Shaun Boothe [Interview]
Vancouver, B.C. – Shaun Boothe can really throw a journalist off her game. Not only did he begin the interview by questioning me, but he managed to call my bullshit on at least a couple of occasions: he’s disconcertingly genuine and armed with a wisdom that brings the ivory tower to the streets. Shaun’s history fits the traditional rap narrative in many ways – humble beginnings, an insatiable thirst for poetry, a golden opportunity and impending success – yet it’s not a cliche. Writing love poems for girls on the playground soon turned to winning MuchMusic’s temp contest, opening up the music industry and causing Shaun’s path to veer from the academics of philosophy and psychology.
Shaun’s tagline is Hip-Hop in 3D, a maxim which can be interpreted a couple different ways. For one, he’s modern, a little off-colour, and right in front of you. His myspace header offers up the x-ray specs of a hip-hop visionary, claiming “you’ll need these to see me,” hinting from the start that there’s a depth to his art. His performances are very interactive and mix musical timelines with black history documentaries and dual personalities. Beneath all the drama lie words of sense and storytelling. On Queen samples he speaks of the classic poor boy, the trailing underdog, always looking up. His “Unauthorized Biography” series of raps showcase influential people of African descent and his tongue-in-cheek critique of the media is bitingly truthful.
Shaun was in Vancouver for a couple of shows, and had the time to meet with me. We decided to hang out at DIPT, where Shaun tried on some flannel and resisted my attempts to get some dirt out of him. He did, however, speak openly about touring with Atmosphere, getting ripped off by Chamillionaire, and the subtle nuances of getting ahead and, well, getting head.
HipHopCanada: Your style is about hip-hop in 3D: I know that your live performances are very interactive, but how would you define 3D?
Shaun Boothe: 3D, the whole term, the whole idea came from the way that hip-hop is presented in the media right now. I feel like you only get to see a small portion of what hip-hop really is. And from touring Canada and touring a lot everyone has an impression that hip-hop is all about sex, drugs and crime. Hip-hop is just a reflection of who that person is, or who we are as a society. And I think that rappers have this Superman complex right now where they’re so afraid to show the Clark Kent side. And what I wanna do is show all sides of who I am so I wanna show you when I’m flying through the air but also the side when I have my feet planted on the ground and I’m just talking about some real life shit. And that’s what hip-hop in 3D really is. There’s a fun side, there’s a serious side, there’s a ‘I wanna better the world’ side, there’s a ‘I’m just tryna get laid’ side, and I don’t think they all have to come from different artists just because it doesn’t fit into the marketing scheme.
HipHopCanada: Your Unauthorized Biography series seems to be something that people are really hooked on. Where did the idea for these come from and what made you showcase the twelve people that you did?
Shaun Boothe: The idea came from when James Brown passed. I wanted to pay tribute to him and there was actually a mixtape being created to honor James Brown put together by my boy Sproxx and um he wanted me to just spit something over a james brown loop but I wanted to do something different so I came up with that idea. And obviously it was a tip of the hat to another inspiration of mine, Nas, who back in the day did a song that was paying tribute to Raakim, so I kinda took a page outta Nas’s book and did my tribute to James Brown and then the whole series just came about that way. The bios take a lot of time to create but I swear I think choosing is actually harder because there’s so many different factors that go into play when I’m tryna pick ‘em. Who would be the best person? Its not even my interests, yes it is my inspirations, but its also who people would wanna hear about, who has a story that hasn’t been fully told, and is there anything new that I can bring to the table, is it relevant.
HipHopCanada: How did you initially get into the rap game?
Shaun Boothe: I’ve always written poetry, in English class and before you could even call it rap I was writing little poems about the girls at school and what not. It always stuck with me, I always wrote songs, then I got to second year uni and I was tryna do the juggling act with being a student, and an artist, and work, and you don’t really get to master anything when youre tryna do all those things at the same time. I told myself that summer I would focus on nothing other than being a rapper, being an artist, and that summer is when all these things started to happen. I started to enter competitions, won a bunch of those, and it kinda led me to this MuchMusic competition called Much Temp, which is a nation wide competition where they try to find the next temp, so anyways I won that competition: $25,000 dollars towards the car of my choice, $5,000 dollars sending money and a downtown condo for the summer and a job. So boom just like that all these questions that I had and things that I wanted to achieve started falling into place. I sold the car to pay off some student debt and also used some of the money toward my music, also I had the job at Much which allowed me to network, and meet all of my first connections. It’s where I met Rando, who ended up being the director of my first video One by One featuring Natasha Waterman and I just never looked back after that, I viewed it as a sign. Sometimes you gotta release the safety net from under you to really and truly achieve what you’re tryna get.
HipHopCanada: What were you taking in college?
Shaun Boothe: I was taking psychology and I ended up taking a lot of philosophy. It’s weird, I just took courses that I was interested in and I wasn’t even thinking this was gonna be my career. Like I wasn’t thinking I was gonna be a dentist, or a doctor or a lawyer, you know make my mom proud, you know those type of occupations that symbolize success to some, and thinking back I didn’t really want to stare in people’s mouths for the rest of my life. I’m a big believer in education, but it’s just that education isn’t just in the walls of the school, its out there in the world.
HipHopCanada: I’ve seen you perform a couple of times, once when you were touring with Atmosphere, how was that experience?
Shaun Boothe: Slug from Atmosphere was really cool. Rhymesayers reached out to me and that was an honor cause they wanted me to open for the Canadian tour and that shows the power of the internet cause we didn’t have a relationship at all before that. And he told me he saw the Bob Marley bio and it almost made him cry. The whole tour he’s kinda been like the older brother. He’s been in the game, I definitely picked his brain and asked him as many questions as I could, and I know they used to wyle out back in the day, but he’s just a lot more reserved nowadays. A lot more chilled out.
HipHopCanada: The rap narrative is often based on the hustler-to-baller template, the underdog who makes good. You have a track called Poor Boy, do you think this fits in with that narrative?
Shaun Boothe: Really it’s not tryna say “woe is me.” I feel like there are a lot of people grinding on the come up and that’s really what it is weather you’re poor or not it’s really about people just grinding to get to the next level in life. I’m not the golden boy when it comes to Canadian hip-hop, who had his path all laid out for him. It was a lot of struggle, a lot of hard work, a lot of grinding, and I do definitely view myself as the underdog and it’s great to have that. I hope that when I’m ten million dollars in I’m still viewing myself as the underdog cause if you’re the underdog then you’re always looking up. It’s not a matter of being broke, it’s a matter of state of mind, where you’re tryna go with that. So Poor Boy I wanted to make an anthem for that. For people to feel good about tryna grind and have the inspiration and take it to the next level.
HipHopCanada: There’s a line in Poor Boy that you’d prefer fellatio to love: lets talk rap love for a minute. You got a wifey or what?
Shaun Boothe: No, no, no, I’m definitely focused, music is my wifey. I’m gonna stick to that answer.
HipHopCanada: Do you find that you are getting more groupies, more girls that are willing to perform certain acts?
Shaun Boothe: As your fan base expands you’re gonna get more females, so I’m definitely seeing that cause I’m in the midst of getting to another level. That’s all part of the game, but I was never really the type to get caught up in that kinda shit casue its kinda empty and I’m the type of person that wants to connect. I’m about fun too but when you’re on the road that shit can get played out real fast. But you know music is really my wifey and when you’re busy and tryna get to that next level, you don’t necessarily have the time to be cultivating the relationships even if you want to.
HipHopCanada: You do this character, Travis in your song “The Reporter”: what does that character represent to you?
Shaun Boothe: Rap used to be, back in the day, the CNN to the streets. And that always stuck with me when Chuck D said that and I still feel like it is, you know? It’s a reflection of what’s going on. And I just really wanted to run with that a little bit and take it literally for a second. But it was really taking a stab at media cause media is just so fucked up on so many levels and it does brainwash people and I don’t think that people realize the power that these media outlets have. Thank god for the internet. I mean take the good with the bad, but it’s definitely leveled the playing field out where you cant necessarily force feed people as easily. Even with music, like right now you’re not seeing a lot of these huge, big boy bands as much anymore because people have options. So I just wanted to give my take, my rendition on the news in a fun, playful way and I have a lot of serious talks about life and society and I wanted to kind of create a platform for that but not take it so seriously. Sometimes you gotta crush the medicine in ice cream and comedy is such a great way to disarm people.
HipHopCanada: Chamillionaire did a similar concept: who came out with the character first?
Shaun Boothe: Well I definitely came out with the video first and it won this competition, put on by Yahoo and Universal. It was an international music video competition and it was a few months before Chamillionaire’s came out but the actual video for that came out almost a year before that. So it almost ran its course by the time Chamilionaire’s came out and people think I’m really mad about it, but secretly I’m really, really happy that that happened because it gave the video so much more new life and controversy sells and suddenly you see the YouTube views spike and peak and people are asking me about it in interviews so… if I could orchestrate it myself I would have done it in the exact same way .I would much rather be known as the artist that did the bio series, so I’m not mad at all. Great minds think alike I guess. That’s what he said.
HipHopCanada: One thing I noticed that youre very good at is breaking down hip hop. You seem to be very good at breaking down the concepts of hip-hop: any interest in getting into schools?
Shaun Boothe: Yeah, you know what’s crazy? With the success of the bio series a lot of schools have reached out and wanna use the bios as an educational tool, as an alternative to teaching people history or about media or whatever classes they have. And I’m incredibly honored for that to have happened because I’m a big fan of Tupac and he was the first rapper who had the universities or colleges actually teach his writings to the students and I think that that is just incredible. I think hip-hop is poetry and it is on that level of Shakespeare if you actually break it down, if you look at the intricacies of it and the double entendres of it, the social relevance of it. I think its brilliant, but just because it has a bangin’ beat people don’t take it seriously. Things are changing now and the same things that our parents learned don’t apply as much now. Getting a degree doesn’t mean the same thing as it did twenty years ago. I think we need to start to adapt and our schools need to start to adapt to that fact. Just like the music industry needed to adapt to the internet. Things are changing so quick but we have these old institutions that are slow to adapt.
HipHopCanada: Have you been enjoying Vancity? Who are you connecting with here?
Shaun Boothe: I’m definitely connecting with the DJs. JaySwing, Flipout, my man DJ Parsons who’s definitely been takin me around the city, poppin into all these little hot spots. Its great to know people out here who know people and just get plugged in like that. But I love this city so much. This is my first time I’ve actually been able to just relax and see the city. You know when I was here with Atmosphere and with Kardi it’s just hotel, sound check, hotel, show, airport. So we actually had a day off today which was really nice. So I’m looking forward to fully taking it in here.
For more information check out http://www.myspace.com/shaunboothe.
Written by Amalia Judith for HipHopCanada
Photography by Josh Parsons
Transcription by Samantha Cairns