Sweatshop Union [Interview]
Vancouver, B.C. – When the members of Sweatshop Union got together in 2000 to pool resources for an album, they recognized that they had similar takes on the issues plaguing societies worldwide. Through that bond was formed Sweatshop Union, a group of hard working MCs who spit some of the most socially-conscious hip-hop on Canada’s West Coast.
The Vancouver-based crew, made up of Kyprios, Dirty Circus, Pigeon Hole, Innocent Bystanders, and DJ Itchy Ron, released their debut album Local 604 in late 2002 via indie label Battle Axe Records. The boys toured Canada with Blackalicious, Jurassic Five and their then-labelmates Swollen Members in support of the album, continuing to tour with the releases of their 2004 and 2005 albums. In 2006 they crossed over to the States for the first time, proving their appeal to the masses.
With three albums behind them and three new projects on the go, HipHopCanada was glad to get a few minutes with Union members DJ Itchy Ron, Mr. Marmalade and Dusty Melodica before one of their notoriously high energy shows.
HipHopCanada: Sweatshop Union have become quite successful: you’ve traveled the globe and opened for big-time artists, and your fan base is now larger than most Canadian groups. The West Coast has been a bit unstable when it comes to hip-hop acts. What makes you guys such a success?
Marmalade: Probably the work ethic. We have been doin this for so long and havnt stopped. We never called it quits. I don’t feel like a veteran at all, and it was funny cause I saw some quote about us the other day calling us veteran rappers in the game or something like that, but I feel like we are just starting out still. It’s about finding new inspirations, and constantly being inspired to do new things that make people interested in what we are doing. We toured the hell outta everywhere though and that was a fantastic opportunity.
HipHopCanada: Is it harder to “make it” in Canada as opposed to making it in the United States?
Itchy: It’s probably easier to make it in Canada. You know? Like there are so many artists in the United States. It’s like a big fish in the small pond type of situation.
Marmalade: I don’t think the world is ready for hip-hop from Canada. I know that’s kind of a generalization, but hip-hop is simply a street music and people don’t really consider Canada to be quite that real. Luckily in our case people aren’t really looking at us and expecting us to come with some real street shit.
Itchy: I think being Canadian too we aren’t just listening to what’s hip in Canada or what’s in Vancouver, we’re listening to stuff from everywhere, where sometimes it’s like New York rappers are only listening to New York rap, but Canadian artists are listening to everything.
HipHopCanada: You’re all quite conscious when it comes to social issues. What is your main source of information when it comes to tracking these issues?
Dusty: I don’t have cable or internet or radio. Mostly internet though, and just talking to people you know? We all surround ourselves with people that are well informed, and so general conversation really is where it comes from.
Marmalade: We get a lot of fans that come up and wanna talk about that kinda thing. Obviously a lot of people listen to the music and I think they get inspired by what we’re saying so I think when we come through their towns they love to talk our ear off about all the stuff. But as far as information, shit I watch the news a little bit, I listen to the radio a little tiny but…
HipHopCanada: What kind of impact did growing up in Vancity and on the Island have on you guys when it came to your decision to get into music?
Dusty: I think seeing groups like the Rascalz and Swollen Members actually doing it, you know like putting out records, actually getting attention for it, made it seem like a reality. We were in our basements making music and it was like a dream or whatever, but then you see people from your neighborhood actually making it happen and making something of themselves and the pieces are just falling into place and it makes you think, “shit I can do this too.” So that definitely had a huge impact.
Marmalade: And again it’s the big fish in a small pond thing.
HipHopCanada: Are you still as in love with the rap game as you when you were first starting out?
Dusty: It’s different, definitely different, but I still love it. It’s not just the rap game. It’s about making the music, doing art. It’s about anything that comes along with being an artist right?
Marmalade: It’s great. It’s changed a bit. I love the rap that’s coming out but when I was twelve, thirteen when it was first really coming out I was passionate about it to the point that I wanted Wu Tang tattoos and shit. [Laughing]. So things have definitely changed.
HipHopCanada: You guys have a few projects on the go. Tell me what’s special about them and do they differ from your last three projects?
Dusty: They are all very different. Working on Sweatshop records, my input is like limited to three songs. So to work on a full project just opens up the doors of what you’re capable of doing. You can have your upbeat songs, your experimental songs, it gives you a much larger canvas to work with.
Marmalade: Yeah, I feel real passionate about the album cause it’s a lot of my input on there obviously cause it’s just me and Dusty for this one. And having that control over a record from start to finish gives it a real cohesive sound from start to finish. This album is awesome: Pigeon Hole, “Age Like Astronauts.” For anyone reading this right now go pick it up. I promise you will like it.
Itchy: Yeah, it’s Dope. I’ve heard it.
HipHopCanada: Will you be touring all of Canada in support of the albums?
Dusty: We will be touring as Sweatshop Union and we will also be doing shows and songs in support of each solo project.
Marmalde: We’ll be out at Shambhala at the end of August, and up until then we will be doing the West Coast and North America.
Interview conducted by Samantha Cairns for HipHopCanada