RR: This was released on Taboo records. What was Taboo records? What was the story there?
Birdapres: Taboo was a label name that my friend DJ Ariel came up with. The core of it was RKV, me and Zen 26, RTA had sort of unformed at this time and I thought the strength in numbers approach was still the best. We pooled our resources and followed up the RTA 12″ a year later with a three song single. The plan was to release more stuff but I moved away for a bit, and we didn’t keep it going.
RR: Jul One, L Precise and Stace Prints produced for this EP. I’m familiar with Stace Prints, but who is Jul One and L Precise (L Precise’s name is familiar!)
Birdapres: Jul One is a producer/artist from Victoria that was always in the mix. He made what Moka Only used to describe as “vacuuming the graveyard” type beats, that were really messed up and slowed down. I don’t think we’d heard much DJ Screw but if he was really into jazz samples they’d have been stylistically similar. L Precise is a dope producer MC from Delta I worked with a bunch.
RR: How did you manage to get a Californian distributor to distribute the 12?
Birdapres: Because we were dope I guess. Back in 97 not a lot of people were putting out independent records, so it was easier to get your stuff heard.
RR: Any stories regarding putting this together?
Birdapres: We recorded the As It Is LP at Sichuan’s place in Burnaby. We had all sorts of folks over dropping beats and rhymes. The three songs for the 12″ were drawn from the album. Stace made that beat for now while I added my two cents from the couch.. The instrumental appears in Mr Dibbs “Live In Memphis” for the hardcore enthusiast.
RR: Was this the first compilation of it’s kind in BC? I’m not familiar with any other BC rap compilations. There’s the Renaissance Volume 1 compilation put out through Calabash but outside of the Rascalz joints it’s not exactly a hip-hop tape.
Birdapres: I can’t say for sure if it was the first Hip Hop compilation in BC, but it may have been.
RR: Was Q Continuum supposed to be a group at one point? Were you guys performing shows together? Or was it just the compilation title?
Birdapres: QC was a crew, in the tradition of Native Tongues or The Hit Squad. It was a larger extended family of like minded artists and groups that worked together. QC used to put on a barbecue/park jam at Tecumseh School. It was organized by Jumrocski, who would get power from one of the neighborhood houses, and we would set up a sound system in the basketball courts. Aceyalone and Dilated Peoples freestyled at it one summer. I don’t think there was an official at a venue QC show, we mostly formed freestyle ciphers and did underground things.
RR: With such a large group, I imagine there was one individual that was spearheading the project. Who put this all together? What was the thought process behind dropping this?
Birdapres: QC was put together by Prevail, later of Swollen Members, and Zen 26. They organized crew meetings and we figured out how to pay for studio time and tapes by pooling our money together. We just brought in all the Hip Hop heads we vibed with. It was a way for us to get our music out.
RR: Your name is credited on the tape as “Bird of Prey” how long were you rocking that spelling before changing it to what we now know?
Birdapres: I think my name was already settled on but they didn’t ask me how it was spelled. I was part of a crew called RTA (Running The Asylum) with Che Imperial and DJ RKV, and we did a song called Hall Of Fame on the tape.
RR: Were you in any of the studio sessions for this tape? If so, do you have any stories regarding it?
Birdapres: It was pretty much one studio session. We each had like an hour and a half to record and an hour to mix each track. I think we booked two days at the studio, and everyone had their allotted time. RTA was there for Boya D’s recording, and we helped with backup vocals. It was my first time recording in a studio, and for Hall Of Fame I just remember the time constraints and really feeling the results. Sichuan did the beat, and RKV cutting up Kool Keith was the icing on the cake.
RR: In the Liner Notes you thank Scott Lake and say “Without you we wouldn’t be here” Referring to Scott Watson Lake, who was Scott? And what significance did he have on your career?
Thrust: If you look at the album it was recorded at Phase One Studios. Phase one studios is probably one of the most popular studios in the city. It’s The Rolling Stone’s favourite studio, when they come to town they block out that studio. It has all the rooms, it’s got like a million plaques in there.
So he actually got us in that level of studio. We were really excited as they had this big kneeboard.(The big mixing board that Dr. Dre used and most people wouldn’t have access to it.) We were also able to use the 2 inch reel which is big for recording which is why my album had a really good quality, as I had a really good studio. And he got us in at a reduced rate.
[…] So he was just really instrumental in recording all that stuff so that’s why he got the credit as he was the engineer and he hooked us up with that super awesome amazing studio. He’s a pretty big guy in the industry now, you could probably look him up. I think he’s in the States or somewhere now, but yeah, Scott’s cool. Good peeps.
RR: Did you end up shopping this record to EMI? How did EMI get involved?
Thrust: That record came out really weird, as I was supposed to be signed directly to EMI like two years before (maybe a year and a half) I had a deal in the works that a lot of people didn’t know about, and it kind of fronted. It never really went through it was just sitting in this weird place and I just said well screw it, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing anyways, they approached me.
I just kept doing my thing, I was working at Virgin music at the time, and that’s when I just did that song with Soul Decision and we were touring. So I had to go on the road, we went across Canada then we had like 3 weeks in the States booked, but that was it. So I had a choice; I had a week off and I had two weeks of touring so I said “You know what? I’ll just take the leap of faith and quit my dayjob.”
So when I quit I was walking around saying goodbye to everyone (I worked at Virgin) so I went across to EMI which was at a separate building at the time, and I knew one of the A&R’s really well; this woman named Donnie Federal. Donnie Federal was one of the woman responsible for signing K-Os. She was really really critical in getting him out. So I went to say goodbye to everyone in the A&R department, not in a “what’s up with my deal” way, but saying “Yo, I’m out the door, I worked with you guys for 5-6 years, just saying bye; just being corgel.”
And as I was leaving they were like “Yo Chris! You got this buzz with this record! We’re gonna call you! We’re gonna get this deal done! And in my head I was like “Sure, it’s been a year and a half, sure you’re going to get this deal done.” You know what I mean? So I left, it was a Friday, and it was Monday morning when Dean Cameron; the head of EMI called me saying “Chris! You wanna put out this record? We think it’s great.” So our first album was really just a demo; they just wanted to license it. The Chosen Are Few really wasn’t a record where I got a deal and just recorded… they basically just licensed the demo I gave for them, they just took it all. The only new track that I did on there that was fresh was the one I did with K-Cut and Divine Brown the “This is For Sure” track. So the rest of them was just they loved my demo so much and they just wanted to release it.
So that’s why I tell people that first album really wasn’t indicative. Like if you look at my Chosen Ones’ album and the new one I’m about to do, that’s going to be the first record I actually sat back and sat in the studio and said “This is my official release, that I took two years to get done!”
So yeah that was the thing about that; that I was quitting, took the leap of faith, and when I also took the leap of faith, I also got the record deal. But it is a license deal, I do own all the music, as I was on my own indie, just so you know.
RR: The artwork was done by Kurupt, is this the same Kurupt as like The Dogg Pound rapper? If not, who? And if yes, how?
Thrust: No, it’s not the rapper. It’s another guy named Mark Stutter, he does a lot of online stuff on instagram, he does tees and stuff he’s still in the game. He was working at Much Music at the time doing some design stuff for them. Mark Stutter a lot of people know him around the city of Toronto. He’s been around for a long time, he’s actually still around doing shirts and all kinds of cool designs. But yeah he was just a friend that I knew, he had some skilled, he was well known in the city and I just linked up with him. But no, it’s not Kurupt from Dogg Pound, that would be crazy.
Choclair got to get down with Kurupt though as we all know. That was actually 9-11 I remember that, he was like “Yo I’m going to the studio with Kurupt!” and he was trapped in the studio on 9-11 which is the day my album came out which is the only tie to it. I had to cancel my party for that record, Chocs was stuck in LA with Kurupt in the studio, yeah that was on 9-11. But I was only tied to that indirectly.
Ahead of this post we reached out to all three members of Isosceles; Skratchafras, Shrmpy & Boya D for interviews. All three accepted. This article is an account of the story they told.
Isosceles’ Face the Music is celebrated not only amidst the hip-hop community of Saskatoon, but with underground hip-hop heads around the globe. With this post I hope to give a solid understanding as to who Isosceles were, how they came to be and some details behind this iconic Canadian hip-hop release.
In order to understand Isosceles with any depth; particularly the history of the group, one must have some prerequisite knowledge of the groups initial roots as Mirror Image, before Boya D ever took part.
Our story begins with The Dream Warriors. Promoting their album Subliminal Simulation, the group came through Saskatoon on tour in November of 1994. It was during that visit that a young 17 year old Sasafras (Kelly) had encountered the group at the Midtown Plaza food court in Saskatoon. With confidence, Kelly approached and busted a freestyle to LA Luv and the rest of the crew. Impressed; LA Luv had asked Kelly to open for them during that night’s performance, in which Kelly responded by informing them of his twin brother Kevin (Shrmpy) who also had rapping skills to rival his own. The two of them went by the name Mirror Image.
The show took place at The University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and sure enough Kelly and Kevin opened up. The interesting part here is that after the show, hanging around in the tour bus; they (Dream Warriors) had promised to record a demo with the twins. With this, LA Luv had asked directly for the two to fly out to Toronto as soon as possible.
After Dream Warriors left town, the groups stayed in contact until May of 1995 when the offer was extended one last time.
Shrmpy: Over many telephone calls and rhyming over beats on the phone, we were asked to come and record at the Beat Factory Studios off Bathurst & Queen in Toronto in May of 1995 at their request. They believed in our sound and it was a life changing moment for us being that we were the first hip hop artists ever from Saskatoon, let alone Saskatchewan to have this opportunity and we were huge fans of them as well since their first album, “And the legacy begins”.
Together; the twins recorded a 5 song EP under the name of Mirror Image at Beat Factory Studios which was to be released under Beat Factory’s umbrella with distribution from both Attic and Pendulum. A set of deals that never quite followed through.
In 1995 a Vancouver group that went by the name Q Continuum released an EP titled the “QC Compilation”. Below I’ll include a image highlighting the list of names with hopes that you should get an idea of just how large this group was. This tape made moves across not only Vancouver and British Columbia, but out into the Prairies as well.
In an episode of Third Verse Extra Podcast with Birdapres; show host Chaps recalled the buzz that the QC Compilation got in Saskatoon, stating the following:
Chaps: I never had a copy of it, but I heard it. It was a big thing, this QC Compilation. People would talk about it, it became something of folklore like “Oh man! Here’s some super underground Vancouver stuff!” It definitely made ways out here.
Kevin (Shrmpy) had been out to Vancouver a year prior in 1994 during the DJ Soundwars competition that UBC was holding, staying with a graf writer Jumbo in East Van. It was then he established connections with other Vancouver acts and by the time the QC Compilation was put out, they moved out to Van due to the strength of the release, and the active scene that was establishing itself on the coast.
Shrmpy: Following the recording of our EP with Dream Warriors and Beat Factory, we went back home to Saskatoon and in the mail I was sent a copy of the Q Continuum compilation from a friend out west. I was moved by all of the songs and was already familiar with Prevail and Moka Only the previous fall when I was invited to stay at the house of a graffiti writer named Jumbo in East Vancouver through a mutual girlfriend during the 1994 Soundwars. I’ll never forget those days when Jumbo took me under his wing and introduced me to the whole scene in Vancouver because everybody knew who he was and from there I met and made so many talented friends and acquaintances who were all affiliated with each other.
Shrmpy later wrote:
Shrmpy: On that QC tape, I was bent on locating an artist by the name of Boya D who was featured on a song called the “The Only One”. By this time it was the late summer of 1995 and I was already close friends with a number of people in Vancouver, specifically Moka Only and people he was connected with in Q Continuum. I remember asking him about who is Boya D and how can I find him? Everybody including Moka told me that he is an older head who keeps to himself.
Following this; with Boya D in mind; the three joined forced as Isosceles with Shrmpy and Boya on the mic and Sasafras (aka Skratchafras) taking over the boards. Given the fact that the new name and image was more “heady” LA Luv lost interest and claimed repeatedly that the crew would be hard to market, given the fact that Mirror Image’s market appeal was largely in part due to the identical nature of Kelly and Kevin. Same outfits, same hair, same style, and same looks. This was an easy go-to for the label. Boya D recounted the following:
Boya D: I was a “hobby” rapper from around age 15. Sometime around 1986 I guess. I loved the culture and the music as soon as I heard it. I got an ASR 10 sampler, and a basic 4 track tape recorder. For the next 10 years or so I literally filled up 2 large black garbage bags with tapes of bits and pieces of verses, freestyles, beats and just lots of experiments. Myself and another local guy linked up and entered the DJ Soundwars competition out at UBC. Sometime after that, Prevail put together the QC thing and I had a song on that project.
Somehow, the twins in Saskatoon got a hold of that, and liked it and made the trip to Van to link up. I had an apartment in North Van. They rented a room in the same building. We recorded our first little EP tape there… which had the original version of Clean Slate.
Following the release of the EP, the trio (now Isosceles) got to work on their debut album. Moka Only after hearing the EP had expressed his love for the material and wanted to get involved in their new project. What came of it was the song All I Got which debuted Face the Music.
Boya D: We recorded an EP in my apartment in North Van, soon after we met. The twins took that tape back to Saskatoon and distributed it around a bit. Somehow Moka got a copy. He listened to it while hopping a freight train from Kamloops to Van (I think) and I guess he was digging our feel or whatever, and wanted to do some music together… so he ended up coming to Saskatoon and we did a show together… and also recorded All I Got.
Moke and I have always had a strange bond over similar views, humour etc., since around the QC days I guess.
Little known fact… Moka and Prev (Splitsphere) were just starting to do some stuff with Madchild (who I went to school with). And before Swollen became Swollen… we all made a beat in my apartment (the same one) using the “I can’t stand the rain” sample. Unofficially that was the first time Swollen Members was working on something together… and Moka was part of that.
Jeff Spec (as Intellect back then) was another interesting feature; one of two that appeared on the Face the Music CD. Jeff being apart of a group Syncopated Cabbages, ended up staying in Saskatoon about 5 months after the group relocated from Vancouver and they hadn’t quite finished the album yet. Wanting to get involved, Jeff rapped on Finder’s Keep (Thinking Fast) as well as produced a track that Kelly laid out the cuts for with “On a Whim”. The only song on the record not produced in-house.
Ultimately Face the Music was a large success. It pathed the way as the first hip-hop album to be released out of Saskatoon and was celebrated among local and international heads. Years after the release the twins would move out to Japan and continue their life there on separate paths with all three members still creating music on their own. Sasafras now goes by Far From Local and you can be on the lookout for future material in the future.
Written by Samantha Vaters & Alex Kuchma
– Isosceles – Face the Music (1998)
– Sasafras phone interview with Samantha Vaters (2018)
– Shrmpy text interview with Samantha Vaters (2018)
– Boya D text interview with Samantha Vaters (2018)
– Sasafras phone interview with Alex Kuchma (2018)
– Dylan Joyce, Seekers International, CITR (2016)
– DJ Sound Wars, UBC Library (1990)
– Chaps, Third Verse Extra Podcast, Episode 27: Birdapres (2018)
RR: Is this the first of these type of beat tapes that you did? Albums like Hug Life for example came prior of course (far prior) but obviously not the same type of project. Is this the first Merky Waters branded tape you released?
Merky Waters: This is the first DJ/production combination project I did. I did more of a DJ Mixtape a couple years prior, but on this one I did more production with loops and layering.
RR: The structure of the album is quite odd. This four piece sectioned instrumental rap tape. What caused you to separate it this way? There are various sounds and styles within each track, but do you find there’s a tonal shift throughout the record significant enough to warrant the splits?
Merky Waters: I wanted to release it as a full thing, but I broke it up into 4 parts to upload it onto bandcamp.
RR: Were there any physicals released of this at the time? I know the album is available for free download via bandcamp but upon initial release were there CDs or vinyl pressed?
Merky Waters: I made some CDs to give away at the time but it was a very short run.
RR: Do you have any stories associated with making this release?
Merky Waters: This is one of my favourite projects I worked on. I left any thinking of “I can’t use this or that because the loop is too long or I have to chop this break up to keep it real” and I just started and kept going all in one session.
RR: Sonically, the sound of the tape took a massive departure from just a couple years earlier with songs like “Celine Dion”. Duck Duck Goose is perhaps the closest we get, but I am curious, What was the influence in making the shift towards a darker toned, gloomier project?
DJ Hunnicut: The sonic evolution from our earlier stuff we made in 92′ and 93′ and the songs that ultimately ended up on The Space EP was a direct result of the technology available to us. Songs like “Celine Dion,” “Pop Tha Lid” and “Farm Fresh Sucks” were literally produced as pause tapes. All we had at our disposal was an SSM-2100 Realistic mixer from Radio Shack, a CD Player, Rod’s parent’s turntable with maybe a +/- 4% pitch control and a dual cassette deck. We’d find open drums on a rap 12″ and then find the sample we’d wanna use on a CD, layer them together with the mixer and recorded that blend onto a cassette. Then using the dual cassette deck, we would arrange the structure of the song using the “pause tape” method. Because of this process was tricky and our sample sources were limited, we found ourselves using longer, easier-to-find-samples (The Doors sample on “Celine Dion,” for example, is found right at them beginning of the song and is four bars long).
By the end of 93′ we had bought ourselves a Gemini 8-bit sampler. Even this basic sampler was a big leap forward for us. We were still arranging songs with pause tapes, but what we were able to sample was expanded by this sampler. We could pluck one bar out of the middle of a jazz record and pitch it up or down by 50%. That ability instantly resulted in the darker tone (you pitch anything down 50% it’s gonna sound dark). Suddenly we were able to make beats more like the artists we were into at the time – ATCQ, The Beatnuts, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Gang Starr. The beats for “Space Part I and II” were originally made on the Gemini sampler just by grabbing random bars out of “Red Clay” by Freddie Hubbard and looping them and pitching them down to see what sounded good. We were no longer confined by needling linger samples and by the +/- 4% pitch adjustment of our turntable.
The ultimate evolution came, however, when Rod bought the AKAI S0-1 sampler. This was our first real piece of production equipment. The sky was the limit with this device (or so we felt at the time!) We remade the “Space Parts I and II” beats on this sampler, as well as the rest of the Space EP, including “Duck, Duck, Goose.”
RR: Perhaps this is a question better suited for Rod, but did you ever envision P&C becoming the brand that it is, when you first dropped this tape? Did you personally expect to expand at all beyond the Farm Fresh material?
DJ Hunnicut: Peanuts & Corn became a label because, when putting out the Space EP, and designing the label, as record collectors we knew there was supposed to be a label, and there was supposed to be a catalogue number on the spine. So calling the label Peanuts & Corn Records was an eleventh-hour decision, and the name was based on an off-handed joke one of us had made, that the label should be Peanuts & Corn Records, and the slogan should be “Coming out with THE SHIT!”
It was decided shortly after The Space EP came out that Mood Ruff first record, that was going to be produced by Rod, would come out on P&C. So, as soon and a second record comes out on the label, you know, it’s officially a label. So Mood Ruff’s Maxim came out in the late spring, about a half year after The Space EP, and then Farm Fresh’s second EP, Crazy Friction, came out in the fall. We were buying ads in the local music magazine, Stylus, and sending tapes to radio, so all of the sudden, within less than a year, we were acting like a label.
RR: Mood Ruff appears on the tape. Was this the first recordings of Mood Ruff? Their Maxim and Fluid tapes were both released on P&C afterwards. How did you link up with those guys?
DJ Hunnicut: Rod moved to Winnipeg immediately after high school to go to university while Patrick and I stayed in Brandon. He made friends in University who introduced him to Odario (Garfield) and Eli of Mood Ruff. They got along and became pals, but Patrick and I never met them until the summer of 94′. Rod was in back in Brandon because Farm Fresh was headlining the Brandon Folk Festival. Rod had been hanging out with these two rappers from Winnipeg that Patrick and I hadn’t met yet, but invited them out to rap with us that night. The idea was to do a posse cut with Farm Fresh, Mood Ruff and a group I had been helping produce in Brandon called Pheaskoe (Pip name drops this group in “Duck, Duck, Goose.). But the show had begun and we were on stage and Mood Ruff hadn’t arrived yet. Then, about two songs before we were done, an old Chevette comes peeling across the grass of the Keystone Centre fairgrounds to the backstage, and Odario and Eli clamber out. They hop on stage and dance around during our song and then they grab the mics and instantly charm the audience. Shane and Rob from Pheaskoe join us on stage and we do our posse cut “Six Turkeys” and that is the first time I personally met Mood Ruff, on stage, mid-show.
RR: Do you have any stories regarding recording the EP? Or promoting it afterwards?
DJ Hunnicut: Because Patrick and I were still living in Brandon, we drove to Winnipeg and recorded the Space EP over a weekend. “Space Parts I and II” and “Duck Duck Goose” were already songs that had been written and maybe even performed live a few times, but “Space Part III” and “T.A.B.S.” were written together that weekend. I remember Eli laying on the floor of Rod’s apartment in the Lady Adele writing his verse for “T.A.B.S.” That’s probably why Eli and Patrick ended up accidentally using the same simile on the song: Eli says “My man has got you covered like a blanket” and Patrick says “Cover Brandon like a blanket.” I wonder why none of us caught that!
I remember it being very, very late at night on the Sunday when Patrick and I were recording the “Outrolude,” and we knew we still had to do the two-hour drive home. Thats why were sound so giddy and deliriously tired and silly on that track. Just giggling and trying to crack each other up. The “Introlude” and “Outrolude” were of course just improvised over some extra beats that Rod had made.
We released the Space EP on December 8, 1994 – my 20th birthday – at a daytime assembly at Vincent Massey High School In Brandon. I’m not sure how we got the gig – none of were even in high school anymore! But it was the high school Patrick had gone to, where, for a school project two years earlier, he had written and recorded his first rap songs that Rod and I produced, that were essentially the first Farm Fresh songs. So in a way it was apropos, and since Patrick never graduated from there, it was kind a way of coming back and showing the naysayers he had done something interesting. Thats at least how I look back on it.
Regardless, it was a bizarre choice to do our release there. The event was kind of a “We Day”-esque event. I remember a gal opening for us by covering a Disney song on piano. But we were popular with those Brandon kids at this point, having been performing for nearly two years, so I guess we thought it would be the right audience. We put teaser posters around town: “FARM FRESH, THE SPACE EP, 12.08.94”
Rod brought 500 copies of the cassette from Winnipeg the night before. He had dubbed each copy individually and put the labels on each side, scored and folded the covers and put each one in their case. It was a pretty exciting feeling for Patrick and I to open up that cardboard box in our pal Jason’s living room and see all those P&C001 spines all in a row pointing up at us. Rod probably hated the sight of them.
We sold a shitload of those tapes that day for $5 each.
RR: You guys began Fourth World Occupants in 96-97, how long after that before the first tape was released? What was it called? How many tapes did you press?
Emotionz: We formed Fourth World Occupants in 1997 and our first release was that year as well and self titled. It only came out on cassette and we did 200 copies of that first one. We had put together a mixtape the following year called “Sharkticons” but the files/songs were lost in transition before it ever came out. In 1999 we released another Fourth World album called “Mobile Suit Battle Memoirs” which we pressed 1000 copies of. RR: Was there any guest appearances on the album? Who handled the production?
Emotionz: Our only guest appearances on Mobile Suit Battle Memoirs was our friends from Seattle called “Elevated Elements. One of those members of that group is now known as Macklemore. Our production was primarily done by a Vancouver producer named Sean House who was in the group with us + his production crew “Blast Off” may have touched a beat or two but I think it was just Sean.
RR: You said Prevail had been a really early mentor to you when you were 15 years old, around the time of Fourth World. Did he have any involvement in this project?
Emotionz: Prevail from Swollen Members was always a big inspiration to me and a mentor since I was young. I was walking through an alley as a kid tagging garbage cans and wearing a Krylon hoodie [Krylon is a type of spray paint] Prev saw me and my friends and immediately said what’s up! We’ve been cool ever since. He never really had involvement in our songs or recording process but he was a big part of us learning how to cypher, battle, perform, freestyle etc. RR: Do you have any stories regarding the recording of the tape, or the immediate promotional period of it?
Emotionz: One of the most memorable things about this project for me was our first coast to coast tour across Canada in 2000. Our one members Big Rowd borrowed his Moms small ass pony and 5 of us crammed in for the whole trip. We didn’t have money or connections even but we had the best time. Most cities we didn’t have planned gigs and we just bum-rushed, battled and forced our way onto stages and festivals haha. It was definitely the wrong way to go about things but it was really raw and we didn’t know any better at the time. Looking back I wouldn’t trade it for anything. In the 80’s my Dad was the lead singer/songwriter in the Canadian rock group “Payolas” so he initially lent us the 4 track to record our album, so it’s cool for it to be linked to my pops as well.