Classified: An Interview with a Regular Dude

Photo courtesy of Sony Music Canada

Coming a long way from making his first mixed tape in high school to making all of his own beats on his fourteenth album, he’s not too concerned with putting Canada on the map. Artists that have come before him and who will certainly come after have and will carry the burden of responsibility when it comes to putting the spotlight on Canadian hip hop. His philosophy: work hard. “Do anything and everything you can”, he says. Period. Handshakes and Middle Fingers is homage to his hard work.  A reflective lyrical pilgrimage underscored with satiating beats, baselines and a strong dose of nineties done right. Effortless and relatable, each track melts seamlessly into the next. Listening to the album for the first time is the musical equivalent to a long awaited Friday summer night with your crew that delightfully escalates from ice cold brew to twenty year old rum, dusting off the Technics and reminiscing. The biz, family and the day to day can be challenging but Class says, “It’s all about the balance.”  Hence the album title. “I was going for the gift and the curse; the ups and downs; the good the bad; just trying to find something. Then I was like, handshakes and middle fingers. It just sounded funny to me and I kind of liked it. Half the time in this industry, people are shaking your hand then saying ‘fuck you’ behind your back.”

Shortly after the release of That Ain’t Classy, his most recent single, which is still holding a top ten spot on iTunes Canada, Handshakes and Middle Fingers is set to be released March 22nd 2011 kicking off Classified’s Canadian tour. Under Pressure was lucky enough to sit down with Class at the Sony music offices in Toronto to get at little insight into where he’s at and where’s he going.

You’ve established yourself here in Canada now and  in terms of crossing over into other markets, which has been facilitated with the emergence of MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, touring…how do you feel about breaking into a U.S. market, building a fan base and dealing with a new demographic, distribution, American label support and essentially starting over again? Well, and that’s the thing, in Canada we are signed to Sony worldwide and the way it works is, we offer the album to Sony in the U.S. to put out and if they don’t take it then we’ve got a free pass to take to any other label we want. Right now, we are working out a deal with the independent label, DeconRecords but, like you said, we are back to point A. We are trying to skip a couple of steps. We can tour and sell out places so, by doing our Canadian tour with established acts from the States, who don’t really tour in Canada, we can bring them to Canada and they’ll bring us to the States. It’s a trade off.

Are you going to focus on a college tour in the U.S. or take on a Warp Tour style format where you get diversity in large numbers? I think we are going to do a mix but, colleges for sure. I think college kids can relate to what I’m talking about, and I think if we get it out to the right people, not so much align ourselves, but just be able to use, for example, Kidz in the Hall, they’ve got a fan base but not much up here so we are going to take them through here and they’ll take us through there and like we said…back to square one. So part of me is like FAAAAAAACK we gotta do this all again???  But, I understand why it’s important. It’s going to be a slow building process but at the same time it’s exciting too because I’ve done Canada so many times so I pretty much know what to expect and I know what kind of show we’re going to have. Down there I have no clue…I don’t know if I’m going to go out there and there’s going to be twenty people or if I’m going to get booed off stage, they’ll be like who the fuck is this Canadian guy?…you know what I mean? But you go and you play, that’s part of the excitement. There’ll be days when we’ll play for a hundred people and we’ll blow their minds and it’s going to feel like fuck yeah, we doin’ it! They don’t know our music so they’re not excited from just hearing the song, they’re happy because of the performance and they’re feeling it. We’ve done a couple tours down there, with some smaller groups playing in front of fifteen people but those fifteen people are like that’s fuckin’ killer man! Playing fifteen people is not the funnest but when those fifteen people are loosing their shit it makes you feels like, ok, I’m doing something right here.

So keep it real and keep it simple… Exactly, you can’t go in there thinking I’m from Canada and I’m going to States and they’re going to love you ’cause they don’t give a shit. We got to go down there and start all over again. You’ve got to give them a reason to care.

Young artist coming up are always looking to the south. You’ve meticulously planted your Canadian seeds and as a result, have loyal Canadian fans. What is your advice to up and coming Canadian artists trying to cultivate their Canadian fan base? Spend your time putting together a tight live show. Then tour. Tour. Tour. Tour.

Canada and U.S. have different palettes and markets when it comes to the general public. For example dropping our Canadian compilation Up North Trip in the hands of industry people is worth the effort because they can appreciate the quality of Canadian artists and they ask “Who is this?! Why haven’t I heard this before?”  However fans in general who have been force fed American ‘hip POP’ music may have built an immunity to quality music. They want club music…Take Timberland, I don’t even know what Timberland is making now…is it pop music? I like it but, I don’t know if it’s hip hop or pop. Like what is the difference between hip hop and pop these days?

What have you learned about people and relationships? People think you should act different when you start becoming successful. You know, I had my nine to five job coming up and now I’m successful and making money, so for example, if I wanted to borrow ten bucks from my Dad, he’d be like, “What the fuck do you need to borrow ten bucks from me for?”. So, it could be something as little as that or friends who you don’t even talk to that much start calling you wanting to know what your doing.

How are you feeling about the Halifax hip hop scene right now? Whether it’s Halifax, Vancouver or Toronto, I find the scenes in Canada very similar. Most cats are doing the local shows trying to build a buzz but, the problem is that no one is looking outside. They are thinking like, ‘I gotta be the man in my city’ and that’s cool but don’t just focus on Halifax because your not going to turn this into a job and really get your music out to that many people. The Halifax scene is good. One good thing I can say about it is that there are a lot of artists making wicked music but I just wish it got out further.

Your style? I’m not coming out in chains; larger than life… I’m not a superstar. You start your career off that way you’re going to have to maintain that. Then, as soon as you lose, people are like, he fell off. I really can’t fall off. I’m good. I’m a regular dude who makes music. It really depends on how you position yourself. If it’s not you, don’t front. I’m just a regular dude with a hoodie and a toque.

Upcoming Montreal show
Club Soda – April 2nd 2011
1225, boul Saint-Laurent
Montreal, QC H2X 2S6
(514) 286-1010

Listen to the album before the release at : or

Canadian Tour Dates:

March 24 – The Gait – Sherbrooke
March 25 – The Venue – Peterborough
March 26 – The Sound Academy – Toronto
March 29 – Elements – Kitchener
March 30 – London Music Hall – London
March 31 – Club NV – Brantford
April 1 – Capital Music Hall – Ottawa
April 2 – Club Soda – Montreal
April 4 – Baracudas – St. Catharines
April 5 – Captial Centre – North Bay
April 7 – Crocks – Thunder Bay
April 8 – Garrick Centre – Winnipeg
April 9 – The Patricia Hotel – Saskatoon
April 11 – Better Than Fred’s – Grand Prairie
April 13 – The Club – Red Deer
April 14 – Whiskey – Calgary
April 15 – The Stone – Lethbridge
April 16 – The Starlite Room – Edmonton
April 18 – The Queens – Nanaimo
April 19 – Club 9ONE9 – Victoria
April 20  – Garfinkels – Whisler
April 21 – The Venue – Vancouver