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. 

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Birdapres & RKV – As It Is (1998)

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RR: What format was this released in? The Discogs profile, which we all know by now has your catalog pretty much fucked, shows CD. Although the mp3 rip I have shows it as a tape. Once again, with no artwork, it’s hard to pinpoint answers. In addition, what year did this come out? My sources are also conflicting on this.

Birdapres: As It Is was supposed to have a wider release, but I ended up putting it out on cassette locally as one of copies. Moka drew the cover, and we ran off copies at home and photocopied the covers at Kinko’s. It was Tape only. I’m sure there’s a CD-r version out there but I didn’t release it.

RR: Did you guys use the same distribution company for this as you did for the 12”? The one through California?

Birdapres: The tape was ultra local, with only a few copies escaping the lower mainland.

RR: The 12” gets a lot of love around the country. Having indie Canadian rap on vinyl was kind of a big deal back then. Did As It Is receive similar praise upon its release?

Birdapres: As it was just a local cassette release, that was dubbed by hand, I don’t think a lot of people heard it.

RR: Zen26 is the only feature on this record outside of Moka Only. I have notes that show Zen26 in a group with Boya D called Get Along Gang, but outside of that, I’m pretty much blank. Can you break down further who Zen26 was? Did Get Along Gang release anything?

Birdapres: Boya and Zen were in a group called Headbones. Get A Lung Gang predated that and was Zen and some others. There’s a Get A Lung Gang demo but I don’t think they released anything. Zen was crucial to QC and later Taboo Records.

RR: Do you have any stories associated with recording this? Or promoting it upon it’s release?

Birdapres: Not really, it wasn’t promoted. We just sold copies on street corners and at a couple local shops.

Birdapres – Alumni (1998)

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RR: Last time we spoke it was regarding Egocide. In which you said Discogs had the dates incorrect, stating that Egocide was dropped in 98, and the RKV 12” was in 96. Discogs currently has Alumni dropped in 98, however with no artwork to be found, it’s hard to verify. What was the date on this one? And how did it fit in chronologically with your other releases?

Birdapres: Alumni came out in 98, It was some super basement, home dubbed on a dual cassette deck thing i released out of a bunch of demos I had kicking around. I had moved back from Toronto after living there for a half a year.

RR: You have a track on here with Len “Life Unquestioned”. Were you rocking with the whole Cryptik Souls Crew at this time? Were you already connected to Moves?

Birdapres: Life Unquestioned was recorded with MCKenzie and Marc when I was sleeping on the couch at the Len crib in Toronto. I brought Len up to Stylistik Endeavors to hang with CSC around the end of 97. I hadn’t met Moves at this point, he was in Halifax. I linked with Criptik through Moka Only and the graffiti writer Insight.

RR: There’s a skit on here on the phone with a guy named Duane talking about your arrival in Toronto which starts by saying “Yo, my man Birdapres needs a job.” Who was Duane, and what “job” were you trying to get? 

Birdapres: Duane was calling into the Stylistik Endeavours radio show while we were rocking on the air and I recorded it. I spent a lot of time up there over the years.

RR: Do you have any stories with putting this tape together? 

Birdapres: When I moved back to Vancouver I just collected a bunch of stuff and dubbed tapes at home and sold them hand to hand or at FWUH and Complex.

 

Isosceles – Face the Music (1998)

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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.

Mirror Image

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.

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Dream Warriors – Ludi (1991)

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.  

Isosceles

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.

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QC Compilation by Q-Continuum. Image donated by DJ Moves (1995)

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.

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DJ Sound Wars in UBC Vancouver – Sourced from UBC Archives (1990)

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

 

Sources:

– 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)

DJ Kutdown & Ira Lee – Status Illete (1998)

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RR: Can we speak a bit about your first introduction to Ira Lee (then known as Rubix)? You mention in Third Verse that you immediately clicked and you ran out and got a Dr. Sample drum machine and a 4 track. Can you detail that decision?

DJ Kutdown: I first met Ira Lee in 1998, in Regina SK. I was moving furniture for a company that summer. It was some sort of domestic dispute between husband and wife, so there was a security guard there. The guard commented on my yellow NYC snapback and we started talking rap. I told him I’m a dj / producer and he said his good friend is a rapper. That night I believe we linked up with Ira, and we clicked. I had just moved to Regina and left all my gear with my good friend DJ Influence in thunder Bay. So that weekend I went to Long and Mcquade and financed a Dr rhythm, a Dr sample and a Fostex 4 track. We set that shit up on Ira’s grandmothers floor and started cracking out our first demo, as, Status Illete.

RR: How many tapes were recorded during this time period? Was it just one? And what happened to them? Did you spread them around at all? What were they called?

DJ Kutdown: I think we made 2 tapes, I still have one. We let people hear it but never made duplicates.

RR: You mention sending VHS tapes of Ira rapping back to Thunder Bay, would this be material that he was working on with you? Like live versions of tracks you recorded? Or material that we would know? Do you know if any of those VHS tapes still exist?

DJ Kutdown: We would make [those] VHS tapes of Ira freestyling and me beat juggling, scratching etc to send to my friends back east. We were kinda biting the turntable TV format, there was one edition where  Mixmaster Mike had Saafir rapping in his garage over asr 10 beats and turntable drumming etc. I believe I have one of those but….. If I do it’s buried.

RR: Do you have any stories related to recording the project(s) in Ira’s basement?

DJ Kutdown: I remember those days well. Ira and his boys accepted me in and we all grew our skills together at the same time. One thing I will never forget, and still think about is Ira’s grandfather. Ira lived with his grandparents. His grandmother was the sweetest lady, she was encouraging and thought the world of Ira. On the other hand his grandfather was very racist. He hated Ira, and made it obvious. It was terrible. I would knock on the door and his grandfather would open the blinds and walk away. It was awkward, I’d sit there for 10/15 mins knocking and listening to Ira fight with him over letting a fucking Italian inside. It was nuts. He was so mean and distant to Ira, I still don’t understand how Ira made it through all that living there. I guess the massive amount of love from his granny was enough to deal with it.

Ira Lee was my best friend for a lot of years, and we haven’t talked in about 12 years. If he reads this, I hope all is well my man. – Kut.

 

Tachichi & Moves – Truth of the Trade (1998)

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RR: To the best of my knowledge, you met Moves at a Hip Club Groove show at Mic Mac Mall. How soon after that original meeting did you start working together? Did any of the material on Truth of the Trade get recorded during the Little T days?

Tachichi: After I met Moves at Mic Mac Mall during an in store, I actually did a song with Jo Run. “Grab my steel” and then I actually did an album with Sixtoo called “He Who Laughs Last” we didn’t end up making copies because the Dat tape got ruined at the tape and CD manufacturers. All that happened during a year. So it was approximately a year later when we started making music. I was around 17

RR: This album is so incredibly diverse as you listen to it. You have a song like Boozehounds, which ends up being this light hearted playful song, with lots of transitions, then immediately afterwards you have The Last Laugh, which is a mixture of Vertex and OGC. Recording Truth of the Trade, what this intentional?

Tachichi: I did not do this intentionally at the time but we did want to make a diverse album when we got near the end. We just really enjoyed making music and literally had to stop doing songs for that particular album because we reached 90 minutes of music. Only a 90 minute tape could hold that so we ended it. We both wanted to have bangers with heavy lyrical content and cleverly funny stuff. That was our style then. We enjoyed sampling old movies or tv shows whether it making a beat out of them or using a sound bite.

RR: Were you able to see much success off of this record? Being pressed up in multiple formats, and how popular Halifax rap was across the country, I feel as though this would have granted you such a large audience. Especially with Sebutones, and the Anticon movement starting around that period of time.

Tachichi: I didn’t press up a lot of copies myself of that album and nor did Brian. We didn’t have much money then and since I was new at this “dropping album” thing we decided to do 100 tapes at first and the fact that there were so little copies made people just want the album more! People passing it around and word of mouth made distributors want to get in and make copies of the album on CD a few years later.  Our EP on vinyl that came out in 1999/2000 was the project that probably sold the most for us at the time. It was an EP of a couple new tracks like Choplifter and Heads up and of course Boozehounds 2. Across the country and the United States we were getting more and more notice. The underground scene with Anticon and Mr Dibbs in Cincinnati helped out a lot because of their momentum at the time and they liked our shit as well. We met Dibbs thru Buck 65 and Marc Costanzo from Len

RR: Do you have any stories regarding the creation process of this record? I feel like the original Halfway House must have granted lots of stories.

Tachichi: Ahh I don’t really remember anything too out of the norm for us recording the album. We always were drinking and we were at least half drunk or drunk during the recording of every song back then. Something I definitely couldn’t do now. I mean, I could but I couldn’t execute the songs to my higher level of expectations now then when I was a younger man.

One time Cee!!!!!!!! From the Drunken Arseholes fell off of a nine foot fence and hit his head during a session when we were having a smoke break out back. But he was totally fine so we kept the party poppin!! Lol

Truth of the Trade is by far the most fun, free and relaxed while ever making an album. It’s my personal favourite. Next is my latest album “Chico’s ‘90s project”.

Thanks

Recyclone ‎– Dead World (1998)

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RR: Is this the first album that you recorded as Recyclone? And what made you change your name from Jon Hutt?

Recyclone: Dead World was my first Recyclone album. I changed my name because I wanted this project to be separate, more serious, more focused. When I used my actual name I was mostly experimenting, learning how to make music, how to record and find a genre that I felt most comfortable with.

RR: The whole album is so far ahead of its time. With it’s noisy, and experimental production, crazy interesting concepts, thought provoking lyrics. It seems as though this is such a unique release compared to rap released within the era. Without hearing albums like Dementia 5, and Warping Solid States, was this a big departure for you?

Recyclone: I felt that Dead World was a natural progression from my previous releases as Jon Hutt. When I was making Dementia 5, I wished that I had access to a sampler. On one track, Episodes of Constant Torture off of Dementia 5, I got SixToo, AKA Rob Squire, to help me out. I think that is why he asked me, ” why don’t you put out a hip hop album?” That was the tipping point for my decision to make Dead World. That’s why, I think, SixToo said yes to producing and recording my first Recyclone album.

RR: How many people ended up contacting Recyclone@hotmail.com upon its release? Was there much of a fanbase for your material in 98’?

Recyclone: Dead World reached people in New York and all the way to California. Dose One from Cincinnati reach out to me. I was asked to be on the second Poop Soup album. I called in the lyrics and left it on his answering machine. It was released on the album but it was scrappy and distorted. So, I reworked the lyrics and wrote a second verse which I released on Numbers as Pounded Small. There was only a handful of cassettes made of Dead World but it created a lot of interest in the indie alternative hip hop scene. It even caught the attention of Sole, who came to Halifax to do a show.

RR: Do you have any stories regarding the recording of Dead World, or the immediate promotional period of it?

Recyclone: At the time of recording Dead World, SixToo was going to school at the Truro NSCC and I was attending the NSCC Halifax campus. I’d come up on weekends, bring Rob a handful of records which I thought would make some decent beats and he’d sample them on his SP 1200. During the weekend we’d record a song or two in the recording studio in Truro above the NSCC library. It was kind of cool because recording music was a part of his course requirement.

When Dead World was released there wasn’t much promotion of it. I literally sold it to friends and Rob gave it out to his friends in the hip hop community. It was released on my record label, Ant Records and we had a few orders for it because of our website and photocopied catalog.