Underground hip hop does exist in Vancouver and the City Planners are at the apex. Although Moka Only is a member—and an important one at that—there are four others whose work has helped put Pacific Northwest rap on the map. In a recent chat at Beat Street Records, Jeff Spec, Ishkan, Sweet G, and Sichuan spoke on pop, hip hop, and polka. And it goes a little something like this. . .
Discorder: What gear do you use to make your beats?
Sichuan: G uses the MPC; Jeff and I use the SP and the 950 and we sequence on a computer.
On an old Mac?
S: A new Mac!
So Jeff Spec, you rap and produce?
Jeff Spec: Yeah, I rap and produce.
Ishkan you rap?
Ishkan: Slash don’t produce.
S: Beats, rap, dj.
Sweet G: DJ, produce.
I: Not to mention that Sichuan plays the plethora.
G: I’m the back-up dancer on stage.
J: G does the best cabbage patch and butterfly you’ve ever seen.
Jeff Spec now draws our attention to a super ill break on an undisclosed record that’s playing on the turntable and says, “Diggidy Domino looped the drums,” in reference to
Domino’s use of the break in a Hieroglyphic’s song.)
So you guys are always choppin’ samples. You won’t loop it?
S: We’ll loop, we’ll chop.
J: We’ll do anything.
S: We rarely loop drums, but if nice ones come up we’ll use ’em. There are people that get a little too uptight when it comes to some things—like they won’t do something—and I think we’ve all been through stages where we won’t do such and such. But if it’s tight we’ll do it.
G: I just choose to say I won’t make a bad beat, or I might make one—I just won’t let any one hear it.
J: Nah, we get to hear ’em.
Do any of you play live instruments? Would you consider the sampler a live instrument?
J: The sampler is not a live instrument.
S: It’s a tool.
J: The sampler is a computer, without being a nerd and using an actual computer to make your music.
S: You can use it to be musical.
So what are you trying to say… you’re not a nerd?
J: Yes. I’m not a nerd—that’s a fact.
G: I’m gonna say I’m not a nerd either.
I: I might be a bit of a nerd.
S: I’m a definite nerd.
S: No. For real, a sampler’s a sampler, and an instrument’s an instrument. People can justify it and use all their terminology, but it gets a little corny. The sampler’s not an
instrument, but you can be musical with a sampler. You can be extremely musical. You can be more musical than a musician sometimes.
So you guys wouldn’t consider yourselves musicians?
S: Oh yeah.
I: We do.
J: Yeah, we’re musicians but you don’t have to play a live instrument to be a musician. You gotta make music to be a musician: you gotta compose and write and perform.
So we’re musicians on that level. Just to be as good as a blues guitar player—as a musician—doesn’t mean that what I make my music on has to be a live instrument. It’s different, but it’s just as good in a different way. People get caught up on the turntable as a musical instrument, you can flip it and make it musical, but when it comes down to it you’re still playing other people’s records. I don’t see the turntable as a musical instrument.
S: It’s just as good but it’s different worlds.
Do you sample from particular styles of music or do you use any kind of record?
G: Anything that has the right sound. There’s obviously gonna be certain types of records that tend to have those better sounds. But I don’t care if I use a polka record if it has something that I want on it.
J: Any record where the drummer is the weirdest looking dude in the group, that’s a good record. If the drummer has buckteeth or a tooth growing out of his forehead, buy that record. It’s good, sample it.
S: I just bought a drum set so I can be that guy.
So are you going to incorporate live drums into your tracks?
S: It could happen but it’s not a conscious thing, like “Okay, now we’re gonna come live,” but I like playing music. I have a guitar and the drums, fools play keys, it’s not like we’re inhibited to just sampling. Of course sampling is the core of everything that we do.
What’s your favorite Pink song?
S: I like the new one, man.
I: Yeah that new one’s crazy.
S: I didn’t hear the whole album.
What’s your motivation and goal in rapping and producing?
J: There is nothing fun about rap. We are dead serious about it. It will be our career and make us all of the money in the world until I am the most dominant man and I stand on top of Eatons and everybody says, “Look, there is Jeff Spec, the successful rap man.”
I: It’s just what we love to do.
S: I would say before anything it just happens. You can formulate a reason why afterwards. We’ve always just been writing or producing.
I: It becomes a part of you too, it’s your art, it’s a part of your personality. It’s what you need to be yourself. Just like anybody, a painter or a ball player, or whatever it is that you
love to do. You have to do that: it’s who you are.
What’s your relation to the Halifax cats living out here now—like Moves and Josh Martinez?
I: Yeah those are our folks.
S: They’re friends of ours. We work along different lines. Moves will hit one of us with a beat—or Sich has given beats to Josh Martinez. We have respectful views of each other. We like their stuff and they like ours, but it is very different.
So what about other local groups?
J: We hate them. Nah, we like all local groups. Yo, Checkmate and Concise I think are really dope. You know, there are different groups that we relate to on different levels, but we don’t hate anybody. We could be friends with anybody, work with anybody, or just be friends with them and not work with them.
G: I just like people. There are lots of local groups and I may or may not like their music but it doesn’t really matter as long as they’re cool people. If they’re happy and they’re having a good time doing what they like to do, that’s cool. I think that when you talk to younger people they hate on other crews and they hate on other artists cause there’s still this conception like there’s one record deal out there, and if they get it then I don’t get it. And I’m sure we all had that when we were younger too. But now if I make good music I’m gonna succeed because I make music for me. I agree with Jeff that I’m at work all day thinking about it wishing I could be making music rather than being at work. But if I don’t make money off music I’m not gonna be sad that I didn’t succeed, like the world didn’t see me as a great producer. I’m gonna be sad that I can’t stay at home and make music all day.
Where were you when you first heard New Kids On The Block’s “Hanging Tough”?
[Sichuan curses and violently shakes his head.]
J: That was a magical day. I think I was in my school hallway, it was something like seventh grade. That was the hot shit to me, I just wanted to be down . . .
What do you think about the Rascalz, and more recently Moka and Swollen Members blowing up; do you see a “trend” in underground rap becoming more popular, and do you think you guys might be next in getting recognition?
S: I don’t know about trends. As G was saying, there’s enough to go around. There are people that prefer Swollen to the Rascalz and there are people that prefer the Rascalz to
Swollen. As far as opening up more avenues for people who are independent like us, that’s true. People might be accepting and understanding the independent thing a little more, so in that aspect it’s good. I don’t know about a trend because I think different people like different stuff.
I: I think maybe on a wider scale people are beginning to realize that all these underground cats have been packing the house for years. So why can’t they be featured on a major label? •