T.R.A. talks new album Crazy 8’s, SARS Network updates, touring & more [Interview]
Toronto, ON – Originally published April 10, 2014 – I met Toronto rapper T.R.A., aka Tha Rhyme Animal, in person for the first time in Ottawa’s Byward Market. He was pushing his crew’s latest mixtape and clearly had a grasp of how to sell music to strangers. I knew about his reputation for working hard and was already a fan of the music, but it wasn’t until that trip to Ottawa that I really appreciated his hustle and his determination to succeed.
This was sometime in the winter of 2003 and T.R.A. was already several stops into a personal tour he was taking across Canada to chop CDs. Several months earlier, Toronto (and Canada) had been overwhelmed with the SARS outbreak, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Thousands of people were affected and Toronto’s tourism industry was threatening to take a major hit. The SARS outbreak inspired several benefit events to help revive Toronto’s economy, mainly the Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto event also known as Toronto Rock and SARS Fest (July 30, 2003). The hip-hop community wasn’t really involved in the event, but SARS was taking on a new meaning in the scene.
“That way of thinking can be a community poison, causing individualism in something that needs to be united. That brings distance between the local artists believing they will be the next famous solo artist out of Toronto, and that may not be the case.” – T.R.A.
T.R.A., a respected MC and a member of The Empire, launched a new mixtape series which gave a new spin on the SARS acronym. SARS would now represent Sick Artists Runnin’ Shit and a highly acclaimed mixtape series featuring Toronto’s hottest rappers and new music from the Empire or Fifth Letter Fam crew. To date, there have been nine volumes of SARS released with Volume 10 in the works (S.A.R.S 9: Quarantine pictured below). There have also been well over 50 other mixtapes released in the SARS series – presented or co-presented by The SARS Network.
Most recently T.R.A. has teamed up with Toronto producer Phat Tony (a member of HHC’s Gladstone What?! radio team during the SARS outbreak, if my dates are correct) to release the Crazy 8’s EP. The project features eight-tracks produced by Phat Tony, and guest appearances by Adam Bomb, 9th Uno and Acetik. It’s available now on iTunes (and also in hard copy).
T.R.A. recently connected with HipHopCanada to discuss Crazy 8’s, the latest from The SARS Network, and his interest in touring, amongst other things. Check out the Q&A session below.
Interview conducted by Jesse Plunkett for HipHopCanada
HipHopCanada: T.R.A. thanks for taking the time to speak with me about your new release. Let’s start with the story behind you and producer Phat Tony deciding to collaborate on a project. How did that come about?
T.R.A.: I’ve known Big Tweeze aka Phat Tony for a good long while and have always been a fan of his boom bap sound but, we never had the chance to work together. He’s also bought SARS CDs off me many times before we officially met. The last time I was promoting SARS 9, I saw Big Tweeze on Queen St. West, Downtown, Toronto walking his dog, Bowzer, and he said “it’s been a minute and we haven’t done any kinda music together… Let’s do something?” I agreed and at the start of this year, we got to work, and behold… Crazy 8’s!
HipHopCanada: What is it about Phat Tony that you like as a producer? How does style and approach mesh with you as an artist?
T.R.A.: Well… First of all Phat Tony and I smoke A LOT of weed, so that’s an automatic vibe right there, and we can smoke in the lab… DONE DEAL! Also, Phat Tony knows what he’s looking for when he makes a beat. And his sound is my sound, that raw 90’s boom bap hip-hop sound or something real soulful… Phat Tony is the go to guy for that. Phat Tony and I realized what we were capable of doing together after we collaborated on “Blunt Trauma” and made “Weaksauce.”
HipHopCanada: What’s the Crazy 8’s concept? What message are you trying to get across?
T.R.A.: Crazy 8’s just kind of happened. We were just cutting tracks and everything was just falling into place perfectly and in such a short period of time. We initially were going to do 6 tracks but ended up banging out 8, and they were deemed “crazy” by everyone that heard them, so we called it Crazy 8’s… But the message is for rappers, entertainers and industry people to ‘play their cards right!’
HipHopHopCanada: Crazy 8’s is limited to just three guest appearances – Adam Bomb, 9th Uno and Acetik. How did you decide who you wanted on the project and can we expect visual support for any of those collaborations?
T.R.A.: Phat Tony had it in the plan to get 9th Uno and Adam Bomb as we began recording… Even the beats selected and all! I choose to work with Acetik because him and I were working on a couple of songs for his project, so I had to get him on mine. Aside from the fact that Acetik is an amazing writer, we vibe good on tracks together, so he was a must. I am in the midst of organizing the videos now and selecting what songs will be done.
HipHopCanada: How did the concept for “Greedy” come about? And the video?
T.R.A.: The “Greedy” concept came along due to my frustration with the industry and the boycott system I see artists and promoters developing. I think it’s really disgusting that a lot of artists and promoters can be selfish, to the point that the fan isn’t even rationalized as a factor unless there is money involved. Some artists don’t even deserve to make a living off the music, at all. Knowing that a wack rapper needs money to be relevant, why should it be any different for a talented artist? Most “talented” artists are in that position I believe, because they spend a lot of time crafting their music, lyrics and style. “Greedy” is a roll call to all those that feel suppressed by the music industry, it’s our time to get paid, and our time to be heard! “Greedy” is more a music movement before a money movement, where it’s raps before racks, and flow before dough.
HipHopCanada: Do you have a favourite track on the project?
T.R.A.: Yes! “Dabbing” is my favorite track on Crazy 8’s! Everything about that track is 100% me! I feel in love with budder and shatter after my last trip to Vancouver. Now I do not go very many places without my Gpen. If you smoke Shatter or Budder, “Dabbing” is the anthem.
HipHopCanada: You mentioned the other day that you were embarking on a tour across Canada to push CDs – reminding me of when I first met you in Ottawa doing the same – pushing S.A.R.S Volume 1. Will hard copies of Crazy 8’s be available for purchase?
T.R.A.: Yes, and YES! I am leaving to go across Canada and I am trying to hit every province before winter arrives again, I try to do it every year! Hard copies of Crazy 8’s will be with me for sure, as well as my first album Blunt Trauma for all those that missed me last year. Planning on leaving this month and keeping it moving!
HipHopCanada: Any other products from The SARS Network catalogue will be available to cop in CD form?
T.R.A.: I’m trying to hit the major city in every province before the summer is complete, and would really like to do some shows as well. I should have a deep catalogue of SARS CDs with me, I’m taking as much as I can. If you see me on the road I got more than enough hip hop for you! I will also have the brand new TALKSICK – THE WEAPON CD which is too ill! Get that!
HipHopCanada: Keeping up with current events, the JUNO Awards went down this past weekend. DId you get your Rap Recording of the Year category prediction right?
T.R.A.: Well… If you know me, I’m not very fond of the JUNOs. It ain’t no mystery tho, of course Drake would win! I’m more proud of Rich Kidd making it there as an indie artist, that’s impressive.
HipHopCanada: Recently a rapper lightheartedly complained to me that Drake’s success has over-saturated Toronto with aspiring artists, making it even harder to get heard. Others note that the added attention Toronto has received from the outside world. What kind of opportunities has Drake’s international success created for other Toronto artists? As a veteran rapper, have you noticed a significant change in the scene since his rise to fame?
T.R.A.: Very much so! It has it’s good, and it’s bad! I’ve been active in the Toronto hip-hop scene since I would say, 2001. I’ve been here before majority of the artists now, and a lot has changed. Before Drake, and his success, I don’t even think Canadian artists thought it was possible for most Americans to even reach that status musically and financially, especially being Canadian. So it was more a focused movement to work with your community and/or represent it, which is what happened. Drakes come up was very fast, aligning himself with Lil Wayne in the peak of his career was almost a guarantee for North American stardom. As Drake evolved, so did the look, image and expectations of artists in Toronto, it became a “if he can do it, I can do it too” mentality. That way of thinking can be a community poison, causing individualism in something that needs to be united. That brings distance between the local artists believing they will be the next famous solo artist out of Toronto, and that may not be the case. But, it also did raise the bar and increased the quality control of what’s expected from the city, even though he doesn’t collab with Toronto artists that I know of. But without a doubt, Drake made it vital for you as an artist to step your game up in the city, and now a lot of people got their eye on Toronto.
HipHopCanada: No doubt! Moving from one collaborative release to a next – let’s talk about the project with Big Sproxx of the Freedom Writers movement. There’s obviously a lot of history with Sproxx dating back to the Empire days, so what brought on this new initiative?
T.R.A.: I’ve known and worked with Sproxx for a long time and talk to him almost everyday on the phone, and record most of my music with Sproxx. We have good chemistry together and he’s a no nonsense producer that will tell you what you need to improve on, or knows exactly what a song is missing. So I thought it would be wise for us to do a project together. We are now building and working on something real special for the summer.
HipHopCanada: Can you leak any project details?
T.R.A.: Ummm… I think Sproxx would kill me… [Laughing]
HipHopCanada: What about the full-length album set to drop by the end of the year?
T.R.A.: Yes… Really excited about that! I have a couple names I wanted to call it, but haven’t made a choice yet. But I’m six songs deep, that are totally separate tracks from my other projects. I’m trying to make sure that my sophomore album has strong lyrics, dope production, a tight mix and a good vibe. I want to have it ready by December before Christmas.
HipHopCanada: Let’s talk about The SARS Network. Who makes up the official roster and what projects can we expect for the remainder of the year?
T.R.A.: The SARS Network is Tek-Man, Caution Da Don, Episode Ace Holla, William Blankz, Talksick and myself. This is our third year together and we are moving closer to our goals daily. We started the year with our annual cypher, then followed up with Talksick’s LP The Weapon. Crazy 8’s was just released and Caution Da Don is doing a Spoiled Smokers “4/20 mixtape” for April, 20. Tek-Man has a mixtape and album due for release this summer, Episode is working on a mixtape with his artists on 45 Entertainment, and William Blankz is working on his album, Celebrity Status due for fall, and my album end of the year.
HipHopCanada: Will you be doing a concert tour anytime soon? You mentioned before that you were looking for the right people to partner up with to do a cross-Canada thing.
T.R.A.: I would love to go on tour, unfortunately I’ve never been asked and I am unsure of how to go about getting involved in one. Until then, I’m busy working on my status so that I can organize one for myself, but now is a little to early. But going on tour and preforming city to city daily is one of my life long goals that I will accomplish.
HipHopCanada: Promoters take note! What’s the next opportunity people have to see you live?
T.R.A.: I’m trying to get at promoters all the time to get shows, I’m really interested in doing shows outside of Toronto. But right now, my main priority is building a buzz so my demand on stage is warranted. But I’m open for any opportunity if the business is right, or for the better of my career.
HipHopCanada: What are the chances of fans seeing an Empire reunion?
T.R.A.: I would love for that to be possible, but because of situations out of my control it’s all better we do what we are doing right now. Everything we still do as individuals, is still an extension of Empire. Empire is more than just a group, it was a lyrical alumni we built and we still keep the art form we created alive today. So really, not much has changed if you check for all our solo projects.
HipHopCanada: Anything else you’d like to touch on before we wrap this up? Shout-outs?
T.R.A.: Shout-out to my SARS Network Family, Big Tweeze for all the help on the Crazy 8’s project, Big Sproxx, The Quarter Inch Kings, BeastMode Battle League, KOTD, GotBars Battle League, Spoiled Smokers Collective, DJ Luvlee, DJ Law, DJ Grouch, Lyme Lyte Video and all my SARS supporters! Be on the look out for me across Canada promoting SARS in a downtown near you very soon! And shout-out HipHopCanada! #SARS
Interview conducted by Jesse Plunkett for HipHopCanada