Ursa Maja breaks down World War Me [Interview]
Moose Jaw, SK – Saskatchewan’s own Obadiah “Ursa Maja” Thompson (of the C.J.E. crew) just launched his highly-anticipated World War Me album. The 10-track project laces Ursa’s anecdotal versing over R&B-pop influenced production, courtesy of Jared Robinson (LunarTheory). This week, HipHopCanada caught up with Ursa Maja to break down the album.
We chatted about politics, Saskatchewan hip-hop, and more. You can stream the album via YouTube below. But make sure you head over to iTunes to purchase a copy of World War Me.
Ursa Maja: Q&A
HipHopCanada: So starting off, your album art looks suspiciously similar to the recent Meek Mill DC3 cover.
Ursa Maja: I noticed that as soon as I saw the cover art for DC3. But, no. The WWM cover art was completed at least a month before the cover art for DC3 was public.
HipHopCanada: Break down Saskatchewan hip-hop for me. How does it differ from the rest of Canada’s hip-hop scene?
Ursa Maja: Hip-hop is definitely becoming more widely accepted in Saskatchewan. You may have noticed that a lot of big-name hip-hop artists have been performing in the province lately, and I think that’s contributed to the province’s increased interest in the genre. People are more likely to get into what they can see, as well as hear. They want something tangible. Aside from that, there are a few artists like myself and my crew (CJE), that are on the come-up— making a name for ourselves and putting Saskatchewan on the hip-hop industry’s radar. It’s different in other provinces, for sure. Take Toronto, for example. That place is like the Promised Land for Canadian hip-hop artists. There are just so many people out there, so many different demographics. You just have to find your niche in bigger places like that.
HipHopCanada: So let’s get to talking about the new album. In the track “Dead Prime Ministers,” you claim that the only prime ministers that ever helped you were the dead ones.
Ursa Maja: I usually avoid talking about politics, because I see a lot of problems with government, but I don’t always see the solutions. So I’m not going to tear something down unless I have the tools and knowledge to build something better in its place. That line in the hook, “The only Prime Ministers that ever helped me were the dead ones,” is sort of a double entendre. Prime Ministers and politicians are always stuffing their own pockets, and they waste, waste, waste. They’re supposed to work for us. But really we work for them. They’re just black holes for tax money. So there’s the first meaning of those people being completely useless to me. The second meaning is just a bit of a play on words. You remember Jay Z’s “Dead Presidents” track from way back? I think he did like three parts to that song. Anyway, “Dead Presidents” is just slang for U.S. currency (bills with past presidents’ faces on them). I’m from Canada, so I’m talking Dead Prime Ministers.
HipHopCanada: And on that note, who are you voting for during the next federal election?
Ursa Maja: I’ve never voted in my life. I’m not about to start now. It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.
HipHopCanada: Your tracks are all condensed stories. I feel like it’s story time with Ursa Maja, or something.
Ursa Maja: I do a lot of storytelling in my tracks. I really think it has to do with the movies I watched growing up. Movies like The Illusionist, 12 Monkeys, Fight Club, etc. They all great plots, but it’s really the endings that get you. You get to the end of the movie and you’re like, “Wow. Wow. That went from being a good story to being an unforgettable story.” That’s what I want people to think when they get to the end of one of my storytelling tracks.
HipHopCanada: So getting more personal here, let’s talk about the track “Real Life.” It’s a pretty raw track.
Ursa Maja: “Real Life” actually turned out to be a bit more raw than I intended. I changed the last couple lines of each verse right before recording them. I guess I was just feeling tired of hearing emotionally gripping tracks on the radio and wherever that ended in rainbows and butterflies. It’s like…Na, not every story has a happy ending. A lot of people have very hard lives, and every day feels like hell for them. I’m not telling people to give up hope, because obviously the overall conclusion of the album is victory. But I wanted to have that one track that just ends on the same somber note on which it begins. I’ve endured the typical trials in life of someone my age I suppose: deaths of family members, friends, etc. Nobody really close to me has passed on and I thank God for that.
HipHopCanada: So what sparked that particular track?
Ursa Maja: A lot of my friends struggle with alcoholism, drug addictions, etc. The reason that I included the part about Jack, the son who dies in the war, is to also show that many people with these severe problems have a catalyst that pushes them over the edge. Most people don’t decide, “Hey, today would be a great day to start developing a heroine addiction.” Usually, something happens to a person and they just break under the pressure. I’d love for the people that are really hurting to hear that track.
HipHopCanada: It’s interesting that you dropped a track titled “Hit The Bottom” so shortly after Drake’s “Started From The Bottom.” Because instead of starting at the bottom, you feel like our generation is headed there. What bugs you most about our generation?
Ursa Maja: Probably our complacency [and] our apathy. It sucks that we are where we are. We were basically handed a crumbling, decaying planet and told, “Here. Try to make it last a few more years. Maybe save up for a ticket to Mars.” But if not us, then who is going to make it better? Maybe if [or] when we do hit the bottom, it’ll be the much-needed jolt to wake us all up.
HipHopCanada: You were very fortunate to link up with LunarTheory for this project.
Ursa Maja: Jared’s production is as good, if not better, than any of the big name producers that I hear in our industry. Photography, video, graphic design, music production, whatever. He’s way up there.
HipHopCanada: And how did you decide to throw him on the vocals for “Snooki” with yourself and Moka Only?
Ursa Maja: “Snooki” started off with me telling Jared that I wanted a song with Moka Only. We started going through tons of Moka’s music and getting a feel for his sound. From there, Jared constructed a beat that we felt would be a good fit for both Moka and myself. Moka hit me a verse, it was dope (as you’ve heard), and all we needed was a hook to make gold. We tossed around a few names for potential singers on the hook, and then I said to Jared, “Well, why don’t you just sing the hook?” I think maybe he had that idea in his head at the time, but didn’t want to be that guy forcing his way into a song with a big feature. Anyway, I went to the studio a couple days later and Jared showed me what he came up with for a hook. Gold, gold, gold. The hook just sounded like it needed more happening, so I added my own vocal ad-libs in there. We kept it all, and the result is what you now hear in the album’s second single “Snooki.”
HipHopCanada: So what’s next in the works for Ursa Maja?
Ursa Maja: I’m writing for a few collaborative projects right now, just as a featured artist. Other than that, doing a few shows around Saskatchewan with my crew (CJE) and looking to drop a couple music videos for World War Me tracks to follow-up the release of the album.
HipHopCanada: Any last words for the HipHopCanada readers? Any shout outs you want to make?
Ursa Maja: Shout outs to my producer, Jared Robinson (LunarTheory), Keyanna, and Shantel Stewart of my Nebulus Entertainment family for contributing to the success of this project. Also shout shouts to my CJE affiliates: Pimpton, Malfunction, and Blacktop. Big things happening. Pimpton just dropped his mixtape Killa Call Me Killa Vol. 1 (Vol. 2 coming soon), Malfunction just dropped his mixtape Good Look, and BlackTop is dropping his mixtape More Than A Few Dope Words any day now. And cop World War Me on iTunes. Gracia.
Interview conducted by Sarah Sussman for HipHopCanada
Photography courtesy of Ursa Maja