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.