Vancouver, BC – Representing Vancity, Red1 of The Rascalz has been in the game for almost 15 years. Yet, as far as Canadian hip-hop goes, he’s still fighting to get his well-deserved respect on a widespread basis. As the title of his first solo project, Beg For Nothing, alludes to, he’s not about to beg anyone for anything. Released on his own label, Killawatt, Red1 took some time out of his busy touring schedule to set the record straight with HipHopCanada about rumors that the Rascalz have broken up, why he thought it was time to drop a solo album, and why the Canadian music industry needs its own reality check. In Canada, artists like Red1 are doing their best to ensure the movement is an onward and upward one.
HipHopCanada: You’ve been in the game now for a while, did you ever think you’d be where you are today when you first started out?
Red1: Well that depends: where am I today? I feel like I’ve never really left the front lines. I’ve been in the trenches since we started and I’m still in the trenches. My rank in terms of being in the game might have went up, but I’m still in the front lines, fighting, getting my hands dirty trying to do it, still trying to make it.
HipHopCanada: Now obviously you have your solo album coming out, but I’ve been a Rascalz fan from way back, so I just want to know, is the group broken up?
Red1: Hear it here, live and direct on Hiphopcanada.com: The Rascalz have not broken up, it’s official. We’re supposed to start recording something new probably around February or March. Every year we just make an album, go tour the album then chill and take that into the next year to make another album. We’ve been going through it since I was about 16. I just wanted to try something new and make it sauté for a minute then come back to it a little later.
HipHopCanada: That’s good to know about the album, you said you’re going to start work on it next year?
Red1: I was talking to Fit actually just before I left on tour and we’re going to be in the studio once I get back. That means next week or the week after I’ll be getting to work. We’re not going to make it official that we’re actually going to start recording until February.
HipHopCanada: I’m curious, what is the hip-hop scene like in Vancouver?
Red1: We’ve definitely got a scene out there. There are a lot of young emcees that are real hungry. Young bucks like Heatwave, Blockstars, Lamar and a whole lot more that are hungry and real good too. When I was at the age they are now, I was not even half as crazy as that.
HipHopCanada: These guys are teenagers?
Red1: Yes, they’re teenagers. I’m talking about as young as eighteen and nineteen year olds who are getting ready to be on that level. I’m really hyped about the new young and upcoming talent from Vancouver. I’m looking forward to helping them out any way I can.
HipHopCanada: You were young once…
Red1: What do you mean by once? [Laughing]
HipHopCanada: I’m kidding. I haven’t heard the new album, so tell me what people can expect to hear on it?
Red1: Basically you can expect to catch that hip-hop/reggae vibe. I put like one or two “Rascalzesque” songs on there as well, but for the most part it’s just me getting myself out. I’m a big fan of both reggae and hip-hop. When recording with The Rascalz, we hooked up with Barrington Levy and Notch from The Born Jamaicans. Those were sort of my contributions; what I was feeling. With the album, for the most part I kind of stuck to my guns on it because that’s my vibe; a Canadian kid of a West Indian background who’s proud to be both and loves hip-hop and reggae, trying to bring the best of both worlds together.
HipHopCanada: What does this ‘Rascalzesque’ sound mean?
Red1: I don’t know how to explain it. We have a song, “Givin’ it Up” produced by DJ Kemo. When I first heard the beat I knew right away that it was a beat The Rascalz would use for the album. I still wanted to keep that kind of vibe a little bit because it’s a big part of me in my life in hip-hop. I have my boy Fit on there. Fit, Saukrates and I did a song together called “Reckless” produced by Solitaire, which gives you that same kind of vibe. If you hear the song you’d be like: “this sounds like a Rascalzesque type song”. I think when you can say that; it means that you have developed a specific type of sound. Ours is similar to the Beatnuts; it’s a hip-hop feeling kind of sound. When you hear it you’re like, “that’s that era in hip-hop when it was just hip-hop”.
HipHopCanada: What does that mean?
Red1: Well, I came up in an era when it wasn’t cool to make songs with R&B people. I had to learn that actual aspects of things, like before it was cool to just rap. Later R&B and hip-hop started to blend more. I was there before that happened and I think that kind of defines us, like the era of the Souls of Mischief, Farside, Beatnuts, and anything along that vibe.
HipHopCanada: Why did you think it was time to drop a solo album?
Red1: Well, I did a good majority of the writing for the Rascalz. Every year it felt like we were doing the same thing as the year before; we would take about eight to nine months to write an album, and then for the year after we would be touring it, and the year after that we would just do it all over again. I felt like I just had to try something different and try to expand the crew; try to step out. I started my own label and I worked with a lot of other cats. Fit started his own label and he wanted to do his own solo album. Kemo is one of the top producers in the country and I don’t think it’s fair that we’re the only ones he gets to work with. Kemo is doing his thing working with other people. We’re all just taking what we learned all this time and applying it to see what other roads it would lead to, and then come back to being The Rascalz. I had the option of this, I could make another Rascalz album and that’s that, or we can do solo albums and if they suck, everyone will be like, “man these guys are trash they need to get back together” and then they can’t wait to hear from us when we get back together. Or, the solo albums are going be wicked and they going to be like, “these guys are tough; I can’t wait for them to get back together again”. Either way, it’s a win-win situation. I know that when we do get back together and do a new Rascalz album it will be real good. I know a lot of people are curious about my album and what I am going to come up with. I think I have a highly anticipated album. Every day I get asked the same question over and over; “When is it coming?” I’m not even really promoting it that hard but it’s out there on the street and people know about it.
HipHopCanada: On the label tip, how did that all came about?
Red1: I was signed to Sony/BMG and I got at the president, Lisa Zbitnew, about doing a solo album. She said she wanted to hear about the idea and that she would definitely be interested in it. I asked her if I would have to do it at Sony/BMG, or start my own label. She told me to start my own label, but that she would do a label deal with me, and put out the album. After that it was a go. I get to own my masters, sign other cats and put them out; basically have a hand in how hip-hop is shaped in Canada. Every day people approach me spitting in my ear, or telling me about a dope rapper, or a dope singer. I felt like with 15 years in the game it was only fair for me to apply all that. Honestly, if I wasn’t getting paper, because I’m not rich and I’ve never been rich in Canada – I’d still love it anyway. I’ve gotten to travel the world with my friends. I get to sit back and make words rhyme over beats and get paid; it’s a beautiful thing. Whether or not I’m getting paid, I’d still be making music.
HipHopCanada: The album is called Beg For Nothing. Is there a little play on words there?
Red1: That’s a direct statement. No play on anything. When doing this hip-hop thing, everything has been a struggle. Everything’s been a “please let us on your Junos, or let us on your award show, let it be aired, let the nation see how hard we work and what we’re trying to do.” Please, can we have a radio station that plays urban music? Please can we get some love on your magazine? It’s a constant begging and we’ve been working just as hard and putting in just as much time and effort with traveling and touring and studio time and everything. We know music just as well as any other genre or any other artist out there who gets that kind of support and love. After all this time, it hasn’t really changed that much, it’s going backwards. All the hip-hop stations are being transferred over to pop stations and rock stations and Junos still aren’t airing any hip-hop and if they do, it’s that one token dude or whatever. It’s like we haven’t made any real progress as far as urban music in this country goes.
HipHopCanada: Honestly, what do you think the issue is?
Red1: I don’t know.
HipHopCanada: They try to say that commercially it’s not as marketable, do you believe that?
Red1: I don’t, because it’s the number one selling music in the world. That’s why I feel like they really want to have us in a position where we have to beg for everything and they just give us what they want. We’re supposed to be happy and satisfied with that. People actually called us brats because we weren’t trying to accept our Juno and shit. It’s not like that. We’re not trying to be brats. We’re trying to make it in this industry. I am just going to keep sticking to my guns making good music, because I know we make good music. Whether it’s “Get At Me Dog” or “Northern Touch” or “The Shine”, it’s all good music and people are watching not only in Canada, but across the border too. We are influencing them just as much as they influence us. Every Canadian artist can tell you that they worked with someone in America because they came over here and liked their style. Saukrates got signed by Redman; Kardinal got picked up by Akon. Bounty Killer was doing an interview on Hot97 and Busta Rhymes called in asking to do a remix with him. We’re not running them down, they’re running us down. But yet, we can’t get any love.
HipHopCanada: Is it a genuine disrespect for Canadian hip-hop?
Red1: No respect at all. But, I am not begging. Let us in the club, let us have this, let us have that, fuck that man. [Laughing]
HipHopCanada: Just to change gears a little bit. You’ve gone coast to coast and have played in a lot of different cities, what is your favorite city to perform in and why?
Red1: Ah, I’d have to say Toronto, because Toronto crowds are so hard to please and so hard to win over. If you play in Toronto and the crowd is hype, you know you’ve done a good show without having to ask anybody. For the most part, if you’ve done ten shows in Toronto, eight of them will probably go down like that. I know cats that get booed off the stage in the T-Dot.
HipHopCanada: The Dot is tough no doubt.
Red1: They’re right behind Jamaica. Straight up. I seen some people get ran off the stage out in T-Dot, no lie.
HipHopCanada: You’ve listed people that you’ve worked with like Barrington Levy, is there anyone else in the reggae world that you’d like to work with?
Red1: I’d definitely like to work with Sizzla. I’d like to do a Capleton collaboration too. I also want to do something with Peter Tosh; he was the rebel.
HipHopCanada: Why do you think hip-hop and reggae seem to fit so well together?
Red1: Same music, same talking, same everything except Jamaicans dealing with patois.
HipHopCanada: It doesn’t seem like American artists do it as much?
Red1: Well, right now they’re murdering it. Remember there was a time where you really had to be into reggae to know who was hot, because they were not really mainstream. Now you can go to any suburb and ask who Elephant Man, Baby Cham or Beenie Man are and people will know. These days, when you play reggae in the clubs you see people running to the floor and you see all different colors, breeds, creeds pumping their Sean Paul in their car. Before, the mainstream artists would never even think of working with a reggae artist. There were artists like the Rolling Stones touring with Bob Marley or something along those lines. Right now every mainstream artist is working with a reggae artist; Alicia Key and Baby Cham, Elephant Man and R. Kelly, Gwen Stephani and Bounty Killer etc. Reggae is accepted on that level now. Reggae, hip-hop, R&B are all part of that urban culture.
HipHopCanada: Right now, if I were to go check out your MP3 or CD player, who is Red1 listening to?
Red1: I’m a weirdo man. I’m listening to Sarah Brightman and Coldplay. Besides that it’s a lot of dancehall. For me right now, what’s getting love in hip-hop is not really what I’m personally feeling. Every time I hear a new song, it sounds exactly the same as the next song and every time I see a video, it’s a continuation of the last video I just watched. Right now I’m not too impressed with hip-hop. However, my favorite album would have to be the Busta Rhyme one; from start to finish that one is heavy. I like the down south vibes too, but in terms of variety, the sound is not really there.
HipHopCanada: Do you think that it’s the artists or is it the industry?
Red1: Well you have to understand that the industry basically copies what the consumer wants. It’s all about profit of course. If the consumer is feeling a certain thing, the artist will try to please the demand. If the Lil’ Jon sound is hot, and the consumers keep buying it, that’s what the market will produce. When everyone stops listening, and stops buying, then the artists will just switch it up again. Every man is an individual, every man is different, and every man has different experiences coming up; you’re always a product of your environment. There’s no way that everything should sound the same, impossible.
HipHopCanada: You, and Rascalz for that matter, have been really vocal about the lack of respect hip-hop gets in the Canadian music industry. Have you experienced much backlash because of it?
Red1: Oh sure, but no one can backlash me because they don’t pay me. I mean, I make some money doing this but I make more money doing other things. I do this because I love it, I love traveling and I love making music. The time when we didn’t except our Junos, we thought our career was over, we figured they would never invite us again. At the end of the day, who really cares? Let’s just do what we do and just bang it how we bang it. If anyone thinks, or has backlash because I’m saying we don’t get any love and we don’t care, let’s take it to the stats. Let’s put every genre in Canada down on paper, put down how many stations, how many spins rock videos get, how many spins hip-hop videos get and get all that, let’s do it. Let’s put it to the stats and let’s see who is really being the ignorant.
HipHopCanada: That sounds fair to me but do you think that’s ever going to happen?
Red1: It’ll never happen because people in positions of power are not really checking for that. Those dudes that are up there are not doing their job. They’re just working to keep their job but not trying to do it properly. When they see young bright cats with ideas and style, they feel threatened and they don’t want to empower them because they could lose their job. They don’t want to put them in a position to do things, to change things so it’s just status quo. There isn’t really anybody in a position of power in Canada that’s doing anything. People are just trying to collect a paycheck and that’s it.
HipHopCanada: Everybody’s trying to save their ass, eh?
Red1: That’s why I run with Sol G. We’re always trying to do innovative things. If everyone’s going left we go right. Right now in my camp it’s just me, Sol G, and K’naan. Just watch, a year from now, just watch.
HipHopCanada: Ok, I’ll be watching. So, musically, where do you think Canadian hip-hop is today? If we forget about all the industry crap for a sec, on a pure artist level, where are we quality wise?
Red1: I think it’s some of the realest music out there. I love Classified because he just comes across as real. He isn’t trying to front; just do him. He came out with that Maritimes song because he’s from the Maritimes and I just love how he comes across. That’s what kids need to learn; you can be yourself and still come off dope. Kardi is out there representing, K-OS is out there representing and doing his thing. Red1 is out there, Saukrates is out there. These are some of the vets but we’re all still out there doing it still bringing something unique to the table. We’re able to just be individuals and make good music. I know there are a lot of cats that are influenced by the American dudes but for the most part, the main cats that are actually doing it they all sound like individuals to me and they all have their own style and they’re all doing their own thing.
HipHopCanada: Yeah, what I notice is that everybody represents where they’re from and they’re not trying to just merge into one sound…
Red1: Yes. Everybody represents where they’re from and it sounds different. Take 10 Toronto emcees for example; they’re all representing the same city, yet they all sound different. I notice the young bucks are all starting to sound the same though, trying to do that Cam’ron thing. Like I said, every man’s environment is different so there’s no reason for every man to sound the same or talk about the same things.
Written by Cheryl Thompson for HipHopCanada