Elekwent Folk

“If we just posted up on a corner with speakers, I’d say within an hour, cops would come and bust us,” says Slippery Elm. “So [we] stay somewhere for half an hour [and then] bike somewhere else.”

Illustration by Shane Scott-Travis
Illustration by Shane Scott-Travis

I first met Slippery Elm in a UBC anthropology class a little over a year ago, but back then I only knew him as Geordie Kennedy. We’d exchange a few words every class, but I knew there was more to him—he always wore headphones while burying his nose into a little notebook. Fast forward to sometime last fall when I discovered the smooth styles of local hip-hop outfit Elekwent Folk, which features none other than Slippery Elm himself. In retrospect, he was probably writing down rhymes in that book.

Along with fellow MC A-ro (Armando Hernandez) and Astrological (Nate Drobner) on the boards, the trio produces hip-hop reminiscent of groups like A Tribe Called Quest and KMD.

Slippery and A-ro both spit story driven lyrics that span all sorts of everyday topics. The opening lines of “B.C. Epiphany Pt. II,” a song off their 2010 LP, Folk Fest, has A-ro talking about waking up and preparing to head out to the beach for the rest of the day. Adding to the layers of production, A-ro also showcases his scratching techniques a few bars before his verse begins.

Slippery Elm also uses his imagination to set up situations in atypical and creative ways, like how he opens “The Way You Feel,” from the Milky Ways EP, with a few lines of spoken word poetry.

The duo also display their chemistry rhyming together on Folk Fest opener “Elevate,” recalling the classic back and forth flow between Q-Tip and Phife on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Check the Rhime.”

Astrological’s beats, meanwhile, bring Elekwent Folk’s music to the next level. “I make a beat, then I send it to these guys. I never expect the way they’re gonna interpret it, and what kind of ideas they’ll put on it,” he says. “So it’s always really fun to hear what they get from the beat.” It’s no wonder that A-ro and Elm are able to compose such colourful lyrics; Astrological’s beats are jazzy with smooth bass lines and cleverly chopped samples ranging from clips of speech to saxophone loops and psychedelic guitar chimes. He also adds his own layers of keyboards and bass as part of his production process.

Though their forthcoming LP, Northern Lights, is still in the works, it is sure to exhibit the previously mentioned ideals of hip-hop that each group member has. A teaser track off the LP, “Mark My Words,” can be found on their Facebook page.

Though his plate is plenty full with Elekwent Folk, Slippery Elm is also part of the Mobile Cipher Caravan. For those not in the know, in hip-hop, a cipher, or cypher, is when a group of rappers come together and freestyle, often to the cadence of a beatboxer.

The Mobile Cipher Caravan consists of local artists of all kinds, including rappers, visual artists and dancers. The cipher allows them to voice their opinions and spread awareness on current issues. By using “mobile cipher” tactics, like moving around downtown with speaker-mounted bikes and portable microphones, they are able to reach a larger audience as they cover more ground. Doing so helps avoid the noise complaints they may otherwise receive.

“If we just posted up on a corner with speakers, I’d say within an hour, cops would come and bust us,” says Slippery Elm. “So [we] stay somewhere for half an hour [and then] bike somewhere else.”

What drives the MCC is the activism they practice during each cipher. Their current goal is to raise awareness on oil tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet. In conjunction with activist group No Tanks Vancouver, the MCC strives to inform the public of the dangers of oil tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet and eventually to gain enough public interest so the B.C. government can move to reduce activity in the area. The reasons behind the campaign are to avoid the risks of potential oil spills and to maintain a clean, unpolluted city.

All in all, Slippery Elm is doing everything in his power to represent the best interests of Vancouver. Whether he’s in the studio working on the next Elekwent Folk record, or out in the streets freestyling to spread a positive message, he’s sure to leave a lasting impression.

Elekwent Folk are playing The Media Club, April 2.