After three long years, John River just dropped The Storm. (Who waits three years between their debut and sophomore mixtape?) Allow me to tell a story.
Back in 2012, a then-17-year-old kid from Mississauga called in to The Come Up Show on CHRW 94.9 FM and requested his own song. (Again, who does that?) His name was John River. We played it and kept in touch.
A few months down the road, I interviewed him. It was a rare exception, considering he had no mixtape to his name, just a couple videos (since made private on YouTube), and a big dream to become the greatest rapper in the world. It was the first time we had spoken, and it left an impression. It became the first of several interviews — each one becoming a favourite of mine.
The following year, that same kid from Mississauga messaged me: he had a story to tell. That summer, he had waited overnight in the airport to meet J. Cole, and then took a bus to Queens to track down the President of Dreamville, show up at his doorstep, and rap for him. (Again, who does that?) A few months later, he met them all again.
Fast-forward to 2015. Again, that same kid from Mississauga goes on to do a TEDx Talk. He gets nominated for a Much Music Video Award. Andrew Wiggins tweets his “Hope City II” video. Kardinal Offishall brings him out onstage and tells the crowd he’s next up — all of this before his sophomore mixtape even drops.
Three weeks ago: I get a call while in Newfoundland. The Storm is about to drop. Within a week, we’re sitting down together at the Mississauga Living Arts Centre, catching up for yet another interview. He had just returned from Chicago.
“Do you think the people will like it?” he asks me.
I had listened to the mixtape three times through just the day before. What I couldn’t articulate at the time was this:
That same kid who requested his own song on the radio, waited overnight in an airport to meet J. Cole, took a bus all the way to Queens with a faint hope of meeting Ibrahim, and caught all those people’s attention before his second mixtape even dropped? I wouldn’t bet against him for the world.
Check out The Storm below. Shouts to HNHH for the premiere.
What do you do when you reach the point of no return? That’s the place John River finds himself in right now. The 20-year-old Mississauga emcee has been working for three years on The Storm, a project he’s been touting ever since The Calm dropped in 2012. Now, the moment of truth is here.
The Storm is River’s call for attention. Weaving through drive and determination, the failings of education, race in North America, and the loss of a friend’s life in twelve songs, he’s very clear: he’s got a lot on his mind, and he’s ready for the world to hear.
We caught up with John River to talk about what it’s like being in that moment of truth, people’s fear of their potential, and how not taking risks is the greatest risk of all.
Listen to the podcast below and read the highlights after the jump.
Apollo Brown isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel. He’s not concerned with that. All that matters to the Mello Music Group producer is keeping the music he loves alive. It’s fitting, then, that his production setup still revolves around a desktop computer and an old copy of Cool Edit 2000. As Brown says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It’s nothing short of remarkable that with all of the technological innovations of the past decade-and-a-half, the Detroit-based producer is making some of the best music in hip-hop on software most abandoned years ago. The recipe? Collaborating with artists in-person — which makes it all the more interesting that on his latest album, Grandeur, he forgoes his comfort zone and enlists his largest collaborating cast to date.
When not behind the boards, the Grand Rapids native is thoughtful and down-to-earth. We caught up with Apollo Brown to talk about the importance of listening, not being put in others’ boxes, finding inner motivation, and much more.
Listen to the podcast below and read the highlights after the jump.
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On August 26th, 1998, Mos Def and Talib Kweli came together as Black Star and released one of the most significant albums in hip-hop’s history.
Six years later, as a seventh-grader hearing the album for the first time on a bootleg CD played through my bedroom DVD player, it changed my life.
Prior to hearing Mos and Kweli, my rap tastes consisted of whatever I heard on the radio or saw on BET or MuchMusic: basically, G-Unit, Ludacris, Nelly, Ja Rule, and Lil Jon. (Here’s a fun activity: look at the Billboard charts from 2001-03 for a reminder of the musical climate.) Suddenly, I was opened to a world of groovy basslines, gritty drums, and quick-witted lyrical mastery. Not only that, but there was substance. I never turned back.
I may have caught on late, but I share a similar story with many emcees and producers in hip-hop today. Ask just about anyone, and they’ll list Black Star amongst their favourites.
“That was the album that changed all of my lyrical content,” says Junia-T.
“When you’re a young artist, and you’re just rapping, following what you hear, you don’t really understand the reality of the environments these people are describing, you know what I mean? Until you hear an album like Black Star, it really made me realize that yeah, I can rap about my regular life and still have something to say.”
“The mid-nineties was when I got into deejaying, and this was kind of at the same time that Rawkus was really big,” Freddie Joachim says. “This was when Mos Def and Kweli, Common, and The Roots were really blowing up. That’s the type of music that I gravitated towards.”
“I heard that in a time when I had already kinda been on Nas, and Common, and Jay – all the staples – but that came at a point where I was kind of searching for something new, because I had played those albums to death,” says Omen.
“It was just so refreshing to hear; it was just unique; Mos had his own style, Talib had his own style, and I was at a time in my life where I was searching for truth, and tryin to figure out the world, and I felt like they had the answers – even if they didn’t, it felt like that.”
Allow us to take a walk down memory lane and revisit the album, track-by-track. Read it all after the jump.
Richmond, California emcee Locksmith has a lot to say. Half-Iranian, half-Black, and at one time, half of the rap group The Front Line, in many ways, he’s an embodiment of the American dream: the son of two parents from different backgrounds, looking for a better future for the next generation. A graduate of UC Berkeley, he holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in African-American studies. For years, he worked as a mentor to young kids. On the microphone, he sticks out just as much. He was a finalist in MTV’s 2003 MC Freestyle Championship. He hasn’t written a verse down in 15 years.
He’s also had his share of hardships. As a kid, he was picked on for his mixed-race heritage (see “Backpack”). He was sexually abused (see “Hardest Song Ever”). After exorcizing those demons on A Thousand Cuts and reminiscing on his neighbourhood on The Green Box, Lofty Goals is all about looking ahead and striving for more. It’s about overcoming self-doubt. It’s about letting go of pride.
We caught up with Locksmith to talk about insecurity, race in America, putting love first, and much more. Listen to the podcast below and read the highlights after the jump.