catapulting ourselves into an uncertain and new perspective on life. A fresh take. We stood at the edge of comfort looking over the precipice of the unknown and we jumped. So departs the rollercoaster of my M.I.A. on the scene.

Todd Gronsdahl - Rap Portraits - Toolshed
Toolshed, illustration by Todd Gronsdahl, circa 2009~.

From there we quickly set roots in our new home out in B.C. and within our first year here we were lucky enough to find ourselves expecting our first child. We didn’t waste time. By 2013 we had 4 children. A four year old, a two year old, and two zeros. We grew exponentially as a family and it was all encompassing as we did so. From the time the twins were born in 2013, I was so removed from writing and recording and with a daunting workload that I had set on my plate in front of me, that not only was I unable to tantalize the likes of such ideas as dropping the record, I also found my self unable to make time to put pen to page for the first in my adult life. It was both beautiful and weird. I was more elated than I had ever known, but as well more overwhelmed than ever before. I learned a lot. Mainly, that you have to get the crazy out of your head, and art in whatever form helps tremendously.

That sums up the distance of time from start to the near present, but how the album came to see the light of day is because of the homies. It goes something like this. Early spring 2018 Backburner page forms. Someone posts about old posse cuts. Crew reminisces about a cut we tried to do for my album back in the day. Homies start talking among themselves and pondering the existence of the album that I was working on, and sharing their love of what little of it they remembered hearing. [Thomas] Quinlan was a part of the conversation, and almost immediately after we concluded that thread hit me up. Asked in what shape or form the album was in, and when I told him it was mixed, mastered, and with cover art already completed, he asked if he could put it out on Handsolo. I told him i would be honoured to have him do so. Once Quinlan took the wheel it was only a few short months before the record was awarded what it deserves, and found the light of day.

RR: How much of this record was cut and/or altered? It’s pretty short and I imagine considering how long it took to put together there must have been more material written. I understand the world just got this album but could we ever see a B-Sides tape?

Psybo: There was a bunch of raps, ideas, partial tracks, and unfleshed out attempts that were possibilities that ended up on the cutting room floor. For good reason, as we were evolving as a crew and everyone was stepping up their game. Most of those fell by the wayside and eventual obscurity.  The likes of which I doubt exist, and if so not in my possession, so their seeing the light of day in the form of a b-sides release is next to nonexistent.

a4207700723_10RR: I know you’ve recorded some new material for future Backburner projects, have you been working on solo joints again since putting this one out?

Psybo: After the twins were born in 2013, as aforementioned I maybe scrawled a handful of raps over the next four years. In 2017 a good homie of mine who records and goes by Gisto hit me up. He was writing his album at the time, and shared with me an admiration for my syllable work, and asked me if I wouldn’t mind helping him wrap his head around a couple of his flows. It was in these sessions that I was afforded the opportunity to write without the weight of some self perpetrated desire to pen a magnum opus. Once I got the pen back on the page the momentum came in quick succession.

Which brings me to the present where I am damn near back to penning at least a sixteen a day. 98% essentially overconfident journal entries, but when you play the odds it just so happens you might turn out 2% dope. I believe I am doing just this. I am excited to take on the day that lies ahead, and equally amped the fuck up on the raps that are flowing out of me. Fingers crossed it wont take another decade to share them with those that wish to listen.

RR: Do you have any stories associated with recording this project?

Psybo: The only stories from the process that need further elaboration are not stories at all but sentiments. Timbuktu is dope. Kils is dope. The Backburner crew is family. Quinlan is so incredibly important to the proliferation of underground rap in Canada and indeed the culture that goes along with it.

GSG – God Told Me Not To Battle (1998)

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London Ontario’s hip-hop history is shrouded with lyrical excellence, hip-hop has been alive and strong in the city for decades, yet it’s still a place mostly overlooked on the map. And although some may know of cats like Shad, OK-Cobra, and Thesis Sahib, London has a lot more to speak of than the few shared above.

Today I spoke with Mat Labatt, an emcee who fits into this category of rappers and producers who largely went under the radar, but he’s an important part of this Canadian hip-hop puzzle. From working with his group Labatt Brothers in the late 1990s alongside others like Osearth, Foster the Fence Hopper, Wheelsaw and Johnny Trainwreck, to working almost as a “secondary” Backburner emcee during the early days of the London-Halifax collective.

Thanks to the advent of Bandcamp, another project he was heavily involved with has recently got it’s shine; GSG’s God Told Me Not to Battle. The 16 song project had 8 songs with Mat himself, and I wanted to dig into it deeper. Enjoy reading the interview, and hopefully it inspires you to go through London’s vast catalog with a bit more depth.

RR: How involved were you in GSG? Were you an official member of the group? “The one man army” claim comes up with Chief Chills, but you’re on this album almost a dozen times, and most people in London would associate you as GSG.

Mat Labatt: GSG is a “one man army” and Chief Chills is GSG. The reason most people in London would associate me with GSG is I was the first DJ/Producer Chief Chills ever worked with. I recorded his first demo. I had been producing for a few years prior to producing Chief Chills. I actually came up with his rap name, Chief Chills. I produced all kinds of tracks before God Told Me Not To Battle. But I’m not GSG. I’ve got a lot of rap homies, but I have always stood alone.

RR: Was this album at any point called “Music From The Immortals”? The cover that’s on Bandcamp appears to be under that title, with scotch tape over the cover with God Told Me Not To Battle written with sharpie on said tape, then scanned in. Was the release done like this at the time?

Mat Labatt: No. To my knowledge, the album was always called God Told Me Not To Battle. I think Chief Chills released maybe a hundred CDs and it was very DIY. But I could be wrong.

RR: This is one of the early London hip-hop albums. There wasn’t a lot of recorded material to make waves prior to this. Demo cassettes from Toolshed around the same time, Genocide had the CD, and some earlier demo stuff from groups like Brotherman Syndicate, Black Reality, and Collapse Syllables, but this seemed to have gotten spread around at the time. While recording the album, did you see this as a pioneering hip-hop record for London?

Mat Labatt: Not really. It felt like we were in our own lane, in our own neighbourhood, kinda just doing things for the neighbourhood. Our release party at the Victoria Tavern was a big success, but it was pretty much all underground success. It felt like we had something different from everything else out at the time. We didn’t know or care if people would like our music. We liked making it. The guys on this list are all guys that I had already worked with or had tremendous respect for. Brotherman Syndicate came way before us and was on a way higher level, sound quality-wise. We were on some broke-ass basement demo recordings. So I didn’t even consider it an official album – I was just sharpening up my production skills. As the DJ, I was bringing most of the samples and the drums to the table with my record collection.

RR: Do you have any stories regarding the recording of the project, or during the immediate promotion of it?

Mat Labatt: Yeah. For sure. I remember around that time period teaching tons of people how to make beats. Like, mad people. Some of them are still producing now. But one of the stand out beats on God Told Me Not To Battle was made by Chief Chills’ little bro, Derek. The track “Scandals and Animals” I think is the best track on the album, and it’s one of the only beats I think he’s ever made.

Also, we recorded the first 3 GSG albums in his bedroom. The release party was at Victoria Tavern, London’s oldest bar, and we had one of London’s best drummers rockin’ a live kit in the basement. Danny Miles (of July Talk) was playing along with our beats and the show got so loud that they unplugged the jukebox upstairs so they could hear the show on both floors. Chief Chills raps loud.

You can download GSG’s God Told Me Not To Battle for free on Bandcamp, or stream it below. 

Knowself and Ginzuintriplicate – Science, Technology and Globalization All Suck! (1999)

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Back in 1999, following the release of Pseudo Freedom in the Age of Manipulation with DJ Moves, Halifax based Knowself hooked up with fellow emcee Ginzuintriplicate to record and release Science, Technology and Globalization All Suck! The album has been re-released in various forms throughout the years, including an online only release titled Mind Controlled, Automaton Conformist, Ego Enslaved, Manipulated Materialistic Robot, Indoctrinated Pawn Fool World. These online releases have quickly been pulled off the net, however you can still locate some of these on obscure hip-hop blogs.

Last year I interviewed both Knowself and Ginzu for the book and although we covered a variety of topics, this project came up in both of them. Within the last week, I chopped it up with Knowself again to cover this release in more depth via text. Here’s what came of that conversation. If you’d like to read more obscure Halifax history, including projects with Ginzuintriplicate, please check out other articles on the website here. (The Sentinels release piece I highly recommend.) Enjoy the piece, and thanks to both of these amazing artists for putting out quality work and advancing the Canadian scene one track at a time.

RR: Coming off of the album with Moves, why change it up? What made you start working with Ginzu? And were you friends with Jesse at the time as well?

Knowself: The album with moves was recorded in ’97 and late ’98 (same time as Truth of the Trade, Cock Dynamics and Hiss 2) before Moves moved to Toronto to work with Len. I had attempted to move up to Toronto to keep working with Moves and made the move but didn’t have the money to pull it off properly so had to move back to Halifax. I already knew Ginzu and Jesse a bit from the Hali scene and knew they were skilled, humble, real cats and we just naturally gravitated toward each other as we had a similar chill, open temperament and creative inspiration etc. Also, Buck 65 was the guy who put me on but he was super busy and focused and same with Sixtoo who was the 2nd guy who had my back in Hali and taught me a lot like Buck did but he was very busy too with the Triple Bypass internet radio show, recording etc. So, it made sense to work with people who were in a similar lifestyle. Being 1999 we were not sending sessions via pro tools so working with Moves from a different city wasn’t even an idea.

RR: The project that eventually was put out in 99’, what exactly did it entail? From what I’ve gathered it was this weird collection of freestyle rhymes and unorthodox flows. Can you detail this further?

Knowself: The project that dropped in 1999 was the album with Ginzu and it was originally titled “Science, Technology and Globalization All Suck!” hahaha- not joking. Not that I meant that as absolute but I was expressing valid concerns and there is lots of truth to that statement. The original release had a track produced by Sixtoo “Subliminal Media Technology” and another one produced by myself.

RR: When I was speaking with Ginzu, he had mentioned the Weather Modification Party, and one crazy weekend that happened at the spot in Shobukto. What can you tell me about that weekend? And are we ever going to be able to see the full recordings of what went down?

Knowself: Yeah, that weekend long recording party from 1999 was in an apartment I was living in with the Dregs of Society. It was Wordburglar, Tòm T, Disco Stu, me and a few other dudes in a 3 floor, 8 bedroom house. This crazy session was set up by Ginzu, Jesse Dangerously and myself. We had a live drum set, turntables, sampler and people came through with their instruments; guitars, bass guitar etc. there was even a xylophone. Local singers like Jeannie Taylor came through and laced some vox too. Emcees like cee!!!!!!!! and Tachichi dropped some verses and Gordski even blessed us with a ill Ski’ verse. More emcees were supposed to come but couldn’t make it. We got crazy creative and almost just executed a type of spontaneous, stream of consciousness kind of recording process that captured lots of next level and creative moments. It was like recording in the middle of a party while there was actually another party going on in the rest of the house. The cops were actually called on us and I had to go out and assure them we would keep it down. We didn’t really keep it down but they never came back again so that was cool of them. haha. The meat and potatoes of that project was released on the “Mind Controlled, Automaton…” project and can be viewed on Discogs.com. A larger version was briefly released but pulled but I will re-release with like 10 extra songs in the future and it will include stuff I did going back to 1992. Tracks of me from 1994-95, unreleased tracks with Sixtoo etc. A big ass compilation project will be out at some point.

RR: The release that came out in 1999, and the later online re-releases that the work has seen (generally only lasting a short period before being deleted), how different are these versions? And do you still have the original masters?

Knowself: They were almost the same. The first one was the one on Discogs (Mind Controlled…) and the second one just had like 8 extra tracks. I have weak old CD masters of some of it. It was on Youtube but it got deleted. I took it off Bandcamp as I wanted to add more tracks and release a final version in the future.

RR: Do you have any further stories regarding either the recording of the project, or promoting it shortly after?

Knowself: I`d just say that we had a dirty, musty, dark jam space on Gottingen St. (me, Jesse and Ginzu and a few others) where we jammed and recorded at that point in time. Other people would come through and it was a cool time. Thats where a lot of the vocals were recorded. Also, I performed many tracks from the album with Ginzu live a bunch of times when I was opening for Sole and Sage Francis in Hali and other shows I did with Ginzu, Jesse Dangerously, Smoke Dogg and Cee!!!!!!!!  before I moved to Montreal in September 2001. There’s a video of me performing a bunch of those tracks at a packed show at Cafe Mokka or the Kyber Club. As far as promotion just hand to hand slinging dem tapes baby! Fun times.

Finesse & Showbiz – 64 Crayons (1992)

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In 1992, Vancouver hip-hop group Finesse & Showbiz (DITC being unknown to them at the time of conception) released their debut full length album 64 Crayons. Niel had reached out to us through email to talk about this release and we were delighted to go down memory lane and recover some more obscure Canadian hip-hop history. 

Almost 30 years after their first single “Where You At?” got mainstream radio play, Niel will be working to re-release the single on 7″ vinyl record. Keep an eye out for the release by following Niel on Twitter and Instagram. 

Enjoy our conversation with Niel as we discuss 64 Crayons. 

RR: 64 Crayons is released on Johnny Jet Records, can you explain your involvement with the label? The only other act that I can see they released prior to you guys is West End Girls whom are also from B.C. So I assume the label was Canadian, however the distribution network that they seem to have had early on is quite impressive. What’s the story with the label, and how did you get involved in it?

Pete Rumble (Niel Scobie): We were a group for two years before we signed with Johnny Jett, so I first have to begin a little further back. We recorded a demo in January 1991 called “Where You At” in a small basement studio off Commercial St. in East Vancouver. The owner was Mike Harding, he worked at Odyssey Imports, a record store on Seymour St. back when this one particular block was called “Record Row” because it had four or five record shops on it. I regularly bought vinyl there for my radio show at CITR (UBC). About a month prior, I had told Mike that my group, Finesse & Showbiz, wanted to record some music. Remember, studio time was expensive back then, it wasn’t as easy as just laying tracks down on your Macbook. So, when he said he had gear, it was on. Incidentally, his brother is Scotty Hard, an engineer and musician who’s worked with Ultramagnetic and Gravediggaz. Rick and I already had the whole track ready to go, from the samples, the scratches, all the lyrics, everything. We spent the afternoon in Mike’s studio, and a friend of his brought an 808 for us to lay some serious bass underneath, and we were done. Lastly, Mtano Loewi, who later was part of Cipher and owned an independent label called Mocca, mixed it.

To promote the song, we copied it onto cassettes, about 50-100, and cold called clubs and radio stations. In hindsight, we should have pressed in on wax. It’s not like we didn’t consider it, but it was so expensive, and we just didn’t have the funds. One place we dropped a cassette off was LG73, the hit radio station in Vancouver at the time. Within a couple of weeks “Where You At” began to receive airplay. That was wild. Here’s a rap song, recorded by Rick (17) and I (18) in a very “DIY” environment in East Van, added to the rotation on the city’s biggest station. Requests for it started rolling in, and that landed it on LG’s nightly countdown, the “Top 8 at 8.” It made it as high as #3. Picture that: a demo produced by a some kids from Nanaimo getting on the Vancouver’s #1 station. It was unheard of.

So, all this radio play on LG73 made some noise, and we began to make a little name for ourselves. We performed regularly, primarily on the island, as we were still based in Nanaimo. One of our most memorable shows was opening for EQ at 86 St. Music Hall. Then, in September of ’91, we placed fairly high at the DJ Sound War, in the group category. Ultimately, Johnny Jett contacted us about signing and making a record. We knew who they were but were apprehensive because all they had released up to then was a girl group called the West End Girls. We signed a one-album deal, and they gave us autonomy in the studio to record what we wanted.

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1989, courtesy of Niel Scobie.

RR: Troy Samson doesn’t appear to be an official member of Finesse and Showbiz (He ain’t you nor Rick), however he is credited on the majority of the record here. Was he deemed a part of the crew early on?

Pete Rumble (Niel Scobie): For us to have carte blanche in the studio, they assigned an up-and-coming producer and songwriter named Troy Samson to watch over the project, I guess Johnny Jett didn’t trust a couple knuckleheads alone in their recording studio. Although we got along well with Troy, he wasn’t a member of the group. Officially, Finesse & Showbiz was Rick Noble (MC) me (as DJ Pete Rumble), Danny B, and our dancers, Elton and Oliver. But Rick and I recorded all the music, so the other guys weren’t involved in that part of the process. Troy acted as an engineer, and he wrote a couple songs on the album that were more radio-oriented. He oversaw the project and is credited as producer of the album, whereas Rick and I “produced” (in the hip-hop context) all of our songs. I mostly made the beats, and Rick the vocals. We had conceived most of our songs before we even signed with Johnny Jett. Our friend Chaz E.B. had an SP-12 drum machine and a rudimentary vocal booth in his house, so we had rough versions going into the studio. Songs like “Pete’s Theme,” “Cablegram,” “Prodigy Child” and “Soup of the Day” were already works in progress.

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RR: Sonically, this album sounds quite a bit different from other material that was being released in the same setting. 64 Crayons in many ways sounds like a mid-late 80s rap record with high tempo’s and funky samples, and even geographically it sounds much different than crews like The Ragga Muffin Rascalz and Sound Advice. Was this record recorded earlier? If not; what was the mentality crafting the record’s beats?

Pete Rumble (Niel Scobie): We recorded the bulk of the album in late 1991. However, the label thought we didn’t have anything radio-friendly, so a couple more songs were added that John Dexter, the label owner, produced and they’re the first two tracks on the album. It’s funny, they totally stand out from the rest of the LP, but that’s the industry for you. They were unsatisfied with what we had done and took an executive decision approach to fill out the album. As far as our sound goes, we were primarily influenced by groups like Eric B & Rakim, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, Marley Marl, Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince, Gang Starr, a much more east coast aesthetic as far as layering samples and lots of scratching; but remember, we’re from the west coast where bass was king. That’s why there’s so much 808 in our demo version of “Where You At.” That was the sound we were trying to achieve. As far as sounding different, it might be because, at that time, it wasn’t uncommon for acts from the same city or region to sound different. There was far less uniformity back then.

RR: Why not follow up 64 Crayons with another LP down the line?

Pete Rumble (Niel Scobie): Our relationship with Johnny Jett was a bad marriage. They didn’t understand hip-hop at all, they didn’t understand how we made beats with samples, and they were much more radio oriented. It was doomed to fail. The positive side was we got to do what we wanted in the studio; however, when they weren’t happy because we didn’t have any potential radio hits, they wanted tracks on the LP that were their idea of hip-hop, but in our eyes they didn’t fit. So, after one year, we amicably parted company. It was best for both sides. Finesse & Showbiz broke up about a year later as Rick wanted to continue recording, I wanted to take a break and DJ full time, and Dan, Oliver, and Elton, either had other commitments or lost interest. Over the next decade or so, Rick, now Rick Threat, released three albums and a few 12 inches. I recorded less but did manage to produce Checkmate’s “R.A.W.” with Royce the 5’9, Concise and DJ Revolution. It was nominated for a Juno in 2003. Also, Birdapres, A.M.P., Usual Suspects, Illa Brown, and Concise for his solo album, Fame.

RR: Do you have any stories regarding the recording of this release, or the immediate promotional run after it?

Pete Rumble (Niel Scobie): I have many, but the one I’ll share is more recent but is still related to 64 Crayons. When it was released in 1992, it was the first west coast Canadian hip-hop album with national and international distribution. We knew this because Quality Records had distribution rights in Canada, and Johnny Jett licensed the album to Festival Records in Australia, along with a couple of singles.

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Germany International Release for 64 Crayons. Courtesy of Niel Scobie.

Do you know the documentary Searching For Sugarman? Back in the early 1970s, Rodriguez, a Detroit musician, was selling tons of records in South Africa, except he didn’t know it. It was only after thirty years or so later that he learned this thanks to some fans in distant places.

Similarly, in the last seven or eight years, we’ve found: a German pressing of the album on vinyl, which is cool because it was only available on CD and cassette in Canada. Back then, labels had all but phased vinyl LPs out entirely. The album was released on cassette in Indonesia, and two 45s were pressed up in the Philippines. They were all licensed without our knowledge! Who knows, maybe there will be more.

 

Interview conducted by Sam Vaters & Alex Kuchma

 

Dan-e-o – Dear Hip Hop (2000)

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RR: To the best of my knowledge, the original release of this was sold by mail-order only if they got the address from another One Rock Release (Possibly The Book of Daniel?) What was the idea behind this?

Dan-e-o: I hate waste. I actually can’t stand it when I see people in restaurants return half-eaten plates of food. So when it comes to my music, I really can’t stand the idea of recording songs for nothing. At least, that’s what I felt back in 2000.

These days, plenty of songs I record never see the light of day – nor should they. But when I completed The Book of Daniel, I knew there were songs recorded for Dear Hip Hop I didn’t want to waste. So I simply burned them to a CD and offered them for free to anyone who mailed in their receipts for their purchases of The Book of Daniel.

Instructions were provided in the liner notes of the album. I ended up giving away 50 or so CDs. In retrospect, it was a lame idea. They were unprofessionally designed CD-Rs with unmastered tracks on them.

RR: Revising this album over the years, when we finally get the most recent reissue in 2017, for Dear Hip Hop: 20 Years Later, outside of the few noticeable additions to the track list, how much had changed from that original shoddy recording you sent out via mail?

Dan-e-o: Shoddy recording is right! Not only is the new album professionally mastered, but there are a number of changes that were made to the track list.

“Dear Hip Hop” is now the first track on the album, as it should be. This change was made when the Dear Hip Hop album was mastered for a vinyl release by France’s Sergent Records in 2014. It only made sense for that piano loop to kick in the second the needle hit the vinyl.

On the “shoddy” version, the “Dear Hip Hop” track was placed seventh. The idea for that was a “save the best for last” kind of thing. The sequel “Dear Hip Hop (The 2nd Letter)” came right after it as the eighth track. For the vinyl album, “Dear Hip Hop (The 2nd Letter)” starts off Side B, making it the sixth track overall. I kept the same track listing for the Dear Hip Hop: 20 Years Later release.

Of major note is the fact that “Dear Hip Hop (The 2nd Letter)” only featured Grimace Love on the old CD-R version. The original recording also features Choclair and Frankenstein. That version appears on both the vinyl album and the Dear Hip Hop: 20 Years Later release. Chocs and Frank were originally omitted because, at the time of the old release, Choclair was signed to Virgin and, on the advice of his manager, I decided not to get into it with his label about featuring him on my project.

In addition, a bonus track called “Jackin’ 4 Beatz (T.O.)” with Nish Raawks was on the original CD-R release. It’s not on either version the new album. Included on the new album, in its place, is “Danish” with Nish Raawks, which appeared on The Long Awaited… and the Korry Deez-produced “Dear Hip Hop (Remix)” which I forgot even existed until it was located on the DAT tape during the vinyl mastering session. The vinyl album was actually going to include the instrumental for “Dear Hip Hop” until the remix was rediscovered.

And then, of course, four brand new songs were recorded for Dear Hip Hop: 20 Years Later: “League Of  Legends” featuring Thrust, Maestro Fresh Wes, Moka Only, Big Kish & Eternia (a Scam-produced all-star posse cut which served as the first single), “Rap Essentials” featuring Mathematik & Deuce Deuce (an ode to the compilation of the same name that launched our careers), “Spit” (a quasi-tribute to J Dilla featuring his brother, Illa J) and “20 Years Later” (another incarnation of “Dear Hip Hop” featuring Kitchener’s Fraction & Cable).

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RR: Was this album made in direct response to the love you had gotten from the Beat Factory tape?

Dan-e-o: To be honest, no, it was already in production. The Rap Essentials Volume One liner notes reveal that I was going to release a Dear Hip Hop EP.

Since it never came to fruition as intended, I released the shoddy CD-R along with The Book of Daniel. But most of it was done before Rap Essentials Volume One came out. Only “Dear Hip Hop (The 2nd Letter)” hadn’t been completed yet as it was conceived while on the Rap Essentials tour with Choclair.

RR: Do you have any stories associated with the recording of this album, or the immediate promotional run of it?

Dan-e-o: Yes, I actually almost gave up on “Dear Hip Hop”. After writing the lyrics to Scam’s beat, I went to his house to work on arranging the track. During the session, Scam told me I was rhyming off beat. He explained that I kept starting my verses at the top of the piano loop instead of on the downbeat or the “one”.

My 17 year-old mind was confused. For some reason, it took me a while to understand what I was doing wrong. So at one point I was like “fuck it, I don’t want this beat then”. Thanks to Scam, who continued to encourage me and get me to be on point, “Dear Hip Hop” came to be. It almost didn’t happen.