I call it the cool box, like you know when people say don’t put me in a box? Well, I don’t mind being in this box if all I got to do is do what I did in the beginning.
The Canadian music scene has come a long way – and that’s no exaggeration. Artists like Drake and P.Reign are repping the city of Toronto globally, much to the chagrin of many World Star Hip-Hop trolls. Contrary to popular belief, the hip-hop scene in the city has been thriving since, well, forever. Few artists have stood the test of time better than rapper and producer Saukrates, a member of the famed Circle crew, which includes the likes of Kardinal Offishall, amongst others.
He’s been around the scene, and then some. His gold, award-winning debut album featured Common, Heltah Skeltah, Xzibit and more. He’s a member of Redman’s Gilla House camp and was once signed to Def Jam records. He’s produced music for the likes of Nas and performed on stages across the nation – and across the border. He’s a seasoned, well-respected vet, and he was kind enough to chat with me about his career, his latest project, Amani, and more.
Check the interview below.
Let’s talk about how you got into hip-hop.
I think all of us started out as fans you know – just fans of hip hop. I think maybe around maybe ’86-’87, when LL, Rakim, EPMD, and Big Daddy Kane came out is when I locked in. I already had an interest in the arts, because I grew up playing classical violin, so I always had an interest in performing music. Me and my next door neighbour Lock Jaw, who is featured on the B-side of my first single called Still Caught Up; We used just to freestyle on the basketball court, and then one day we decided just to write it all down.
I took it seriously when I got an opportunity at a summer program called Fresh Arts. That’s where I met Kardinal Offishall, Jully Black, Marvel, Solitaire, Win-K – basically the whole beginning of the Circle Crew. That’s how I got started.
Looking at The Underground Tapes – that album was crazy ahead of its time. It had OC on it, Common, Pharoahe Monch, Xzibit…do you think you got the respect you deserved off that album?
I do think I got the respect I deserved off that album. Meaning to say that I went gold in Canada – and gold back then meant you had to do 50,000+. We got nominated for a Juno, got nominated for a couple
of MMVA’s, toured across the country, and even got some US radio play. Also, the quality of the music has lasted the test of time – like I never stop hearing about that album. I think that’s the most important thing to be said about that album. It’s the fact that everything that was done at that time hadn’t been done before by a Canadian MC or producer. So it broke ground and let a lot of cats know that we can do it. You know what I mean? It was a motivational piece, and we got a few cool surprises too like Money Or Love landed on the Boiler Room Soundtrack for example. My friend and brother from another mother, Mick Karen (he’s now head of A&R at Warner Music) helped put out the underground tapes in the US. We did an alternate cover in Canada. You know the American cover of the underground tapes, the comic book cover? Mike Shinoda did that. He did that like three years before Linkin Park blew up. So that record just helped do so many things, on so many levels. I still do off a lot of those songs; people request them. It also got me signed to Def Jam! Once we put that out, and Redman heard Money Or Love, I was on a plane a few days later. It’s amazing how some music can stretch over your lifetime and keep coming back. I think that’s what keeps Paul MaCartney going [laughs].
What’s your take on the Canadian scene?
It has changed a lot, but as much as it’s changed it’s stayed the same. For instance, there have always been hungry MCs out there, and it’s just more popular now. I mean, the internet has changed everything for all lines of business and not just music. So, with that being said the Toronto scene has been able to grow (exponentially) without the help of major labels, which is how we [Canadian artists] used to operate in the past. It almost seems as though it’s come full circle, but there is more exposure now for people who didn’t necessarily have a voice before. Now it is like, you can post something, shoot it with your camera and if it is quality people will find you.
Let’s talk about your latest release Amani.
Well, for me it’s a breath of fresh air, and another opportunity to put out music under the name Saukrates as an emcee because I’m also a producer. The quality of the music is so high – it feels like I’ve come full circle as I went back to the roots. I’m delivering what people expect from the Saukrates brand. I call it the cool box, like you know when people say don’t put me in a box? Well, I don’t mind being in this box if all I got to do is do what I did in the beginning. So it’s a breath of air for me because it is right back to the basics, and I’ve learnt so since I was seventeen years old, so the lyrics to me feel even more potent. We’re having a good time with it, and the recognition is coming back, it’s like wow. It’s like the Dr Dre phase. You know, I looked up to him and Quincy Jones, and the way they can stay quiet, disappear, then come back like nothing had changed and that’s what this Amani EP represents for me. It’s only the first installation in the Season Two campaign.
What’s going to be the next installment?
Well, the next instalment we did was a double-sided single, Practice and Elixer. The second chapter is on its way [Amani was chapter one]. The features on it are great – Sonreal is back. I always got to call on Kardi, we always find a way to make it work for each other, and you know, we got other producers coming in, carrying the load with me.
*In the clip below, Saukrates discusses his production & feature work.
Are you still connected with Gilla House?
Yep! Redman is more of a big brother to me than a business associates. So, even as Def Jam faded for us, Redman and I maintained a family connection – and we genuinely care for each other’s careers. So, we share music, talk shit, and when he comes around, he stays at my home with my family. He hangs with my wife, my son and I, just having a good time.
Gilla House connections that will never go away, we’re a family first!