Dragon Fli Empire [Interview]
Calgary, AB - Forming in 2002, the Calgary DJ/MC team Dragon Fli Empire have an impressive resume. Sure, maybe you’ve never haven’t heard of them, but MC Tee-Kay and DJ Cosm are looking to change that. Having opened for Mos Def, De La Soul and Public Enemy, as well as doing tracks with such luminaries as Masta Ace, Juice crew legend and freestyle maniac Craig G and Organized Konfusion alumni Prince Po, Dragon Fli is on the radar of a lot of classic cats: now it’s time for the takeover in their home and native land. HipHopCanada had a chance to talk with Dragon Fli’s DJ/Producer DJ Cosm over the phone to discuss Calgary hip-hop and Dragon Fli Empire’s West Coast tour and new mixtape Time and Space.
HipHopCanada: Calgary is not the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of beats and rhymes, what’s the Calgary scene like and what separates you from the others back home?
Cosm: Our city has a very diverse scene, there is a lot going on as far as the sorts of styles or sub-genres people are doing. Yet when me and Tee Kay came out, nobody else was doing the particular style of hip-hop that we were. Even though there were lots of other pioneering acts, like Nucleus, Chris Rose and Cloak & Dagger, there was and is no real “defining sound”. All of the earlier acts were doing different things, and we continued that tradition by doing something that wasn’t really being done yet in Calgary. Tee Kay and myself come with a deep appreciation for golden-age classics like Tribe and De La or Pharcyde. At the same time we both are frustrated by the watered-down state of mainstream hip-hop. It feels formulaic and suburban, we just wanted to bring it back to that classic flavour.
HipHopCanada: You have cited production influences like Prince Paul and Large Professor, but you are also a DJ. Who is a hero for you in the DJ realm?
Cosm: Definitely Mix Master Mike, the way he communicates with his turntables is mind blowing, he is always pushing boundaries. DJ Jazzy Jeff as well, he is always at the forefront with skill. Guys like the late Roc Raida and the X-Ecutioners (formerly the X-Men) were also very influential to me, and Kid Capri also had a style that demanded my attention. But if I were to narrow it down I would have to say Mix Master Mike and Jazzy Jeff. Those guys are amazing.
HipHopCanada: What advice can you give to up-and-comers trying to get the kinds of shows you’ve done?
Cosm: We work hard, always. Whether writing, recording, performing, promoting, we are always doing something to advance the Dragon Fli name. It’s not enough to just make dope tracks, you have to have your business tight and be active on both sides of the game, business wise and creatively. For us, we established a relationship with the CBC early on. As a result we got a lot of exposure that we wouldn’t have had otherwise, so it is crucial to make and keep contacts. Also, when doing business it is always important to remain humble and never give up. If you’re looking to get those sick opening slots on the big stages, persistence is key. If you don’t get it that first time, keep trying to get it, if you’re looking to book those dates for a tour, keep at it, keep calling, eventually the right people will take notice of the hard work. I’ve seen a whole lot of talented people that went nowhere because they didn’t handle their business and didn’t want to work hard. In regards to your music, just do you. Be yourself because authenticity works, people can feel it and they respond.
HipHopCanada: Dragon Fli has had the chance to open for some serious heavy hitters like Public Enemy and even got to be on a Rock the Bells date. As well, you’ve made songs with some of hip-hop’s finest from Craig G to Masta Ace. Is it possible to pick a highlight so far from all of those experiences?
Cosm: Well we have some classic dudes on the Time and Space Tour Mixtape, from Cadence Weapon and Josh Martinez to Moka Only. But, as the title suggests, this album was recorded across a long period of time in studios from Halifax to Oakland. So a lot of the collaborations happened over the internet, sending tracks back and forth. We did however have Masta Ace in the studio for that collaboration (also on the Time and Space mix), he was in town doing a show, and that was incredible. If I have to pick one moment though, for me, our biggest highlight was when we opened for Public Enemy. Chuck D is the most down to earth and humble person I have ever met. He said that he had heard of us, and he even came out early to make sure he checked us out. After our set he was waiting in the wings to give us huge props and talk a bit. That was amazing. I was blown away.
HipHopCanada: What can we expect from a Dragon Fli Empire show when we check you out on the Time and Space tour?
Cosm: You can expect a Dragon Fli show to be that classic hip-hop. One MC and one DJ/hypeman giving you all they got. Our shows are very high energy, simple and effective, just a classic rap show. We’ve got a lot of experience rocking the stage so we definitely know what we are doing. With our status in the hip-hop community we feel like Dragon Fli is sort of at the tail end of the trailblazer generation and at the tip of the new age. As such, we have seen a lot of people come and go and learned from their mistakes and successes, as well as our own. The end result of that learning experience is the knowledge of how to do it right and tight. We know what works and what works for us.
Check out Dragon Fli Empire at a city near you on the Time and Space tour: see HipHopCanda’s post here. Advance copies of Time and Space are available at the shows with an official release date of April 6, 2011 on Make Believe Records, distributed through URBNet.
Interview conducted by Natch Crumbly for HipHopCanada.