Touch & Nato [Interview]
Edmonton, AB – One the most exciting new collaborations coming out of Canada’s City of Champions is the producer-emcee duo of Touch & Nato. While Edmonton is more commonly known on a National scale for the Wayne Gretsky-era Oilers and the West Edmonton Mall, the group’s debut album release, Intelligent Design, has left a countrywide mark on the college and university radio circuit. The Slick Rick and Maury Povich inspired “Adult’s Story” single has been getting love from DJs East to West and has introduced the country to 2 individuals who have already put in more than their fair share of work into the development of Alberta’s bubbling hip-hop scene.
Nato has been producing for various artists including Edmonton’s Cadence Weapon. Cadence actually records a large chunk of his material at Nato’s Up in Arms Studio, located in North-Edmonton, and will be featuring one of Nato’s beats on his next album. Nato is also a member of the Low Budget Affiliates and contributed some stellar beats to their recently released album titled The Damage Is Done.
West-Edmonton’s Touch, a member of the Dangerous Goods Collective and pioneer in the local scene, has been holding it down since the early 90’s. His lyricism and presence on the mic can be attributed to a fundamental understanding of his craft and an onslaught of experience to build off of and grow with. He’s been involved in a ton of projects including one group that also included fellow-Edmontonian E-dot, who signed with Uncle Howie Records (New York) a few years back.
The Touch & Nato combo makes for the perfect match and is a true testament to the untapped market of growing talent in the oil-rich city which has a metropolitan population of just over a million people. Intelligent Design is 18 conceptualized tracks that keep the beats banging, courtesy of Nato, who also holds down the one’s and two’s, the rhymes detailed and intensely intricate, thanks to Touch along with key guest appearances that play into the album’s well-planned architecture.
HipHopCanada caught up with Touch & Nato some weeks back but unfortunately we had to wait on a hard drive recovery service to retrieve the transcript after some unforeseen computer issues. Hey, it happens. Luckily, Intelligent Design is still available for purchase and we highly recommend you support the movement. They’ve already let us know there will be a follow-up but let’s not give you too much info before you check out the actual interview.
Touch & Nato on HipHopCanada.com . . . finally!
HipHopCanada: Touch & Nato, welcome to the HipHopCanada community! So the winter is upon us but how did you guys spend the summer?
Nato: We had a pretty interesting summer. Our goal was to release our new album independently and I think we’ve done a pretty good job with what we’ve had to work with. We released an 11 minute long promo of all exclusive material that we composed in about 2 or 3 weeks to help promote the album. Then we put a lot of work into doing a video for Adult’s Story. The chain of events went over so well, from the promo, to the album release, to the video, to the release party, then we hit # 1 on the Canadian campus hip-hop chart and that just topped it all off.
HipHopCanada: Thinking back, what would each of you credit as your earliest influences in becoming what you are today.
Nato: I’d have to give my older brother that credit. He got me into hip-hop at a very young age and I was sitting in front of a drum machine at the age of 12, and turntables shortly after.
Touch: I would say Run D MC, Ice T, N.W.A., The Fat Boys and KRS ONE were my first experience with rap, then it went to EPMD, Juice Crew, G Rap . . . cats like that, I would play all day.
HipHopCanada: The Edmonton scene is progressively making heads take notice of the city’s large depth of talented emcees, DJs, producers etc. What makes the Edmonton scene unique from every other city in Canada?
Touch: I think Edmonton is a very unforgiving and conservative city. It’s hard to get people out to shows. It’s tiny, so the market is almost nonexistent, and all of these factors make the beats and the rhymes bitterly honest. Most of the rappers aren’t gangsters, so you can’t fall back on the good ol’ “I sell drugs, and carry guns into clubs” dialogue that seems to be so popular. You’re forced to be creative for those reasons.
HipHopCanada: No doubt. Touch, how is Edmonton different now in comparison to when you first got in the scene in the early 90’s?
Touch: There are probably 10 times as many rappers, but that’s about it. There was always good hip-hop, just not a lot of hip-hop. I’m hoping the next generation of crews will take our example and push their shit hard. I really didn’t think a lot of people would relate with my style but now I know there is a market for it.
HipHopCanada: Nato, your North-Edmonton based Up In Arms Studio has seen many artists pass through since you opened it including Cadence Weapon, who records most of his material there. How would you say the scene has progressed in the terms of the level of talent — the records you’ve engineered and the talent of artists you’ve produced for? What’s the biggest change since you first started?
Nato: I’d say that the whole scene has stepped up as far as the business side of the industry goes. It seems that we’re taking ourselves more seriously. We’re getting heard now, a lot of us.
HipHopCanada: Touch, what’s going on with the Dangerous Goods Collective? Who are the members and how did it get started? Should we expect a Dangerous Goods Collective release anytime soon?
Touch: DGC started with me and Stray, then DJ Dice. We aren’t working on anything as a group right now. Everybody has their own projects at the moment. I’ve been pretty occupied with my solo shit, and DGC was founded on being free to do your thing when you had to. That’s what kept us tight for so long. We understood that we were all solo artists and had a right to work with whomever we wanted.
HipHopCanada: That’s cool. Nato, before linking with Touch what were you up to?
Nato: I’ve been putting in work on various albums, just doing odd beats here and there and engineering for people. I released a mixtape back in 2003 that had features from 13 local rappers. That’s actually the first time Touch and I collaborated.
HipHopCanada: So how did Touch & Nato come together? Was there a relationship before music?
Nato: I’ll continue the story from the previous question. I had always known of Touch, ever since I was in high school. He’s like a legend in Edmonton. When I started doing my thing, I always wanted to test and see what kind of artists I could work with and, him being the open type, he agreed to rap on one of my beats and it turned out to be a banger; that’s the “What I Wanna Say” song that’s on our album. It’s pretty crazy how well we work together. We never knew each other before we did that song but it turned out that we have a lot of the same interests.
HipHopCanada: Let’s discuss the album Intelligent Design — definitely put together with some well thought out planning so I commend you on the name selection from that perspective. But, in your own words, describe what the album means to you and what the listener should expect in terms of concept and theme.
Nato: I’ll let Touch answer that one.
Touch: I basically called it Intelligent Design for two reasons; one, my first album was called Natural Selection. I felt this current album came about completely opposite from the first one so the title had to reflect that. The first album was the best I could do at the time; it was a bunch of material at different stages of development. A lot of the songs sounded completely different, the production was half mine ad half Won18. It was a really different album. The second reason I called this album Intelligent Design was because of its literal meaning. Nato didn’t slack on one aspect from production to mastering, so a lot of thought went into every aspect, from writing, guests, to song arrangement. So in its literal sense, Intelligent Design fit well.
HipHopCanada: Nato, did you produce the whole project? How did you guys go about figuring out which beats you wanted to use?
Nato: Yeah, I did all the production, the mixing, and the cuts. It’s funny cause Touch is the type of rapper that is willing to challenge himself and rap on a wide variety of beats. For this album, it was just a matter of doing a bunch of songs and filling in the gaps. I think most of our stronger songs were created from beats that I thought should fill particular gaps in what we had at the time.
HipHopCanada: So what’s the story of your DJing background Nato? Any big competitions or plans to compete in the future?
Nato: I started back in like 96-97 when my brother was getting fed up with me sneaking into his room. I wanted to be a battle DJ back then so I would practice a couple hours a day. Eventually I figured out that I wanted to produce music so it worked out great because now I can add that whole other dimension to my production.
HipHopCanada: Tell us about the feature appearances.
Touch: It was basically people who we’ve come in contact with that we’re feeling.
HipHopCanada: The video for “Adult’s Story” is incredibly dope. How did that come to be and what kind of response have you been getting from the public? Who directed the video?
Nato: That concept was my idea, I love Maury Povich probably too much. I actually got the idea from the paternity episodes where they have tested about 12 guys before and they show all the clips, it’s like, “NOT, NOT, NOT, NOT, NOT THE FATHER!” It reminded me of Slick Rick’s Children’s Story where it’s like, “KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK EM OUT THE BO X RICK”. I just put the rest together and told Touch what to write about. He came back with the perfect verse, he killed it!! I still can’t get over it. I am so proud of that song, and to make it into a video just was the icing on the cake. I guess you could say that I co-directed it because I was the only Maury fan in the crew; but a guy by the name of Steve van Diest, whom I went to college with, did such great work on that video and he even came up with a lot of creative ideas as well; it turned out great.
HipHopCanada: What is the next single and will there be a video to accompany it?
Nato: Well, at this point we are looking to ride this video out for awhile. It had about 4,000 views on YouTube in about a month and a half. I’m not going to be happy until it’s at 20,000. The bottom line is that we did this all on our own with no financial assistance from anybody. Would we like to do a big budget video? Of course, but we don’t have the money and it seems like nobody wants to give it to us. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do and I think that we’ve been forced to be more creative. I couldn’t be much happier right now. I mean, if everybody went out and copped the album and told one friend that’d be nice!
HipHopCanada: Which song on Intelligent Design is your personal favorite and why?
Nato: I’ve got to say my favorite is “What I Really Wanna Say” featuring Cadence Weapon. That’s got two Edmonton-bred heavyweights over one of my favorite beats. You can’t get much better. It’s hypnotizing.
Touch: My favorite would be “Where I Reside”. It’s just such a banging intro beat, it sets the mood for the album perfectly.
HipHopCanada: Tell us about upcoming tours that will be supporting your albums release.
Touch: We’re looking to tour next spring. Hopefully we’ll have some floors to crash on; maybe people will buy a shirt and a disc. That’d be nice. We want to continue doing this shit so touring is surely coming as soon as we can.
HipHopCanada: What does the near future hold for Touch & Nato? The new album is out so should be looking for a follow-up or will you be focusing on different things?
Nato: We are focused on getting this album out right now but are always thinking about new material. I think we’d be stupid to stop making music together, it’s just too easy.
Touch: I’m already writing for the second album so as soon as Nate Bone hits me with some beats, it’s on. And I’m working on beats myself, as well as with other producers, so you’ll be hearing a lot from me soon.
HipHopCanada: Who else are you feeling in the Edmonton/Alberta scene? Canada-wide?
Nato: Of course we are feeling our partner Cadence Weapon. And my crew, the Low Budget Affiliates . . . also Politic Live, Conspiracy, Dragon Fli Empire, all of the Foultone artists, and DJ Kutdown.
Touch: I’m going to add Epic and Ira Lee, both Saskatchewan implants, but they add a great diversity to our scene. Canada-wide, I’ve always liked Marvel, Kemo, Class, Wordburglar, the Dirty Crew and the good old F.O.S. [Figu rez Ov Speech] crew from Sauks on up.
HipHopCanada: Nato, which other artists are you working with? Making beats for?
Nato: I’m real excited for Cadence Weapon’s next album to drop cause I’ve got a beat on that one; I’m the only producer, other than him, to be on any of his albums so far. My crew, LBA, just released an album called The Damage is Done. I’ve got a couple beats on that. I’m also trying to finish up my second mixtape with all of my production, it should be pretty good.
HipHopCanada: Thanks guys. Was there anything we didn’t mention that you wanted to touch on? Any shout-outs?
Nato: I want to thank all of the people that helped our broke asses get some shine. I’d also like to thank Cancon for assisting us in reaching the number one spot for hip-hop on campus radio. Check out our exclusive promo, everybody is asking us why we just didn’t use the songs for the next album! It’s for you and it’s free. But if you are feeling it then go to HMV and order Intelligent Design.
Touch: I want to thank campus radio for giving us a shot and supporting our project. I wasn’t sure if people would give it a fair shot since most of you haven’t heard of us, but it seems DJ’s are welcoming us with open arms. That means a lot. And thanks to Jesse and Johnny at HipHopCanada.com.
Written by Jesse “Dutchy” Plunkett for HipHopCanada