Metropolis Is Burning: Grand Analog [Interview]
Winnipeg, MB – Like the dub, reggae and soul-infused music he creates, Odario Williams is a bit of a mess. That is to say, the Grand Analog frontman is difficult to define: the Winnipeg native melds the disposition of an island boy with the aesthetic of a punk, the tireless work ethic of the old country with the experimental curiosity of what he calls “The ADD generation.”
Charming and verbose, the former Mood Ruff member has been shaping the face of Canadian hip-hop for decades yet remains relevant and on the cusp of musical movements. Metropolis is Burning – GA’s latest release – forces blues riffs, winding dubs and grimy percussion to get along, an orgy of live sound which climaxes in, of all things, a kazoo breakdown.
From the obscurity of middle Canada to their ascendency of Canadian hip-hop, Grand Analog are doing their thing in their own way. Since it seems to be working so well, HipHopCanada figured it was worth a chat.
HipHopCanada: So Odario, you’re originally from Winnipeg, can you tell us a little about the cultural landscape there?
Odario Williams: Well, Winnipeg is the epitome of isolation. Toronto they’ve got New York or Montreal to run to. Montreal has New York to run to but Montreal doesn’t want to run to anybody. Vancouver, Seattle, you go a little further you’ve got Portland, Los Angeles. Winnipeg, we’ve got nothing.
HipHopCanada: Well, you’ve got Steinbach!
Odario Williams: [Laughing] Got nothing! Minneapolis, what’s that, it’s just not happening. So having said that, we’ve had to really draw from obscure things which made us obscure, and made us very unique if you want to put a positive twist on it. We are definitely unique: not necessarily on the map, so to say. Every time I go somewhere people are like, “You guys from Edmonton? Calgary?” but they never say Winnipeg.
HipHopCanada: Is it a close-knit scene?
Odario Williams: It’s a very tight-knit scene, but we all sound different. There’s not two groups in Winnipeg that sound the same, so I think that’s why we never blew up as a city. There’s no sound, we weren’t like-minded enough to come up as a crew.
HipHopCanada: Let’s talk about daddies. Your single is called “Her Daddy Don’t Like Me”: are you that guy? You seem nice enough but . . .
Odario Williams: Well I wanted to do a song that would be an ode to the blues, cause I love the blues and there’s not enough blues riffs in hip-hop, I thought it would be something unique for us to do. And it’s either my woman left me or her daddy don’t like me. People always ask me if I was talking about a specific dad, and I’m like, dude, everyone’s a single mom, there’s no dads around, there’s no pops around, I had it easy! And moms love me. It wasn’t autobiographical at all, just a blues song I wanted to write.
HipHopCanada: Your own dad was a reggae DJ in the 80’s, and you’ve said before that your music was influenced by that. What kind of feedback do you get from him on how you’re using what he’s passed down to you?
Odario Williams: It’s full circle now. I was the guy fresh out of high school who sat at the dinner table and said, “Mom, dad, I wanna be a rapper.” And I watched my parents almost have a heart attack. If you go back to the old roots, in their eyes they didn’t move here and sacrifice their lives to raise two young boys in Canada – where they’ve never been before, never seen snow or white people before – for me to turn around and want to be a rapper. And having said that, rappers had a bad rap. Rappers are to parents what Elvis was in the fifties, what Led Zeppelin was in the seventies, not good. They wanted me to pick anything else but that! So it was rough. Now my dad’s rocking the Grand Analog t-shirts, he’s got the newspaper clippings, he does screenings at his friend’s place of the videos, he buys three copies of the CD, he goes to the bank and asks the teller if she knows who Grand Analog is: dad’s in! He’s loving it. And on top of that, I’ve come back to my own roots and I’m sampling dub reggae.
HipHopCanada: What about those samples? Your press release described your music as rap and reggae wrapped in a warm blanket of funk or something like that . . . do people get confused by all these different genres thrown together?
Odario Williams: It’s actually described as a beautiful mess of rap and roll, dub and soul . . . it’s like a manual no longer in use. The hip-hoppers get confused. Everyone else expects experiment these days. Hip-hoppers in general are experiencing our culture and genre go through changes and it’s difficult for the hip-hop purists to deal with. Notorious B.I.G. died in ’97, that’s over ten years ago. I still rock “Ready To Die” and “Life After Death”. Those came out a long time ago: Illmatic came out in ’94, Wu Tang Debuted in ’94, ’95 or around there. A lot of hip-hoppers, including myself, we hold onto those days but those days are gone because sampling’s gone, you can’t sample any more. Only Kanye West can sample because he can afford it. So people had to find new ways of making hip-hop music and some of those sounds aren’t necessarily accepted by the average hip-hopper, but the hip-hopper’s got to realize that sampling a jazz record is not going to happen any more, you can’t do that. It opened doors for a lot of electronic sounds, but we’re not all really loving them sounds too much. Not everybody’s on the Kid Cudi train, or Cool Kids.
HipHopCanada: Are you on that train or not?
Odario Williams: I’m down with everything! I’m referring to the hip-hop purist out there that doesn’t want to see change in hip-hop, but I think now’s the perfect time to implement some of those changes, hence what I’m doing right now.
HipHopCanada: You’ve got some interesting collaborations on the album, Cadence Weapon and Shad. Who’s your favorite collab?
Odario Williams: Shad and I have a great chemistry, we’ve rocked “Electric City” live a couple times and we’re ready to make some more music together. Len Bowen from Winnipeg has been on every recording I’ve released, he’s my main man outside of the group.
HipHopCanada: It seems like all of your music videos are house parties. Is that indicative of your lifestyle or do you just think it makes for the best video?
Odario Williams: [Laughing] I come from a group of guys that always has the door unlocked. A couple apartments where I’ve lived we never lock the door and there’s always somebody in the house so it’s an extension of the way we lived. I would take off for two or three days and come home and there’s a dude playing video games on my console, watching my TV, and I don’t even know his name. And someone’s taking a shower in my washroom and I don’t know who the fuck is in there, so I have to wait in my bedroom until I can use my washroom, then sit down and watch my TV. So it got on like that for a little while. And a lot of the people in those videos are people that hang out in my house.
HipHopCanada: That atmosphere seems to fit with the punk aesthetic you apply to making your music, and the way you get your music out there. It all seems very DIY and you tour a lot: what are the major challenges of that?
Odario Williams: That’s what Winnipeg did to me as well. I think that if I was a Toronto MC I probably wouldn’t have been on the road as much I was. Toronto is very single oriented, you get a hot single going like Choclair did with “What It Takes” before he even made an album, or what Kardinal did with “On Wit Da Show”. They had the single going, and the video going, and there was no album and no tour but they made a name for themselves with that. But that wasn’t where I came from. In Winnipeg I grew up with Propaganghi and The Weakerthans, and they made an album and they toured that album and sold it after the show. I didn’t have the labels down the street. I had to jump in the van and go to the nearest town which was Saskatoon, and play there and sell the CDs that I’d burned in my apartment. That’s how I learned to do my thing. And with that I have a collection of albums under my belt. A lot of the Toronto acts are not going to make a move until they get signed, or until things are moving for them off their single that they made. Maestro, “Let Your Backbone Slide,” was rolling before an album came around. That’s the Toronto way but in Winnipeg we had a different style.
HipHopCanada: What’s next? There were two years between Calligraffiti and Metropolis is Burning, so will there be another wait?
Odario Williams: The two year gap was solely based on touring, we toured quite a bit. This time we’re actually going to try and record between tours. I don’t want to wait another two years, there’s so much shit going on and this ADD generation can’t handle the gap. You get old in two years.
HipHopCanada: How old are you?
Odario Williams: I’m not telling you nothing.
HipHopCanada: You going to talk to me like that? Shit, I’ll look it up on Wikipedia! [Laughing]
Odario Williams: [Laughing] Let me know if you need anything else, okay? Peace!
Written by Amalia Judith for HipHopCanada