Vancouver, B.C. – Vancouver’s a city full of underground talent that’s not immediately visible. Many artists are largely unknown to too many, and it’s often surprising to discover some of the best emcees and producers at the very fringes of the scene. Cityreal is one such slept-on artist: HipHopCanada met with the MC and producer to talk about his new album The Beginning and the trials and tribulations of the rap biz.
HipHopCanada: As far as Canada’s concerned, white conscious suburban rappers seem to be the norm: how do you hope to carve out an identity for yourself?
Cityreal: Well, I think only one of those characteristics applies to me. I’m white but I’m not a suburban conscious rapper. I’ve spent the majority of my life living in urban centres or neighbourhoods such as East Van, which I consider an urban neighbourhood and not a suburb. Secondly, my music, I think, is a reflection on life and I don’t consider myself a conscious rapper. Obviously ‘conscious rapper’ is such a widely used term and really depends on your perspective. If you ask a gangster guy maybe he’d call me a conscious rapper but if you ask a political or backpacker rapper, they would definitely not consider me a conscious rapper.
But as far as how I’ll differentiate myself from the average rapper… I think the fact I produce my own music puts me in a more select division. I think the quality, style and content of that production puts me in another league. As far as my lyrical identity… I think I’ve led a pretty unique life, being exposed to extreme poverty and extreme wealth, being a part of… we’ll say the street and its culture of drugs and crime all while attending university and having an affinity for politics and social issues. I try to be as soulful as possible. I like to touch on political and social commentary as well some street elements that I’ve lived through. But mostly, I like painting pictures of life and the issues and emotions it brings and I think that’s the most relatable part of rap that a lot of people don’t focus on. Whereas Eminem rapping about killing his girlfriend isn’t relatable, Immortal Technique having crazy political statements isn’t relatable, 50 cent rapping about being shot isn’t relatable, Drake rapping about throwing $100 bills isn’t relatable to the average rap audience. And I think going one of those extreme routes is the common model people follow. Great art will always stand out amongst mediocre work and I’d say were in a country or even an industry where mediocre seems to be the norm.
HipHopCanada: Being that you’re a career-oriented artist, is it difficult trying to balance the creative side of things with the business side?
Cityreal: I wouldn’t call myself a career-oriented artist. I’m a music-oriented artist and I think all artists or musicians would like to make a career out of their craft. At this point, business affairs do take up more of my time than the creative aspect. But that’s cause I just released my first solo album so I’m currently trying to get it out there as much as possible. I’m gradually getting back in the studio though. Producing for other people and working on new stuff for myself.
HipHopCanada: You handled the beats for your new album The Beginning, was it completely produced by you or did you have friends or guests contribute?
Cityreal: I produced every track with the exception of a song called “Keep On Movin” which I co-produced with my friend S.One. That’s probably the oldest beat on the album actually and was re-worked many times. I had other friends come in as studio musicians but they didn’t do any production.
HipHopCanada: Does getting the right people to hear you, along with trying to make a living off of this, keep you on that grind of playing live?
Cityreal: It gets you exposed directly because you’re playing to an audience where you can grow your fanbase, which indirectly exposes you to the publicity you can generate from that performance. There are some cities that no matter how much of a hustler you are you’re just not going to sell shit. Ya know, whether people aren’t feeling it, it’s not the right show or it’s not the right night or whatever. And it depends a lot on the mood of the room. Like sometimes you come into a room and there’s already tension like a fights about to break out. But if you come into a room that’s already rocking and it’s a party then people wanna wear your shirt and buy your CDs. People that are showmen and performers can turn those really bad rooms right around to where everybody just loves you. You’ve got to have an on-point performance to do that sort of thing. And that pays off, both in merch and reaching new fans if you can really rock a room.
HipHopCanada: What do you think about the expression, “You have to make it in your own backyard before you make it elsewhere”?
Cityreal: I think we’re fortunate to be in such an urban center. And I guess if you’re coming from a smaller city it’s easier to conquer that smaller backyard however they have such a disadvantage because once they conquer their own backyard they come into a larger city as nobodies, ya know what I mean? So coming up in Van we start at a spot that puts us ahead of others coming up in smaller areas… Like being from Van I totally appreciate it, we already have access and once you bridge this key scene then you start moving on to the rest of the world.
For more information on Cityreal check out http://www.myspace.com/cityrealmusic.
Written by Jesse Furnell for HipHopCanada