10 at 10 Spotlight: Natural Ensemble [Interview]
Calgary, AB – June marked another monster month for the 10 at 10 fam over at Commonwealth. Is it just me – or are the Calgary acts just getting tighter every single month? For this month’s 10 at 10 Spotlight, we feature Okotoks duo, Natural Ensemble. Take a look after the jump for their reflections on playing everywhere from Sylvan Lake to Australia, and their thoughts on positivity in hip-hop.
Two things you notice about N.e. (made up of MC Geeze and DJ B-Ren) within the first ten seconds of seeing them on stage are their energy and their positivity. Talking with Geeze, it’s evident that it is exactly these two things which help N.e.’s music translate to audiences all over the world. Geeze says that even though foreign audiences can seem like a different playing field, a positive sound and energy finds all audiences the same way because at the end of the day people are out for good times; regardless of where they happen to be.
“My hometown taught me how to rap. My city taught me how to be an MC.” – Geeze
The Australian shows are a great example of the artistic connection Geeze and B-Ren have. The trip had Geeze down under, as B-Ren was celebrating his marriage back home. But that didn’t stop the shows from being N.e. shows, through-and-through. Since B-Ren produces all the tracks, his impression is felt regardless. But the two even connected over email to alter any tracks that needed to be tweaked for Geeze’s live performances. Shout-out to B-Ren’s understanding wife.
Those shows in Australia also launched a new project for the guys: Canada’s Most Casual, an online webisode series that gives an inside look at what it’s like to be an up-and-coming Canadian hip-hop artist. The first volume is made up of a handful of episodes showing Geeze off in Australia. And volume two just launched. It shows the boys on the road, touring Alberta with a couple of recognizable faces.
If you’ve met Geeze, you know the high energy and positivity that comes through in Natural Ensemble’s music is as genuine as it gets. I did ask him if the very positivity that defines their music also limits them artistically, though. If people are expecting it from you, what happens when you’re angry or just not feeling it? The answer lies in the process for the pair.
B-Ren serves as the conductor of the crew (since the beats always come first), and Geeze writes to the ones that he feels. The almost-half-decade the two have been working together just flows in that direction naturally. And Geeze feels no pressure to direct the music anywhere else, from within or from the listeners. That being said, there are a few darker tracks in the N.e. catalogue, too.
The latest release from Natural Ensemble is entitled Who’s Laughing Now, and it’s the proudest the guys have been of any of their work. Geeze just hopes people love it as much as he does. For more details on that and his thoughts on all things YYC hip-hop, check our interview below.
Natural Ensemble: Q&A
Interview conducted by Sarosh Rizvi for HipHopCanada
HipHopCanada: How do you define hip-hop, and where do you feel you fit into that definition?
Natural Ensemble: Man, to me, hip-hop is an outlet of expression. It’s a way for people to tell their story, whether it’s visually, verbally, or physically. People are finding ways to turn their influences into inspiration; creating something new. And that’s beautiful. I fit in because that’s exactly what I do, and I have crazy fun doing it.
HipHopCanada: How has living in Calgary influenced your sound?
Ne: Well, I grew up in Okotoks with that small-town vibe. So when I moved to Calgary and started doing real shows in the big city, I went from making songs for the people I grew up with to making songs for the world to hear. It really let me open up and gain confidence in myself as a musician. My hometown taught me how to rap. My city taught me how to be an MC.
HipHopCanada: How was your experience with 10 at 10 and how did you set your set?
Ne: 10 at 10 is – hands down – the most positive hip-hop culture-building event YYC has to offer. Everything from the professional organization of the 10 at 10 crew, to the vibes of the venue, to the reliably positive and overwhelming turnout of people every month show our hip-hop scene’s worth and growth. I set my set the same way I set every set: fun songs with good vibes. Only difference was that we only had 10 minutes, so me and B-Ren rehearsed to pin-point our set to exactly 10 minutes.
HipHopCanada: How do you feel the Calgary scene is growing and where does 10 at 10 fit into your own growth as an artist?
Ne: I feel like every year there’s more shows, better festivals, [and] bigger turn-outs. The scene is constantly becoming bigger and more reputable. 10 at 10 helped with our growth because of the ridiculous amount of networking that goes on at every event.
HipHopCanada: Which artists have you worked with that left an impression on you, and why?
Ne: Working with Moka Only and seeing how humble you can be even with the notches on your belt, really stuck with me. Nothing positive comes from having an ego. Getting in the booth with guys like Beni J, Transit, and TeeKay of D.F.E gave off similar impressions. Calgary’s swimming with talented artist and I’m excited to work with as many as I can.
HipHopCanada: Which local and Canadian artists would you most like to collaborate with?
Ne: Well our next album is in the works and (without giving too much away) we’re pursuing artist like Kyprios, and Ghettosocks for big-name features. As far as locally, There are so many artist in Calgary I’m down to work with, but I could see Ayoo Angie, Jam, and Young Dre being people we hit up for features, to name a few.
HipHopCanada: Tell us about past and present successes.
Ne: Natural Ensemble has two full-length albums that have charted on iTunes hip-hop charts as high as #17. We’ve opened up for the likes of Pete Rock and C.L Smooth, Grandmaster Flash, Onyx, Sweatshop Union, Swollen Members, Moka Only, Sonreal, Dub Fx, and Rhazel, to name just a few. We’ve performed at reputable venues such as Mac Hall [and] Flames Central, and performed in front of over 4,000 at U of C’s outdoor B.S.D event. We’ve done two successful Western Canadian tours consisting of at least 10 shows each; one opening for Transit and the other opening for Apathy, Swollen Members, and Ghettosocks.
HipHopCanada: What new projects are you working on? Any upcoming release dates we should know about?
Ne: The new project that we want people paying attention to is our new album Who’s Laughing Now, that was released earlier this year, with features from Jocelyn Alice, Beni J, Halfcut, B-dice, Yolanda Sargeant, Sykamore, TeeKay, Obey the Crooks, A.Y.E and Too Phat. [The] beats [were] produced by B-Ren, aside from two songs produced by Makemdef.
To keep up with Natural Ensemble, you can catch them on Facebook, iTunes, YouTube, and Twitter. And keep up with all things 10 at 10 via Facebook. And add them up on Twitter and Instagram while you’re at it. Also make sure you take a peep at the 10 at 10 website.
Interview conducted by Sarosh Rizvi for HipHopCanada
Photography by Kelly Hofer for 10 at 10 Hip-Hop Showcase