High Heat, Stressed Street and words with Manik [Interview]
Vancouver, BC – Any conversation with Manik is bound to be intense; he’s full of ideas, and follows his visions with decisive action, carving out a niche for himself in the hip-hop and Aboriginal communities. He’s got a lot of history in Vancouver, and a unique view of how things have changed over the years, and what the scene here has been and could be. HipHopCanada sat down with the Stressed Street MC to talk a bit about his insight, his history, and High Heat, a crew he hand-picked from Vancouver’s Downtown East Side.
HipHopCanada: Tell me about what you’ve learned about the hip-hop scene in Vancouver.
Manik: We have to pay attention to one another. We have to look and and see what Vancouver is doing in the Hip-Hop world. Who are the Vancouver Hip-Hop artists? Check and find out. Do research. Look at the different neighbourhoods of Vancouver. Who are the Hip-Hop artists from the different sides of Vancouver. East, North, South, who are the artists out in Burnaby? You should be looking out there always, right?
HipHopCanada: What’s the good that you see here?
Manik: There’s so much talent. I personally think that we have some of the best Hip-Hop producers in the world. I’m talking straight up beatmakers that could go toe to toe with anybody.
HipHopCanada: Have things changed here over the years?
Manik: There was a time in the mid to late 90’s in Vancouver where there would be a few compilation albums and those compilation albums were awesome, there was like the “Chocolate City” compilation, on Vancouver Island there was like the “Subjects”. Those compilations brought together all these different artists and gave everyone a chance to listen to each other, theres not many people doing the work like that. People are trying to be labels and music groups without having the money that labels and music groups actually have. So people gotta get real, realistically. Labels are making millions of dollars off of music. We’re not making millions of dollars off of music, we don’t got the endorsement. There’s potential. There’s potential and we’ve seen the potential, we’ve seen it happen in Drake and so on and so forth. It could happen. How are we gonna do that?
HipHopCanada: That’s a good question!
Manik: I tried. I did this. I reached out to 25 artists. Directly I spoke to Checkmate, Concise, Moka, Edge, everyone. I spoke to everyone about doing a posse song. Moka Only produced the beat even. We went and sent this beat out to everybody…we’ll do one where we all spit 8 bars and we’re going to do a video, there will be 10-15 of us, maybe only 6 of us will make it for the first video but we’re going to come and do this, and there will be a part 2 and a part 3 and that was the plan. I tried so hard. I had commitments from everybody and it just wouldn’t glue together. Even to the point where were I said I’d rent one studio space and I’ll personally book everybody.
HipHopCanada: That must have been disappointing. So where do you see the scene really working in other parts of Canada, other that Toronto, and why?
Manik: Winnipeg’s Hip-Hop scene is the smartest Hip-Hop scene in Canada by far, easily without a doubt. Why? Because they support each other. Because their urban radio station did what they said it was going to do. The beat tricked us all. Every single one of us went down to the courthouse and we all pushed for the beat radio station, there were all these different hip-hop personalities. There were all these promises of helping out the urban hip-hop community and then it turned into some shit. Streets FM on the other hand is the most genius radio station, they bought a nice, big radio frequency out there and every second song is a local artist or a Canadian artist when they do a top 10 is going to be Lil Wayne, Winnipeg’s Most, Swollen Members, Drake, J Cole, and that raises the status of the local artists so now they’re getting 100,000 views a video. We could do the same thing if we just back each other up; they work with each other, they do little group projects where they took Winnipeg’s Most – who were 3 of Winnipeg’s most buzzing artist doing their own thing – and got together and recorded an album to put Winnipeg on, that’s what it was and they came out the exact same time Streets FM came out. And now look at their scene is so beautiful over there. It’s so easy for a young artist, if you make a quality recording you’re going to get some major radio play, if you have the proper edit, the proper quality, the local artist standard has raised now, everyone knows to master their music now because they’re trying to get it on the radio, they’ve learnt that all together right, they know who to talk to, they work with each other.
HipHopCanada: Is that possible here in Vancouver?
Manik: I’m a dreamer. The reason why I don’t push Manik music all the time is because I’m working on community projects and I’m trying to get thing happening and make things happen in this community. And that’s what I think a lot of other artists need to do. Start working on building Vancouver as a brand itself. People aren’t just buying a Rap artist, they’re buying the neighbourhood he comes from, they’re buying the area he comes from. People are not just buying Drake, they’re buying Toronto now because he officially puts it on for Toronto. People arent just buying Lil Wayne, they’re buying New Orleans, they buying that look, that tatted face, grimey ass southern dude, that’s what they buying. We need to create that for Vancouver, what are we, we have to define Vancouver and what is Vancouver Hip-Hop. We haven’t’ branded Van City. Martini definitely branded it and you know, whoever created that cream team Van City Run DMC logo, they branded that and that’s what I’m talking about, I’m talking about branding a sound, branding a feel. There was a time when we did. Most people have never made any money in Vancouver Hip-Hop. They don’t have the niche market that I do. I have the aboriginal community. I’m able to go out and make thousands of dollars on Hip-Hop in a year, not many rappers in the city have that. And that’s a challenge.
HipHopCanada: How do you use your market to maximize your effect on the community?
Manik: I’m starting something, and its called Spray Clan and I’m bringing together all the Native graffiti writers. And what we’re going to do, in January probably is I’m bring together worldwide, international legends – people don’t even know some of these guys are natives – when the graph comunity finds out some of these name that are coming up here they’re going to *makes freak out noise.* Like for example I’m bringing up from San Francisco, this guy Spy One is full on native, we’re going to bring up Ernie Paniccioli to photograph it and document it, we’re probably going to make a book out of it, and at the opening we’re also going to have a panel and we’re going to invite the likes of Robert Davidson and like North West Coast art legends to examine graffiti and talk about what they think of it. Girl23 in Vancouver has been doing the aerosol and the native graffiti shit for a decade now, she’s the one that’s going to be representing this area and she’s a female too. Balance is important for everything so I have to have people representing the south and it has to be gender balanced, Americans Canadians and men and women. Balance is everything.
HipHopCanada: Your crew is known as High Heat, and there’s a history to that. Can you tell us about it?
Manik: I was looking at Vancity as a whole, as far as the artists, what kind of artists are being represented in Vancouver, which of Vancouver’s scenes are being represented and who is genuinely being represented. There are a couple of artists who spoke about and shot videos in the Downtown East Side, but they’re not from there and the difference is that I have family from there and I’m born and raised here and I hustled down there for years. I spent 15 years selling drugs in the DTES, and I know it like the back of my hand. I know that life so, so well and that’s what motivates me to work like I do and create all these positive facets because there’s so much negativity in the city and it’s not as easy to create fun things, creative healthy things so its deep on that level, its personal. But High Heat itself…I was like, okay the DTES is highly under represented, there’s none of these hustlers that are rapping, and I know, out of all the people that talk shit, I only know of one artist that’s a real hustler down there so I said okay I’m going to go down there, I’m going to walk around, I’m going to recruit,I’m going to talk to everybody, I’m going to spend time down there. So I went on a routine, I was going every single Sunday during the street markets cause you know they sell that shit on the streets, that was my reason to be there and I know all these hustlers and people so I would sit there and they would ask me to freestyle and rap for them and I know these people so I’d ask them “who are the rappers, who’s rapping around here?” So I found these kids and I’d see who actually had the potential out here and so I did was created the group High Heat and the group was Jay Shine and Jay Fame and they were two kids that are from the hood, that were hustling down there their whole lives, their families are down there they are real hood downtown east side kids. So I said, “Okay man, we’re going to create a rap group, we’re going to make you guys.
HipHopCanada: And 2 of these kids stood out to you?
Manik: They dabbled in rap but they never took it serious, they took hustling seriously they took that life seriously serious, that’s all they ever knew. They’re not fraudulent, they’re so legitimate but they have potential, I listened to what every kid rapped about, these two kids actually had a glimmer of hope in their music, that’s why I decided to work with them, that’s why I decided to create High Heat. I said “okay, you guys could spend every moment you have down here making your money,” and they’re so happy making their 500-1000 bucks a day and that’s just life to them, “or you could take all these thousands of dollars you’re sitting on and start to invest it into your career, maybe tour.” Right now, Jay Fame is for the first time a week and a half on a trip to Saskatoon to meet all the record label guys. He’s been to West Edmonton mall shopping, doing interviews for the first time ever, but he would have been down there still in the hood. It was a personal project that I took on, where I wanted to go and get some actual kids from the hood and show Vancouver and so I put out this “6 Up” video and that’s life down there – if you watch that video again, if you watch the drug culture that’s what it is. There’s groups of kids and they’re watching for cops they yell “six up” – everybody scatters, they reconvene a cop comes, “six up” they scatter, reconvene, sell drugs, that’s just life down there, half these guys are raised by their families in hotels down there. So i guess, High Heat was a double meaning, high heat is what you call pure, raw uncut cocaine that’s a very common gangster/street term they don’t use any other term, people say AAA marijuana, and when people order a brick of cocaine they’ll say what grade is the blow – they say it’s either low heat, medium heat, high heat, that’s the terminology, thats where it came from. High heat is also the level of the life down there its always on edge on stop, that’s just what these kid are that’s who they are, that’s genuinely what they represented. The bottom line is I’m still getting these kinds into studios, getting them recording, videos, getting them off the streets and right now neither of those guys are down there selling dope, they don’t hustle anymore they’re out of the game completely and they’re focusing on music. Mission accomplished.
Interview and photography by Amalia Judith for HipHopCanada