Vancouver, B.C. – It’s interesting to see MCs in the industry struggle between marketability versus content, gangsterism versus positivity. Red1 is an example of an internationally recognized MC who never had to find balance, because he never lost it. Since the Rascalz blew up in the 90s, Red1 has maintained his own unique sound. Melodic quality combined with relevant content satisfies the minds of many, from the underground to the mainstream.
Red1 continues to represent Vancouver all over the world, whether he’s doing shows on tour, or exposing the blood soaked diamond industry in Sierra Leone. No matter how far he travels, he will always come home to East Van. He still lives blocks away from the Little Mountain Projects on Main and 33rd where he grew-up. As his career diversifies and expands, he is also bearing witness to the gentrification of the projects, which are currently being prepared for demolition. We met up to speak about his new record label, Killawatt and to discuss the importance of Main and 33rd.
HipHopCanada: You’ve toured 25 countries and 5 continents. Is that right?
Red1: Yeah. And I’ve got two more continents to tour: Antarctica and Australia. Those are the only continents we haven’t been to.
HipHopCanada: What is it like representing Vancouver in other cities and representing Canada in other countries?
Red1: To be honest, I feel really proud. There are a lot of us out there representing. One time the Rascalz went to Columbia. And when we landed, we did a radio interview, because the promoter had to prove that we actually showed up . . . some artists get booked there and don’t show up. After that interview they sold another 7,000 tickets for our show. We didn’t realize how big our music was in Columbia, because we had never even sent records out there. When we performed the crowd knew every lyric. There were people in the crowd holding up Canadian flags. At that point I realized how big music is in itself. Music is worldwide. It is a medium through which people of different languages can relate. I realized that we really are ambassadors for Canada . . . in the name of hip-hop.
HipHopCanada: In 1998 Cash Crop won a Juno award for best Rap album, but at that time, the Rap category wasn’t televised. In response to this, you decided to decline the award. What was it like to fight for representation?
Red1: At that time Rap was just some token thing on the side that they wanted to get out of the way so they could get on to something like . . . Best Children’s Instrumental. Music is music to me. I don’t like to compare categories really . . . it all has a place. The 1998 Juno Award show failed to accurately represent the status of hip-hop in the world and in the music industry. At that time, hip-hop was holding eight or nine of the ten top Billboard spots.
It was like the old heads were trying to keep the old order in the industry by giving shout-outs to Anne Murray, which is cool cause those people are legends in their own genres. But we declined the award, because we knew that we would receive more publicity for not accepting it and then we could say why. The controversy we created brought attention to the actual position of hip-hop in Canada and the world.
HipHopCanada: In 1999, the Rap category became part of the televised portion of the award show. The Rascalz won another Juno for “Northern Touch”, which you performed live for the televised awards ceremony. Why did you decide to come back after all the drama?
Red1: We didn’t perform, because everything was all good between us and the industry, we performed because “Northern Touch” had artists from Vancouver and Toronto, so we felt like we were representing the hip-hop community from East to West. And that song represented what our whole protest was about. If that song wasn’t out the performance wouldn’t have been relevant. We asked for representation and we got it, and it was easy to accept. Because it wasn’t just about us, but it was the entire Canadian hip-hop community accepting recognition.
HipHopCanada: You grew up in the Little Mountain Projects at Main & 33rd. You make reference to Main and 33rd in some songs. Do you feel that East Van and the Little Mountain Projects have influenced your music?
Red1: Definitely. I grew up in East Van. I went to Van Horn Elementary up at Main and 41st and I was raised in the Little Mountain Projects. It influenced my music so much, because all the people were so into my music and so supportive.
HipHopCanada: Can you tell me about what it was like growing up in the projects and how that community is a part of you?
Red1: I’ll be honest with you. When I was in grade seven, my mom said we were moving to the projects and initially I was a little bit embarrassed by the concept. But when I got there and I was a part of the community, the embarrassment switched over to pride. It was such a unique community. People would come there from all over the city and hang out cause they felt like it was real. There was a time when Main and 33rd felt like the heart of the city. Our backyard was Queen Elizabeth Park. I smoked my first joint in that park. I probably lost my virginity in that park. I learned how to drive in that park…how to play golf…how to play basketball…tennis.
There were so many creative kids that came out of the Little Mountain Projects: Concise, Sherwin, E-Splif and many others, They saw me come out of there and I know that inspired them cause I’m just a regular dude in my city and if I can do music, then they know they can do it too.
As a kid growing-up in the projects we all knew each other and we knew that most of us didn’t have much, but we were there for each other. We were all living paycheck to paycheck. The one overall thing I felt about it, is that it was really safe. You can look out your window and feel comfortable because you knew everybody. All the kids had room to play and grass to run around on. There’s just one big green lawn out your backyard and there’d be barbeques and soccer games. They always had community organization stuff where they’d organize games for the kids and bring in clowns. I would listen to the elders of the community. I knew my neighbours’ kids and my neighbours would keep me in line when I was little. Since I left there, I don’t feel that sense of community. I live in a seven-bedroom house now. I know my neighbours but there’s fences dividing us. In the projects there were no fences.
Kids have told me that I made them feel proud to grow–up there. I consider that an accomplishment, because when I moved in, it was an embarrassment to be from the projects and when I left all these kids were proud to be from there.
HipHopCanada: You are currently working to bring awareness to the gentrification of the Little Mountain Projects, so that your community is treated with respect, rather than mechanically gentrified. Municipal politicians and activists want your help to create awareness about social housing and gentrification, so that the masses will push the Provincial and Federal Government to protect and increase social housing. What is it like collaborating with the local government?
Red1: If City Council is trying to help the community and restructure the unjust way that the system has been set up then I’m willing to work with them. I call it the Obama syndrome: If you’re rebelling with a cause and you have someone who is of the enemy, but a part of your cause, then they are a part of the rebellion. You need agents in every aspect of everywhere. It’s like the Juno Award thing, when you get what you’ve been rebelling for-you’ve got to take it. You can’t just make noise to make noise. I have a line in a song that says, “Red1’s a rebel hardcore/ call me general but really we don’t want war/ fight and we struggle just because we born poor/going threw the struggle so the kids can have more/ than I did before.”
I’m for the rebellion, but it’s not about war and conflict. I just want to deal with the solutions and the peace treaties. Sometimes you have to engage with your enemy in the battlefield and other times you have to meet your enemy at the negotiation table. If you can pass the battlefield and go straight to the negotiation table, then you’re a better general than most.
HipHopCanada: It seems like your album title Beg For Nothing reflects your work ethic?
Red1: I’m not here to ask for anything, I’m here to work for it. I’m here to do my best and aspire to my fullest potential. I’m of the mentality that the mountain ahead of me can’t stop me and if no one is willing to climb it with me, I’m going to climb it grip by grip and step by step. I’m not looking back. If the world follows me, it’s just a bonus.
HipHopCanada: You’ve created your own record label. What is the premise of Killawatt Records?
Red1: As an artist, I’ve been through the hills and the valleys. There’s all these younger artists trying to get into the industry and I want to help them maintain integrity and consciousness. It’s a game where it’s so easy to be led astray. It would be a waste to not take what I’ve learned to teach younger generations. I’ve signed a bunch of amazing artists. We’ve got the fresh prince of the city: Heatwave. We’ve got Lamar Ashe (L.A.) AKA Hollywood. I signed a group called Plazma, who remind me of the Rascalz cause they’re charged with that vibe of being the rebel on the frontline. We’re just trying to put out good vibes. It’s about people who care about issues more than themselves.
It’s like when I went to Africa and learned about the bloodshed in the diamond industry, and then I thought about all this bling . . . you know all these people with bling in their teeth and bling in their ears, bling on their fingers. Since hip-hop has played a part in the consumption of diamonds, I felt that hip-hop could be part of the solution. So going to Africa with War Child was an opportunity to expose the truth and have a positive influence on youth. That’s what its all about.
HipHopCanada: That’s a refreshing premise for a record label. Do you have any shout-outs?
Red1: Shout-outs to Killawatt Records, Lamar, Heatwave, Plazma, Kemo, Fit, Sol Guy, Kardi, 4real (www.4real.com), Checkmate, Concise, Winter, Frontline, Craig Macmillan, Kapone, A.G., East coast B.K.camp, Urbnet, HipHopCanada.
Editor’s note: You can check out Red1 and Killawatt artists at:
Written by Christabel Shaler for HipHopCanada