On Saturday May 26th, 2012, the Stylus Awards held its annual “It Starts With The DJ 5.0” conference at the AGO in Toronto, Ontario. Each year, the conference helps up-and-coming artists in Canada learn resourceful information from industry insiders, artists, and DJs who have made an impact in urban music. Through panel discussions, keynote speakers, and one-on-one feedback sessions, the conference gives artists looking for exposure an opportunity to gain knowledge about making it in the music industry.
This year’s conference included a panel discussion with producers from Canada who have made an impact with their production. Producers Boi-1da, Arthur MacArthur, Rich Kidd, Adrian Gough of Cirkut, and Bobby Brass of the duo Kuya Productions all took part in the first half of the Stylus conference. The second half was a keynote interview with Wu Tang Clan’s Raekwon and his artist’s JD Era, who discussed topics such as why he chose Canada to start his IceH20 label, the Canadian music industry as a whole, and his key to building a successful career in music.
Round 1: Producers Panel with Boi-1dA, Arthur MacArthur, Rich Kidd, Adrien Gough of Cirkut, and Bobby Brass of the duo Kuya productions.
The producers on the panel shared their stories and experiences in the music industry and discussed a wide variety of topics. Here are some of the highlights from the discussion.
When and how they knew they wanted to get into music production:
“I knew from a young age that I wanted to get into producing. I started out listening to reggae and gradually started listening to hip hop. When I won Battle of the Beat Makers for the first time I knew that I wanted to keep going in music. From then, I started to take it more seriously.”
“I started out rapping first. I didn’t like using other peoples beats, so I started to learn how to to make my own beats.”
Who they look up too as producers and where they get inspiration from:
“Dr. Dre is someone I would say I definitely look up too. He’s broken so many artists, from Snoop Dogg to Eminem. Not to mention everything else he’s doing outside of music with the ‘Beats by Dre Headphones’ and a bunch of other stuff. He’s just inspiring.”
“I would say someone I get inspiration from is Saukrates. I dig his funk and soul sound.”
Thoughts on sampling:
“I’m not really big on sampling. I can reproduce sounds musically.”
“Sampling is cool, but you lose out with publishing. If you’re trying to make money, you’re not gonna make any when sampling.”
Toronto as a movement in music:
“I feel like it’s getting there….there are a lot of talented artists doing their thing. Raz Fresco, The Weeknd are making some noise.”
“I feel like we’ve [Toronto] always had the talent. I think we just need some guidance. In comparison to the U.S., they got managers, lawyers, labels, and radio all in one big industry. It’s much easier in the U.S! We don’t have the proper channels here. In [Canada] there’s not a lot of connections.”
Cautionary tales about being in the industry:
“There was one situation where I was working with a well known and respected producer who was doing some work with Outkast. I made a beat and gave it to him… Some label drama happened and the project got pushed back. I later found out that the producer took my beat and started shopping it to other labels. Once I found out, I got my lawyers involved and let them deal with it. After that situation, I just stopped messing with that producer.”
“Honestly, you just have to be aware of who you’re messing with. Here [Canada], you don’t have to worry about that as much. Other places, like LA, you have to be cautious; people will steal the pickle out your lunch and feel no way about it.”
Whether Drake has done enough for Toronto:
“Drake is still carving out his own lane as an artist; he still has a ways to go. People don’t know that his whole team is Canadian. He has put on a lot of people from Canada. His first mixtape is all Canadian producers, but people don’t want to see that.”
“To me, Drake is a U.S artist, but a Canadian citizen. If you ask people what their problem is with Drake personally, most people don’t really have much to say. People who complain that he doesn’t do anything for Toronto are really just saying they are mad at him because he hasn’t done anything for them.”
The second half of the conference included a keynote discussion with Raekwon and JD Era. They talked about Raekwon’s IceH2O label, the Canadian music industry, the climate of urban music, and what it takes to make it as an artist.
Raekwon’s thoughts on Canada’s music industry and what needs to be done to put Toronto on the map:
“I can say I have had the opportunity to be in many parts of Toronto. I look at Toronto as a Manhattan. You have all the places outside of Toronto, like the west end, Scarborough, all these different areas outside of Toronto that, to me, remind me of boroughs. In the end, they all represent the core of the city, which is Toronto. Toronto is one of the highest rated cities in the world. What I just don’t see a lot of is people supporting one another [crowd applauds in agreement]; to me that’s what’s most important.
“I understand everyone is trying to get to where they want to go, but I think everyone is looking at it like, ‘Well, if he did it then…’, and it’s normal, coming from New York it’s the same thing. Everybody is looking at what the next man did and saying, ‘Well he didn’t come back’ or whatever, but I think people need to start saying to themselves, ‘If one person can make it then I can make it too.’ It’s just about working and respecting the next man who has worked hard to get to the top. Some guys just don’t want to give it to you for whatever reason; they can just be mad at themselves. Coming from Staten Island, there’s only three people that really made it out. Wu Tang Clan, The Force’s MD’s, and maybe one more other person I can’t even name right now.
“It’s important to support your local artists, man; it gives you an opportunity to learn from his route. Each one, help one .That’s how you make this city bigger. That’s how they did it in Atlanta, LA, Miami; that’s how they did it all over. It’s people who feel like, ‘Oh, he don’t deserve it because he from over there’; it’s typical, but it’s some emotional shit. It don’t add up to nothing in the end”.
On setting up a label in Canada and having offices in Toronto:
“I felt that it was more believable to the people to let them know I’m taking this seriously. That was important to me. You have people who talk this and talk that and then you have people that make it happen. I would never want to say I’m doing something and not do it the right way. I’m a do right all the way.”
An audience member asked, “Is a bad deal better than no deal; and can a bad deal lead to a better deal?”
JD Era responded emphatically, “No, a bad deal is not better than no deal. To me, a bad deal, I mean, I guess you can try to use it to leverage yourself later, but a bad deal to me is just putting yourself in a bad position. Why would you want to do that? The mindset artists today should have is a do it yourself type attitude. Artists should try to do it themselves to the max, until someone is ready to check for you. And if someone isn’t coming to check for you, maybe this isn’t what you should be doing”.
Raekwon cuts, “Me personally, I don’t agree with that.” [To which JD Era chimed in, “We do this sometimes”, referring to their difference of opinions]. “I understand where you’re coming from; it starts with the individual. They say if you don’t stand for something, you can fall for anything. You can say I’m not going to accept just anything, but then there is a word that’s called opportunity. That is something that we have to sit here and say to ourselves; am I ready to take an opportunity? Do I respect an opportunity? Do I want an opportunity? For Wu Tang, we had 9 brothers, we had to share a 60 thousand dollar deal. How do you split that? I can’t even do anything with that; but, more importantly, it was an opportunity. It was an opportunity to get to the next level, to improve ourselves from where we was at. Some things you have to sacrifice; for a new artist, you have to say to yourself, ‘It’s a platform’. It’s a platform to grow and learn from. It’s not to say you should sell yourself out; but you have to know how to negotiate. Life ain’t about what you deserve, it’s about what you negotiate. That’s my jewel”.
On having longevity in the game:
“I would just say I’m passionate man; it’s something I love to do. I love my job. I love to make music that people can relate and laugh too. To me I can be having the worst day and a fan can come up to me and say, “I love your music. I love what you’ve done”That gives me the ability to wipe off the sadness that might be on my face at the time. It makes me say, ‘You know what; I can still do this!’ It’s deep when you sit back and think about a rapper being in the game for twenty years. It’s not easy, even our favourites haven’t been in the game for twenty years. They become legendary after a certain amount of time and we love them, but it’s not the same.
“For me, it’s been the connection of being around the people. I’m a people person. I don’t run around with security and all that. I go to the mall. I’ll jump in a cab; people give me that energy to feel like, ‘Yo, keep going you got it.’ The confidence I got within myself is unbreakable. That’s also what carries me to the level of succeeding. I can say, ‘Yo, I’m a winner.’ Even when I lose or fall down, it’s a small thing. I’ve been through it all, to me its just a ladder; you can climb up the ladder, you can stop, or you can keep going.”