Classified Pushes The Restart Button [Spotlight]
“I kind of did what I set out to do and I felt like I did it. So I felt like let me get a little cocky in this and just say exactly how I’m feeling.”
Classified Pushes The Restart Button
Enfield, NS – He’s the same level headed, down to earth, look you in the eye, crack a joke, smoke a joint, talk hip-hop all night Classified. In a grey hoodie and black fitted, he leans forward in his chair as writers from various outlets lob questions at him inside Sony’s Toronto offices. It’s almost deja vu for this writer, who sat a few doors down in 2009 talking to Classified about his soon to be released album Self Explanatory for the cover of Urbanology Magazine. The building, the rapper, even the color of the hoodie is the same as 2009, but the game is significantly different. His last single off Self Explanatory, “Oh Canada” was certified platinum in Canada on the back of perfect timing with Vancouver’s Winter Olympics. While Class is cautious about expecting such a response to the records he’s got lined up next, the fact is he is following the biggest single of his career. How he and his fans will respond to that is a valid question being asked.
Secondly, he recently inked a U.S. distribution deal through Decon, while smaller labels will distribute the album to Spain, U.K., Germany, Australia, Switzerland and Japan. When we met in 2009, he’d just signed to Sony Canada in a move that surprised many. Up to that point, many viewed Classified as the definition of independent, given the lack of major label involvement in his decade plus career. Now with the Decon deal, his potential reach is amplified once more. It also means there’s a restart button of sorts about to be pushed. After spending years building his audience in Canada, he’s now faced with both the opportunity and the daunting task of tackling the market south of the boarder.
Then there’s Middle Fingers and Handshakes, his newest album. His lead single “Classy” is leading the way along with another cross Canada tour. Upon hearing much of the album’s material, it’s apparent this is an edgier, some could say cockier, unapologetic Classified than we’re used to. It feels like he’s out to prove it all, all over again.
HipHopCanada: “Oh Canada,” is now a milestone in your career. A single that came out almost a year after your last album, went platinum and became a viral monster with over a million YouTube views. How do you follow that?
Classified: “Oh Canada,” was like a special thing. It wasn’t like a normal single. Just for the Olympics and the timing and everything, I don’t think anything like that will happen again in my career just the way that worked out honestly.” Oh Canada,” wasn’t even supposed to be a single. That was the fourth or fifth single off the album and the album was out for a year when we put it out. And it was kind of like we weren’t even going to do it… And then the Olympics came and everything started to fall in place and then we’re selling 80,000 singles on iTunes and having an almost double platinum single. So, if anything like that happens again great, but I’m not really comparing the rest of my stuff with that. I know that was a special instant that might not ever happen again because of the timing.
HipHopCanada: But do you feel like you have some momentum?
Classified: I think it that took me to a whole different audience that a lot of people would’ve never heard me before. Like ‘Oh you did the “Oh Canada” song?’ I’d say 80% of those people would probably never care about another Classified song or check for an album, because they weren’t buying into Classified and what I’m about. They were buying into the Canadian pride.
HipHopCanada: Music often has the ability to act as a time capsule for points in history and I think that is exactly why that song succeeded. Because now a lot of us will look back at 2010 and the Olympics and that will be one of the songs that resonates.
Classified: Yeah, totally. I’m just hoping every Canada Day I can get a show somewhere even when I’m 80-years old [Laughing]. I figure that’s my one guarantee with that, at least I’ll get some play on Canada Day and hopefully get a show.
HipHopCanada: You now have a distribution deal outside of Canada as well. You signed with Decon Records. Does this album start an entirely new phase of your career?
Classified: I’m excited about that and I know they are pretty excited down there about the deal. It’s nice to do a deal in a place like that, where I haven’t really done too much and have a team behind you that’s ready to push it.
HipHopCanada: How does this signing compare to how you felt when you first signed to URBnet for Canadian distribution nearly a decade ago?
Classified: Kind of the same thing. It’s an indie deal through a major in the States and Germany and different territories. It’s not like signing to Sony here, where everything is going to fall in place, we’re going to push 20,000 copies first week to stores and whatever it’s going to be. It’s going to be an independent battle with still having to do shows in each region and be like ‘Ok, we’re doing shows because the album is in stores.’ And really just going back to 10 years ago when I signed with Urbnet and performing in front of 15-20 people and just really building from the ground up.
HipHopCanada: Can we talk about the title of the album? Handshakes and Middle Fingers. It’s a bit more in your face than let’s say Self Explanatory or Hitch Hikin Music. How much emphasis do you place on an album title? Some people will tell us the title of their album before we get any music.
Classified: I find most people are like that. Most people are like ‘my project is coming out it’s called this. I’m going to start recording it next week.’
For me it’s always like the last thing I do. I guess don’t approach an album like ‘I’m going to build this album.’ I more go song by song and once I start to get 6-7 songs done I start to see what I’m starting to write about and how things are shaping up. Then I start to plan more the album as a whole and the concept.
It was really about balance. I wanted to call it “balance,” but so many people have had that album title. I was like I can’t do that. I wanted to do the gift and the curse, the ying and the yang, something that. Two opposites that represent the same thing. And then the handshakes and middle fingers, we were talking about something and I just popped that out. And it’s kind of cool, a little bit different. Like you said it’s more in your face and catches people off guard. It’s like every interview I do it’s like ‘What the hell is this album title?’ So its serving its purpose, its getting people talking about the album and represents what I wanted to do with the album.
HipHopCanada: You sound like your rapping with a bit more of an attitude right now. You’re still considerably humble and self aware relative to most rappers, but there’s something new there as well.
Classified: Just some of the tracks – I got to a point where, I’m not a cocky dude, like anyone that knows me in real life knows I’m the least cocky dude in the world.
[And almost as if to bring him back to earth, he pauses to change the DVD for his daughter before apologizing and continuing his answer]
But with this album I kind of felt like, I don’t know. Just people in my career who’ve hated on me for years or whatever and just didn’t think I was doing my thing. I get to a point where I’m like ‘Ok fuck everybody else.’ I kind of did what I set out to do and I felt like I did it. So I felt like let me get a little cocky in this and just say exactly how I’m feeling. Some of the lines some people might take as disses and if they do then it’s directed at them.
HipHopCanada: In your career, have you ever had a serious bout of writer’s block?
Classified: Oh fuck ya! Like every second day (laughing). I think that’s why it takes me so long to write. I know guys that’ll sit down and write a song in an hour, hour and a half. But for me it’s like when I’m working on a song, I’ll write a verse a day and spend three four hours on the verse. And just sit there and just take my time. I don’t just try to come up with something to fill it in just to get it done. Writers block is my worst enemy; I definitely have that a lot. That’s why I have to come up with concepts a lot so I don’t repeat myself and keep saying the same shit. So it’s an ongoing battle.
HipHopCanada: We were talking about how you listen to music and you said you were a headphones kid because you were always hitchhiking. That’s a foreign concept to a city kid like me. Can you give me an idea of what that’s like?
Classified: Like even me going from my house to my high school, cause in grade 11 and 12 that’s when I started to get into music and go into Halifax to work with different producers and stuff. So I’d leave school early and even from school to my house was a half hour drive. So it’s like I don’t got my license. None of my boys had cars or they were staying in school or whatever. For us out here, hitch hiking was the way to get around, get on the road, put your music on so you had something to listen to and get the thumb out there. But a lot of times it’d end up you wouldn’t get picked up for an hour or two sometimes. Somtimes you’d get lucky and the first two cars would stop and get you.
You know, a lot of alone time and you know it sucked but at the same time it kind of built my love for a certain type of music because it was just me listening to music. Whereas if you’re in your car with all your boys and you’re all doing your thing you get everybody else’s input and you’re talking and you’re not really paying attention 100%. With this, with headphones on you didn’t get any outside distractions or any of that. And it was just kind of you and the music.
HipHopCanada: Do you ever pick up hitch hikers these days?
Classified: A couple times, not as much as I should (laughing). Usually around here in Enfield I’ll pick up some, young kids, young teenagers that are hikin’ and stuff. I picked up one the other day and he’s like ‘You’re Classified!’
HipHopCanada: [Laughing] Well, you’ve come full circle then haven’t you?
Classified: In more ways then one.
Written by Jonathon “Bizz” Brown for HipHopCanada
Artwork by Sarah Gwan for HipHopCanada
Don’t forget to check out http://www.classifiedofficial.com and http://www.halfliferecords.ca.