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Interview With Rhythmicru – From Toronto – Canada


13 February 2004 No Comment

During the month of December I received a cd in the mail from this interesting Canadian crew going by the name of Rhythmicru. This 7 man Toronto based hip hop collective released their banger the Open Canvas EP and I immediately got in touch with them to talk more about the album and their role in Canada’s hip hop scene. We also spoke about their innovative Open Canvass public project. Check it out.

AG) How you doing? Can you start off by introducing yourselves to the world? 

( Cale Sampson) — Rhythmicru is a 7 man hip hop collective from Toronto, Canada. We are first and foremost a musical group, but we are also heavily active in the realms of visual artistry and sound recording as well. Our members include: A-Tom ( DJ/ Engineer), Batho (MC ), myself, Cale Sampson ( MC ), Charlie Green ( MC/ Visual Artist ) Craig Harper ( Producer / Engineer ) D-Ray the Kid ( MC/ Producer ) and The Snowy Owl ( MC / Visual Artist ). 

AG) You mentioned that your group Rhythmicru is an established group. How long has your group existed and how did it all start ? 

( Batho ) – How did it start ? OK here we go. Back in ’97 Charlie started throwing parties during the holiday season and always spoke of starting a collective. It seemed he was destined to be promoting something. That summer D-Ray moved to the neighborhood the rest of us called home (although we all weren’t really hangin’ out yet ) . He started chillin’ with some mutual friends, and he and Charlie clicked. D-Ray’s always been a musical kid, so around 98 he turned his talents towards making beats. He had some sick beats/rhymes so we wrote some tunes, and recorded them low budget style. Some how the name Rhythmicru emerged and Charlie and D-ray started throwing parties together. Because we all grew up in the same area, there was already a small web of connections. Cale and Paul ( The Snowy Owl ) were also recording tracks with A-Tom and Craig out of their Kings Den Lab, which they had been rocking since the mid-90’s. We were all down and living in the same neighborhood, so it was really only a matter of time. Finally, in 2001 Craig and D-Ray did some recording together -it turned out tight-so we all decided to rent a hype creation station in downtown Toronto. We brought together our gear, talents, time, and ideas. Two and a half years later were two albums deep. 

AG) You’ve just released the Open Canvas EP. Why call it an EP when it’s 14 tracks long ? How long did it take you to record the album ? 

( A-Tom ) – We originally intended to release a shorter disc. When we really started seriously thinking about what new tracks we were going to put on Open Canvas we realized that we had enough new solid material for a full length. It says EP on the photo in the liner notes, but that was shot prior to finishing the album. 

AG) How did you get involved with hip hop ? Which artists back then influenced you ? 

( Cale Sampson ) – I was 9 years old when I picked up a pen and wrote my first rap song. I was initially inspired by these older cats who would always be rhyming in the lobby of my apartment complex. Everyday I’d come home from school and there’d be like 4 or 5 of them in a circle ciphering. I had never seen anything like that before and I was instantly curious to learn more about hip hop culture. Then, one of my friends lent me a tape of Maestro Fresh-Wes ( The godfather of Canadian hip hop ). I listened to that tape so much that I think I memorized it. As a result, all of my earliest songs were in Maestro’s style of rhyming. Shortly after, I performed in front of my class for show and tell, and then at an assembly in front of my whole school. That’s when I realized that I was definitely good at rap, and that I could use this talent to bring others together in a positive manner. As my reputation as “the MC” began to grow, my confidence level increased in accordance, and a large part of my identity was beginning to take shape. As I developed throughout the mid 90’s, I was also inspired by other artists such as: KRS One, Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Notorious Big, Jeru The Damaja and all of The Boot Camp Click.

AG) what can you tell us about the producers who worked on this album ? 

( D-Ray ) – There was a lot of weed smoke involved in making Open Canvas. 

AG ) What equipment/ software did you use ? 

( D-Ray )-Turntables and a sampler. 
( Craig Harper ) – I use a G4 running Logic Audio to sequence my beats and I use a sampler, and synths to compose. 
( A-Tom ) – We do our audio recording and sequencing using Logic5 on a MacG4 with a MOTU 828 Interface, Glyph audio drive and a Yamaha 03D console. All our post stuff ( editing, mastering ) is done using Nuendo with Waves Platinum and Yamaha plug-ins. We also have a ton of hardware samplers and midi/synth stuff we use for making beats.

AG) If you have access to the information, can you tell us how the producers approached making their beats. Is there a lot of digging involved ? 

( D-Ray ) – Large digging ! Every used-record store and pawn shop in Toronto know me by name. I have a music encyclopedia mind. 

AG) I get a lot of people sending me albums for review, but I would have to say that your album is authentic in that we can hear an appreciation for real hip hop coming through in your music. What has the feedback been like ?

( The Snowy Owl ) – Incredible! We are who we are and nothing less. This comes through in our music and people can feel it. International hip hop internet heads are feelin’ it and we’ve gotten a ton of hype reviews for this composition. 

AG) Is this your first album ? 

( Cale Sampson ) – Open Canvas is actually our second full length. We released our first album 
” RhythmicWho ?!! ” in Summer 2002. It’s more of an underground street album, which really helped us to get our names known in Toronto. Both records are available through our website www.rhythmicru.ca for purchase and selected download. 

AG) You guys are from Canada, so I would like to know the differences between life in Canada and the States ? 

( Batho ) – This is a tough question. It’s more of a thesis question isn’t it. Anyway, without getting to into it, the most important thing to remember is that the U.S. has 10 times the people, and a lot less land to squeeze em’ in. It’s true Canada is heavily influenced economically by the States, and we are flooded with their imagery and pop culture. But Canada’s just more relaxed, roomier, and a little bit more friendlier. 

AG) What would you say are the differences between the hip hop scenes in Canada and the U.S. ? 

( Cale Sampson ) – From an artist’s point of view, two things come to mind instantly. Number one is major label support, and secondly, is the way in which hip hop culture is marketed. In the States, Major labels are definitely realizing the potential payoff of signing big-name hip hop acts. They know that hip hop music is the preferred genre of choice for today’s youth, and that these kids and teenagers who listen to it, are the people who buy the most CD’s. The bottom line is this: record companies are out to make money, and insure that all financial investments, in their artists, are made back. For the most part, they believe that the safest way to guarantee this return, is to focus on the consumption-promoting aspects of hip hop lifestyle, such as massive cribs, big SUV’s, and expensive jewellery, and promote these fantasy-like images to help their artists sell records. The other, more positive and empowering, elements of hip hop culture ( such as community, consciousness, break-dancing, and even “the DJ” ) are being pushed to the back burner and becoming forgotten about, because they are not seen as being as profitable. As a result, over the top notions of sex, fame, wealth, and violence are glamorized, and indoctrinated into the minds of young consumers. Kids who are just getting exposed to rap music now, inherit a distorted perspective, and understanding, of what hip hop culture originally started out as. They are constantly being force-fed ideas of what is, and who is, “cool” by the media, and because many of them don’t have anything else to compare it to, they eat it up and ask for seconds. As long as BET, or MTV, says that this artist is cool, then a million kids will believe it and potentially run out and buy that rapper’s album. 

In Canada, things are a little different. Firstly, we are heavily competing against American hip hop music, and the mentality that drives it. Even over here, 50 Cent, G-Unit, and Eminem get at least ten times the radio, and video play, that any Canadian rap act will get. However, in Canada life is, for the most part, not nearly as violent or as overindulgent as it is in the States. Although, there are definitely rappers who live the thug life here, it is obviously not as believable or as easy for record labels to sell. Therefore, Canadian majors are fairly hesitant to sign homegrown hip hop artists and probably see them as a financial risk to put their marketing dollars into. It appears as if, they too have adopted the American mentality of selling hip hop music, and have yet to fully develop any dynamic new ways of promoting all the unique urban talent residing in Canada . Right now, in order to succeed as a hip hop artist over here, it is vital for you to be out hustling and converting as many people as possible on the interpersonal ( face to face ) level. Being a rapper from Canada, you really have to earn your sales. Even if your video gets spun on television, it doesn’t mean that a thousand kids are going to run out and buy your album. 

AG) What’s the hip hop scene like in your town/city ? What emcees/dj’s/graf artists/ b-boys are you feeling from your home town ? 

( Cale Sampson ) – The thing about Toronto is that it is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. This is a great thing, because you see so many different types of people, with a such a huge variety of influences, participating in the culture. On the other hand, it is also very competitive, so not everybody is always open to what the next person has to offer. People have very different ideas of what “real” hip hop is, for example, who is “dope” and what is “wack”. The one thing that is undeniable, is that there are a lot of extremely talented people who are active in Toronto’s hip hop community. These are the people who I’am feelin’ the most right now out of the T-dot. 
( MC’s ) : BrassMunk, K-os, Eternia, Maestro, Saukrates, Kardinal Offishall, Oddities, Kamau, Dope Poet’s Society. ( DJ’s ): Dopey, Grouch, Fase, Funky Technicians ( Graf Artists ): Lics, Causr, Skam, Egr, 
and ( B-boys/ girls ): Bag a trix, she-bang. 

AG) If you were thrown into a warehouse consisting of every hip hop album released in the history of this culture and were asked to explain to God what makes your crew different or stand out from the mountain of cd’s what would you say ?

( Batho ) – I don’t think that it would be that different to him. At the end of the day it’s all delivered through a human perspective. It’s definitely influenced by lots of albums in that warehouse. If anyone in this existence understands how everything is connected-I’m sure it’s God. 

AG) What is the ultimate goal of your crew ? 

( Batho ) – To come to South Africa and do a show for you all ( without us having to lose money ). 

AG) Explain what your live set is like ? 

( A-Tom ) – One word, FIRE. As the DJ, I try to keep the cuts and transitions as tight as possible, and make sure we are sounding good. The emcee’s bring the raw energy to the stage. We like to mix older tracks with new tracks, and do some songs over different beats, basically keep it as hype as possible. 

AG) What do you drink and eat ? 

( D-Ray ) – I drink Gosling’s Rum from Bermuda, and perogies from Poland. 
( Charlie Green ) -Superjuice, wheatgrass, sole, Saigon subs, candied ginger, and latte. 

AG ) What artists would you like to collaborate with ? 

( Cale Sampson ) – DJ Premier, and Bob Dylan 
( D-Ray ) – Beastie Boys, Jello Biafra 

AG ) If you could do a track with either Bush or Saddam who would you choose and why ? 

( Cale Sampson ) – I would never let George Bush have the privilege of appearing on one of my songs 
( Unless it’s me sampling one of his contradictory quotes, to prove an argument against him ) he is completely unwelcome. That Republican party already uses enough channels to infiltrate his voice, and the propaganda it spews, into people’s heads. Saddam Hussein is no better. He is a tyrant, and in my opinion, the world is definitely better off without him. However, I do think that he should be given a fair opportunity to speak, and tell his story, before the world decides what his final destiny will be. Hopefully, he would acknowledge responsibility for the inhumane atrocities which he conducted against his own people, particularly in the 1980’s. Similarly, I would imagine he would reveal the role that the U.S. Government played, by supporting him with means to develop weapons of mass destruction right up until his invasion of Kuwait (in 1990 ). Saddam is now a defeated man, and after living on the run and in that tiny little hut, he should have a lot of information to vent out to whoever will listen. Unfortunately, it is looking as if, the whole story will not be made public, and that it will certainly be edited by the powers that be. 

AG) Your all time favourite Hip Hop albums ? 

( Cale Sampson ) – Wu-Tang Clan ( Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers ), Smiff-N-Wessun ( Dah Shinin’ )
Gang Starr ( Moment of Truth ) Outkast ( ATLiens ) to name a few . Other Rhythmicru favourites include early Public Enemy & Beastie Boys records. 

AG) How is support for local acts on your radio/tv stations ? 

( The Snowy Owl ) – Toronto’s underground Hip Hop network has basically revolved around college radio shows spun by local dj’s, they give us mad love. T-Dot recently got an urban music station that gives lots of spins to the city’s signed acts-but the pop roster is hard to crack for most underground crews. 

AG) Have you heard South African Hip Hop ? 

( Batho ) – Not at the moment, but your website has helped the path towards hearing some. Got any recommendations ? Send us an e-mail. 

AG) Are you planning to put anything out on vinyl ? 

( Batho ) – Planning to put out vinyl ? Most definitely ! By the end of the summer at the latest, I guarantee it. Maybe new shit, maybe old shit, but something. 

AG) What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen ? 

( Batho ) – I dream of Genie episode 324. 

AG) What albums were you listening to this week ? 

( Batho ) – Atmosphere ( Seven’s Travels ) 
( Cale Sampson ) – Talib Kweli ( Quality ) 
( A-Tom ) – MF Doom and the new Eyedea & Abilities album 

AG) What are your thoughts on mixtapes ? If e.g. I took one of your songs and put it on my mixtape and sold it on the streets would you be mad ? 

( The Snowy Owl ) – At this point in where we’re at, I’d say the more pirate mixed tapes Rhythmicru is on the better. Tapes are a great way to connect with the underground community and give them a heads up to our presence before our tracks are even available in stores. 

AG ) If people ripped your CD and distributed your mp3’s on the net would you be mad ? 

( A-Tom ) – Nope. In fact we have a lot of tracks available for download on our web site. At this point we want our music to be heard by as many people as possible, and offering up some material on the net is the best way to do that nowadays. I realize piracy is digging into the pockets of anyone who is trying to sell music at a retail level, but I feel like if we can’t stop it, at least use it as a promotional vehicle. If people hear tunes ( mp3s or otherwise ) by artists they really like and can relate to, they’ll buy albums and come out to shows. 

AG ) What are your favourite tracks on the album and why ? 

( Cale Sampson ) – The dope thing about Open Canvas is that there’s a wide variety of lyrical content, beats, and moods throughout it. There are bangers for the heads like ” Vibin”, ” Inner City Madness” and “Dreamin “. More comedic tracks such as “Gimme 5 Minutes” and “Distractions ” and also more chilled out songs, for y’all to reflect on, like ” The Renaissance Will Happen” and “Crazy As A Loon”. There’s also two hidden tracks that come on four minutes after the disc ends. Similarly, everyone should hear ” The Facts of War : Part One” at least once. I researched the information in that song for over a month before transferring it to rhyme form, and recording it. 

AG ) If people wanna hook up with you and buy your album where can they go ? 

( Cale Sampson ) – Currently we are only distributed throughout Canada. If you live in Canada you can go to any major retail outlet, or record store, and either find it there or request it. If you live outside of Canada the best way to grab a copy is to go to our website and purchase it online. 

AG ) What are your plans for 2004 ? 

( Batho ) – In the words of Frank “the Tank “-Keep Trucking. Just keep making moves until were flying to Africa to hear that hip hop live. And of course to bring you ours. 

AG) Do you have female groupies ? 

( Cale Sampson ) – One thing about Rhythmicru is, for a hip hop group, we definitely do have a large female fan base. When we perform it always seems to be split 50 / 50 between dudes and ladies in the audience. This is a great thing, because it means that a lot of people, both male and female, will be getting laid after our shows. We encourage this outcome wholeheartedly, and have found that it works to our advantage in the long run. As rates of post-show sexual activity continue to climb, the name Rhythmicru gradually becomes associated with a range of pleasurable experiences to our fans. 

AG ) Do you guys tour ? 

( A-Tom ) – We did a trip out to the east coast of Canada in September of last year, and played a few shows. We also have plans in the works to do a west coast trip and possibly some U.S. dates this summer. 

AG) Where would you like to travel to ? 

( Charlie Green ) – Europe, Japan, South America, Africa, the beaches of the world. 

AG ) Where is the best place to write your lyrics ? 

( Charlie Green ) – After Midnight Studio, Ganja cafes, The Scrubway 
( D-Ray ) – Late at night ! wherever I may be. I have to be in a particular mood. 
( Cale Sampson ) – On the lower back of a naked female body. This can quickly provide motivation when one is feeling a little uninspired. 

AG ) People tell me that Canada is a safe country. Would you say this is true ? Do you keep your doors unlocked ? 

( Cale Sampson ) – In comparison to the rest of the world Canada is a safe place to be. Obviously, our major cities can still be a little shady at times. This past year there were 65 homicides in Toronto ( 31 of which were gun-related ). That was considered a fairly high murder rate, and the Police have been making a big deal out of it because only about fifty percent of them have been solved. However, when you look at a city like Chicago, which has roughly a similar population as Toronto, there were 600 murders there this year. I still lock my door every time I leave home and lock my car whenever I park. Growing up in Toronto, my mind has been conditioned to think that way automatically. One thing that is not safe in Toronto are bikes ( even if you do lock them up ). Toronto is the bike stealing capital of the world. 

AG ) Tell us a bit about the Open Canvas experiment ( Community based painting project ) ? 

( The Snowy Owl ) – Basically, we set up an easel on random street corners and invite passersby to stop and add to a painting. Each session lasts for 3-5 hours resulting in a ” finished” artwork. The “Open Canvass” is an ever evolving concept which inspires the interaction of artists and non-artists in a free flowing form of creative expression. This process stimulates the participation of a normally passive viewer while presenting art as a tool for positive social outcomes. The resultant artwork is a vibrant, montage of colours, imagery and words which reflect the real diversity of the individuals which make up our communities. 

( Charlie Green ) – It’s an open ended exploration of human thought, communication, and spontaneous expression.

Check out their website:  www.rhythmicru.ca for more information.

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