Art of Fresh – Difficult To Define [Interview]
Toronto, ON – A group born “by fluke” nearly ten years ago, Art of Fresh just released their second album When The Night Comes In on September 21st. While their self proclaimed mission is “to bring butterfat boom-bap to the funk nation,” their melting pot musical style has brought them to places like Japan, England and Sweden. Citing such influences as Outkast, Black Eyed Peas, A Tribe Called Quest, Jamiroquai and others, it’s hard to compare the duo to any single sound. Comprised of Juno-nominated producer Slakah The Beatchild and Guiness World Record holder D.O. (Defy the Odds), they bring together hip-hop, electro, dance, pop and a bit of soul to produce an album that is uncompromisingly eclectic. On the day their newest album is released on iTunes, they sit down with HipHopCanada to discuss aspirations, touring, chemistry and expectations.
HipHopCanada: What do you expect out of this album?
Slakah: The record is done so I’ve accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. Whatever happens beyond this now is for people to listen to it. I hope people can groove to it and party to it. My goal was to create a good party album and I did that the rest is up to you. That’s where I stand here and now.
D.O.: We make our music for our fans and they know what we bring to the table. And I think our fans are going to identify with it and I think our fans will put our music onto other people and it grows from there. We don’t have aspirations for doing it for the charts or to get a multi-million dollar deal. Our goal was always just to get our music to more people. We want things to grow organically and we have the opportunity to go out around the world so we want to just continue bringing it to our core people.
Slakah: I think a lot of our inspiration – Outkast, Tribe Called Quest – it’s like when you hear a new song from Outkast it puts you in a different place. You listen with a different ear and…
HipHopCanada: And judge it on a different scale almost.
Slakah: Exactly and since that’s one of our influences we try to take that approach as well.
HipHopCanada: “Alive” is the first single, which is out now and making the rounds on radio. But tell me about your second single “When The Night Comes In.” It has a very different feel.
Slakah: We find that Canada has a hard time understanding Art of Fresh. Europe understands it right away, Japan understands it right away. But this song I was in Sweden visiting Tingsek and his brother was in the studio next door and I was like ‘I want that’ and a few years later they sent it to us and we wrote to it.
“When it comes to the music scene in Canada, I think Toronto’s a beautiful place because it’s diverse. But at the same time they’re shy. I find especially in the urban scene people are afraid to do something different and unique.” – Slakah The Beatchild
HipHopCanada: What makes you say that about Canada?
Slakah: When it comes to the music scene in Canada, I think Toronto’s a beautiful place because it’s diverse. But at the same time they’re shy. I find especially in the urban scene people are afraid to do something different and unique. It’s kind of a reflection of mainstream music because everything sounds the same; it’s only that small percentage of people that are fusing different sounds together so that’s why I think it’s difficult for the majority of people to readily gravitate towards Art of Fresh. But when they do see that vision, when our planets align with the fans or just people listening to music, they’re fans for life. When it really clicks, they really understand where we’re coming from.
D.O.: Canada’s been great, Toronto’s been great. But at the end of the day, we found international audiences have been feeling us more. Promoters are paying us to get out to these places. It’s always great to see and a little humbling when we go out to another country and find that people know our music and know our lyrics. Last week we did a show in Connecticut and some of the dudes were holding up their phones and they had Art of Fresh as their wallpaper and they were making requests of songs.
Those things are great, but it’s interesting to see those things happen in the US, Taiwan or England and not as much in Canada. That’s why we called the album Back To Earth the first time, because we feel like we’re kind of from another planet or another place and you might not understand it yet. Our home hasn’t understood it yet but we’re cool getting that love abroad right now.
HipHopCanada: Fans are fans right, regardless of what it says on their passport.
Slakah: And it’s a blessing for us because we get a chance to travel and see all these spots.
HipHopCanada: Within North America, it’s often presented as if the North American market is more significant than anywhere else. But you guys have gone all over the world and realized the potential to market your music to exponentially more people than if you only focused on North America.
Slakah: In England you pop on MTV or whatever they have over there and they have an industry of their own, a self sustaining industry of their own. There’s artists you’ve never heard of who are huge stars.
D.O.: We think we’re the center of the world being in North America, but one eye opening thing was when I was in Asia I kept hearing about Macau. I was just off Hong Kong and it’s like a gambling island, it’s kind of like Las Vegas but they do four times as much business as Las Vegas does. And people over here don’t realize that.
I found people in Asia just had this little smirk on their face. There’s a lot of money to be made, there’s a lot of people making money and there’s a lot of opportunities. And there’s people doing it big over there so I think that’s one thing we’ve realized in our Canadian industry and why we’ve come so far. Because before we were looking to the States for validation but now I think we’ve built up our own culture here and are proud of what we got. And be like, “Ya we got it here we don’t have to do it like anybody else or look like anybody else.” And I think that’s what some of these other markets have realized and had some success and why Canada is starting to get that international success too.
HipHopCanada: You have a song on the album called Baila. What does that mean?
Slakah: Baila means dance in Spanish. This is for a California, west coast crowd.
D.O.: We recorded the original to this song when we were in Tokyo, it was our first full day in Tokyo. And I brought a mic over, unfortunately we didn’t have a mic stand so we had to hook up the mic to a light stand. We took out the light and put the mic in there and that was the song we were writing. Far from my city, but I feel like home. Because even though we were half way across the world, we were getting love in different spots.
Slakah: People know who you are so you kind of feel like home in a way. We came back and I wanted to give it a different vibe. Sometimes I sit on music for a while. I play it against other songs on the record and with this record I wanted each song to be different from every other.
D.O.: Slakah gets his Dr. Dre on sometimes. He’ll put on a beat and I’ll start rhyming to it and writing and I’m like “cool cool“, but then when I get the finished song, I’m like “whoa ok!?” Completely new beat, completely new style. But you know I always have trust in him that he’s got the direction of it and since we came together and made the lyrics and the theme I kind of know the direction of it. But that one took me by surprise because the original had a more funky vibe to it. But I was very happy with it.
HipHopCanada: You’re saying sometimes you’ll get a song back and it sounds like a completely different genre than where it started?
D.O.: Completely different.
HipHopCanada: That speaks to the trust you two have in each other.
Slakah: Ya totally, we’ve been working together for almost ten years now.
D.O.: It’s kind of like playing basketball with a teammate. If you just started playing with that person and you throw an alley-oop you don’t know if he’s gonna go up for it. But after you develop that chemistry its show time. Magic is gonna toss it up and Kareem is gonna put it in.
HipHopCanada: Tell me about the song “What’s To Life.”
Slakah: I never make beats at home. I made this beat on the train to Philly.
HipHopCanada: [Laughing]. Are you ever home and need to make a beat so you just go jump on a Greyhound?
Slakah: [Laughing] I been making beats for so long it’s hard for me to make beats at home. This is like an inspirational record the harder you listen to it. This song is just like the grind that you do because of you. It’s like there’s things you do sometimes that people just won’t understand. And there are mistakes in life that you won’t understand why you made those decisions. But at the end of the day you just learn from it and move forward
HipHopCanada: There’s a line in a poem I wrote called “Our Life’s Path” which suits that notion well. It says “Even through setbacks, progress is achieved in maturity terms.”
Slakah: That’s exactly it. And at the same time, Art of Fresh was born almost by fluke. We were in the studio writing “Get Free” it was almost like a joke. We don’t take ourselves too seriously when it comes to Art of Fresh. We got so much on the go it’s just another avenue for artistic expression.
HipHopCanada: From “Campfire Music” to “Out of This World,” you’ve always made very eclectic videos. As different as they are from everyone else’s videos, each one seems totally different than the previous Art of Fresh video. Is the process of conceiving the video the same as creating the song?
Slakah: It’s the same process as writing a song. D.O. and I usually sit down, it could be months before we settle on a concept. We’re always shooting back concepts like ‘what if we do this’ or ‘look at this video’ we do it in a very relaxed way. It’s never forced we just let it flow. It’s similar to the writing process I just think it’s really important to have dope visuals that really tie in with the song. When we write music we want it to last forever, we want it to be timeless. I think that should be the same for everything within your movement, whether it is an album cover, video, your style, it should be timeless.
HipHopCanada: I found “Beats and Rhymes” an interesting song. Slakah, you make all the beats for the group and D.O. you handle the bulk of the rapping. Tell me about the concept of this song.
Slakah: The concept behind this song is D.O. is lyrics, I’m the beats. I’m saying people prefer the beats, he’s saying people prefer the rhymes. We’re basically battling each other as the beats and rhymes. But then in the chorus we’re like, we need each other.
That’s kind of the dynamics of the group. I make the beats, D.O.’s the lyricist. So that’s what’s important to me a lot of the time, is the beat. And for D.O. and a lot of people it’s the lyrics so we just kind of touched on that.
A lot of people think Art of Fresh is simple in terms of lyrics. But I take the Stevie approach. 10-15 yrs later someone might figure out what the song is actually about. Like ‘oh that’s what this songs about,’ or ‘oh that’s what he was talking about.’ It might be said in a simple way but there are always deeper meanings, multiple meanings with Art of Fresh.
At the end of the day, music is music. And we’re making good music now, regardless of how people take it now or later.
Don’t forget to check out http://www.theartoffresh.com.
Written by Jonathon “Bizz” Brown for HipHopCanada