[Interview] Teenburger talk early influences, working with The Herbaliser, and how they first met

Interview by: Martin Bauman

What do you get when you combine two of the most talented Canadian emcees, who make sure not to take themselves too seriously and also happen to be best friends? The long answer is a unique combination of lyricism and just plain fun. The short answer is Teenburger. Ghettosocks and Timbuktu are the perfect yin to each other’s yang. As they’ll tell you, they each have their own distinctive style (Ghettosocks’s words: “Timbuktu is Timbuktu; Ghettosocks is Ghettosocks”), but their styles complement one another so well. It’s no wonder that they also collaborate as part of Wolves and Backburner. Now they’re collaborating once again, this time teaming up with Ninja Tune jazz rap heavyweights The Herbaliser. The Come Up Show caught up with Teenburger to talk early influences, working with The Herbaliser, how they first met, and much more. Read the full interview below.

TCUS: Before we get into the group aspect, I thought we’d start off with some individual questions. What was the first album that got you into hip-hop?

Timbuktu: That’s a tough one. F— [laughs]. Black Moon, Enta da Stage was a big one for me, but also Freestyle Fellowship’s Innercity Griots. Stuff like that. You said one, and I’m giving you a bunch. I can’t single it down to one; it’s everything from Leaders of the New School, A Tribe Called Quest, Aceyalone… golden era s—. Even years ago, I had a different top ten than I do now. Still Resurrection by Common Sense. Motherf—ing Del [the Funky Homosapien]’s No Need For Alarm… These are many albums. You asked for one. I’m out.

Ghettosocks: I’m gonna say Maestro Fresh Wes’ Symphony In Effect. “Let Your Backbone Slide” was one of the first hip-hop jams I was aware of as a child, so that was a major record for me. As far as when I got into hip-hop, one of the records that inspired me to make music was The Beatnuts’ Street Level. Initially, I was kind of into “Let Your Backbone Slide”, and Fresh Prince & Jazzy Jeff… things that were going on in the late 80s, early 90s, and then I started getting into more East Coast boom bap [out of] New York. Native Tongues stuff, Tribe, and what have you.

Timbuktu: I also can’t believe that I forgot Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique. It’s still one of my favourite albums ever.

TCUS: Getting into some individual questions, Ghettosocks, what can you tell us about Zoo School?

Ghettosocks: [Laughs] That was like the second project that I made when I first moved to Halifax. When I moved there, I had only recorded raps on one project prior to moving there from Ottawa, and that was a compilation called Styles for Days – I doubt you’ll be able to find it – with a bunch of Ottawa cats, including Bender of KOTD fame [and Flight Distance], Patience of Flight Distance, my man Heineken, and a bunch of other Ottawa cats. So when I moved to Halifax, I made a couple albums, and Zoo School was the second one that I made in 2003. It was 100% produced by me, home-made beats, recorded on an SM58 performance mic [while] sitting at my desk, not knowing anything about recording or engineering or anything.

It was kind of a concept record that I made, and I think of it as a demo, really. I just made a bunch of tracks – I think there’s like 26 tracks or something on it – and then I burned a bunch of CDs and sold them around Halifax. That’s basically Zoo School. I’m not proud of the quality of the performance, or the engineering on it, but it’s one of those projects that I made while I was cutting my teeth. So I don’t even consider it a real release; I consider it a demo.

TCUS: Timbuktu, tonight represents a homecoming for you. With that in mind, what can you tell us about going to [H.B.] Beal [Secondary School]?

Timbuktu: Where do I even begin? I played on the hockey team; I was the goaltender. All-star team [laughs]. We made the playoffs for the first time in like seven years. Mr. Frautz, what up. But yeah, going to Beal was great; there was such a diverse group of people there. I actually moved over there on the guise of being in the art program. I haven’t thought about this in a long time [laughs]. I remember smoking weed at lunch, playing hockey, and trying to stay out of trouble.

TCUS: Ghettosocks, what can you tell me about The Maple Mothership?

Ghettosocks: It’s really refreshing that you’ve done some research! Big ups to The Come Up Show; big ups to Martin for that. The Maple Mothership is very significant to me. My man Ewan Mill, the Jade Emperor, is the dude that first put me on in Halifax. He’d have me up to The Maple Mothership, which was him and DJ Beef, and also DJ Uncle Fester. They played 100% all-Canadian hip-hop, so I’d go up there every Saturday afternoon, and for three hours, we’d rock and play tunes, and get into some freestyles. That’s where I met Bix and Aziz, and a lot of dudes from the Halifax scene, and we formed Alpha Flight as a result of that. It was a really cool time for me. When I moved to Halifax, I only knew the Jade Emperor, so it was really cool that he put me onto that. When it comes to Canadian hip-hop, the Maple Mothership is an institution, as far as I’m concerned.

TCUS: Timbuktu, you’ve got history with Toolshed. What can you tell me about recording at the Cabin?

Timbuktu: It’s up in the Muskokas; I don’t want to give you too much of the coordinates, ’cause I don’t want f—in’ paparazzi poppin’ [laughs], but it’s near Huntsville. It’s kind of the best thing ever, because it’s like you’re going on a week-long vacation, and at the end of it, you have a record that you bring back that didn’t exist before. The first time we did it, it was Self Help, Chokeules and myself in 1999, and then we went up with Tooshed (Psybo, Choke and me) several more times. Actually, [for] the new Wolves record that hasn’t been released yet, Ghettosocks and I went up and mixed it up there. I must say about the Cabin: two weeks from now, Swamp Thing (Chokeules, myself, and Savillion) is going up for nine days to record an EP in seclusion – no phone, no internet, one toilet [laughs].

TCUS: One more question for you, Ghettosocks, before we delve into Teenburger. What can you tell me about Duplex parties at the Khyber?

Ghettosocks: Wow. Duplex, man! You’re impressing me! Duplex was the New Years’ Eve party we threw. We used to do a weekly Wednesday night called Droppin’ Science – which was the basis for the label which we now have – and every Wednesday, we’d have a free hip-hop night at the Khyber club. Basically, when we started doing that, we [also] started doing this annual New Years party, which was like three floors of different stuff going on: graffiti art, deejays everywhere, live raps… It was like a house party, but it was more than a house party, so we called it Duplex – it was [a] two houses crammed into one type thing.

I did that with my man Sector – big ups to HW, big ups to FYPT crew – and basically, we did maybe seven or eight Duplexes over the course of however many years. We did it at The Marquee Club and the Khyber; it kind of went back-and-forth, because the Khyber kept on closing. It was a really cool thing; we’d bring in all types of performers from Halifax to come perform, and it was a real good scene. There would be cats from all different backgrounds that would converge on this night, and there was a lot of unity. Who knows? Maybe there will be another Duplex in the future.

TCUS: Getting into Teenburger, how did you two first meet?

Timbuktu: Fresh Kils and Uncle Fester decided that they wanted to introduce us [to each other]; they liked both of our music and they wanted to put us together like two primates and see if there was any mating involved. I flew out with Kils [in 2007] and got introduced to Socks. The first night, I was really sick. The next night, I was ready to rock; I took a bunch of cold medicine, and we went out on the town [laughs]. I ended up crashing at Socks’ house for the rest of the week, and we hit it off huge. That was the foundation of Teenburger. Later on, I was chilling with Jorun [Bombay] and Socks, and we started talking about doing a project together. Now, the Burger continues! Into the f—ing ether!

TCUS: Tell us about the creative process behind Burgertime. Was this something you were emailing back and forth, or were you in the studio together working on this?

Timbuktu: I actually flew to Halifax for maybe a week, week and a half, and Socks and I sat down with the beats and wrote that motherf—er. It was the easiest, most spontaneous thing I’ve ever written. We spent one night listening to beats and drinking, and came up with all the ideas. Then we spent a week just writing it and that was it. It’s the same with the new Teenburger that we’re doing with The Herbaliser. We [spent] one night at the bar, came up with all the ideas, wrote it, and we’re the process of recording that now. Working with Socks is the easiest thing I’ve ever f—ing done.

TCUS: Speaking of The Herbaliser, how did that connection come about?

Ghettosocks: I met DJ Ollie Teeba of The Herbaliser several years ago in Halifax. He had a DJ gig at the Marquee Club, and myself, along with The Extremities, were booked to open. At that show, Teeba checked the set and at the end of it, he was like “yo dude, you’re dope, we should stay in touch and work on something.” Basically, that snowballed into us being in contact, working on stuff, getting on tracks for his new solo that’s coming out eventually

Timbuktu: We recorded that when?

Ghettosocks: 2008 maybe? 2009? It was a long time ago; It’s been awhile. So that was the initial contact, and then when I went out to Europe for the first time, I was doing a tour with Cesar Comanche from the Justus League, and while I was out [there], I hit up Teeba, saying, “yo dude, I’m in Europe, do you have anything going on?” I believe that’s when they had just released Same as It Never Was, which was their previous album, and they said, “yeah, if you wanna come out, we’re doing a release party in London and you can come and rock the release party.” Fresh Kils was also with me, and [he and I] went out to London and did the release party at 93 Feet East, and that’s when I met Jake Wherry – the other half of The Herbaliser.

We’ve stayed in touch ever since, and our musical relationship has grown. There’s a lot of good stuff on the go. I was introduced to Jonny Cuba of SoundSci, and Teeba and Cuba have a group called The Process, and we’re doing all types of stuff with them. They’re all hooked up with a wicked scene out there: the Vinyl Veterans, Cold Rock Stuff, Slice of Spice… awesome things came out of that relationship, and there’s a wicked scene going on in the UK that we’re both very excited [about] and feel very privileged to be a part of.

TCUS: When you two are together recording, how much competition is there in terms of trying to outrap one another on each of your verses?

Timbuktu: It’s never really competition; I’m so inspired by what he’s doing that I just get amped. We love each other, too, you know? We’re bros, so it’s just having fun together. It’s the whole reason that I ever started doing this in the first place: the camaraderie and the fun. When he does something f—ing fly, I’m just like goddamnit! And I get so excited to step it up, you know? Every now and then, if he stomps my f—ing scrotum, I’ll do a little rewrite [laughs]. And vice versa. There’s definitely us pushing each other, but it’s f—ing the joy of life, man. I’m getting emotional [laughs].

Ghettosocks: I’m gonna interject on that. You mentioned trying to outrap each other. It’s never even like that, because I think we have such a mutual respect for each other’s style. We see where each other’s headed and we just try to make it [work]. There [aren’t any egos] about it with Tim and I; we really are a hive mind in a sense, you know? He holds it down in his realm; I hold it down in my realm; we just want to make the song the best it can be and make the shows the best they can be. There’s never any hesitation about giving feedback, like yo, how do you think I kicked that verse? What do you think about that take? The feedback’s real, and there’s never any feelings about who’s getting the shine.

The beauty of Teenburger is it’s the two of us and we just feed off each other. There are a lot of great rap duos; you have like, Organized Konfusion, Smif-N-Wessun, Heltah Skeltah… there’s tons of rap duos that are great, and everybody holds their position down. The thing is, we both have our own identities, you know what I mean? Timbuktu is Timbuktu; Ghettosocks is Ghettosocks; there’s never a confusion as to who is who, because we have our styles and we have our personalities. So that’s the beauty of it, and the result is just dope s—. We’re inspired by each other and that enables us to do what we do.

TCUS: Looking ahead, what can you tell us about the Teenburger record with The Herbaliser?

Timbuktu: Teeba, Jake, [Oliver] Parfitt, Morton, Uncle Ralphie’s Boots… The whole squad is an insane group to rock with. The Herbaliser band is incredible, and Jake and Ollie… I love them like family. Again, it was the easiest thing ever [to write]. We sat in Ollie Teeba’s apartment in London, England; he gave us sketches of beats, and we went down to the pub at the end of the street and came up with all the concepts and wrote like ten tracks for the album while we were there. Since we’ve been back, we’ve recorded six of them and given them the acapellas to do arrangements with. Working with them is a joy. They’re so good; they have so much experience; they’re so f—ing talented. I think it’s gonna be some great, great work.

Ghettosocks: Like Tim said, Teeba gave us a bunch of sketches of beats, and then we went off and came up with the concepts of the tracks. We chose which tracks we were leaning towards, and so far, Jake Wherry has gone in and added production. Beats that, initially, we were like yeah, that’s pretty dope, he’s elevated them to a new level. We’re really excited to see what happens. It’s gonna be dope; it’s the next Herbaliser production that’s coming out since There Were Seven – which was the first album by The Herbaliser which featured myself and Timbuktu, and also Muneshine. We’re really stoked on it; it’s gonna be hot.

TCUS: Let’s preview a couple other upcoming albums. Timbuktu, what can you tell us about My Giants?

Timbuktu: My Giants, yeah! Me and my boy Ambition. I think I was stuck in Halifax with nothing to do for a few days, so we started texting verses back and forth to each other, and we started doing a project. Uncle Fester’s doing all the beats – he’s a wild lunatic – and Ambition applied and got a grant for it, so now we have a deadline and money [laughs]. So that’s cool. Again, it’s like a dichotomy of rappers. You know when it’s Ambition, and you know when it’s me, because he sounds like a 1,200-foot Jesus, and I sound like a little girl compared to him [laughs]. So we rocked that, and again, we’re just feeding off each other. I’m also mixing that; I’m mixing the new Herbaliser; I’m mixing everything now. I went to recording engineering school at OIART in London in 2006, and yeah, I’m mixing a lot of s— these days. But yeah, I’m very excited about the project.

TCUS: Ghettosocks, what’s the status on For You Pretty Things?

Ghettosocks: It’s very close to being done. Timbuktu’s doing all the recording; it’s been a joy to record. There’s a lot of good stuff on it; I’ve got production from BoomBaptist in Austin, Texas; I’ve got production from Nato [of Touch and Nato] out in Edmonton; I’ve got Sadat X on the record, El Da Sensei, Fresh Kils, The Extremities… there’s a lot of good fam and extended fam on the record. There are a couple tracks left to record, and then there’s the finessing and massaging that the record needs before it’s ready, but it’ll be ready soon. It’s gonna be good.

Timbuktu: It’s fan-f—ing-tastic.

Ghettosocks: It’s gonna be alright. Lo Pesci’s on the record; I’ve got my homegirl pHoenix Pagliacci on it, [and] my homegirl Shevy Price; Patience from Flight Distance is on it; Teenburger obviously; Wolves is on it; The Herbaliser have a beat on it; Bix is doing some beats on it; I’m producing a few tracks as well… It’s gonna be a good record. It’ll be a good followup to Treat of the Day.

Timbuktu: I’m getting uncomfortable thinking about it [laughs].

TCUS: What can you tell us about the upcoming Wolves record?

Timbuktu: There’s never been a time in my life when I’ve had so many projects ready. They’re right in the firing tube, and we’ve just gotta shoot ’em out. [As for] the Wolves record… Bix is a monster. The whole squad are monsters…

Ghettosocks: All the tracks [on Wolves] are produced by Bix – who’s my homeboy from forever from Halifax and Alpha Flight – and I’m just gonna go out on a limb and say it right now, this is it, The Come Up Show exclusive, best producer in Canada. [Mimics air horn]. So yeah, D-Sisive, Muneshine…

Timbuktu: Legendary f—ing rappers, man.

Ghettosocks: It’s better than anything that’s coming out.

TCUS: Any final words from the two of you?

Timbuktu: You know, my solo album’s almost all ready to go too! And it has a lot of those same people [laughs]. Final words: Teenburger… is… a patty and two buns. I dunno. [But really], we love doing this s—. It’s so much fun to create what we create. I don’t have any apocalyptic final words here; I don’t have any sage advice, but s—, it’s fun to do Teenburger with my dog Ghettosocks, and I can’t wait to do it forever.

Ghettosocks: I want to send a shout out to The Nicest for having us at their CD release party up in London at Call The Office. Obviously, I’m gonna give a shout out to my man Timbuktu, sitting right beside me, looking in my eyes as I say that. I wanna give a shout out to my whole team right now, shout out evul Otis at Droppin’ Science – that’s my homeboy forever, he’s a centaur; I’m gonna give a shout out as well to the Wolves team, Bix, Muneshine, D-Sisive; I also wanna give a shout out to The Herbaliser, plus the whole Herbaliser band, you know what it is. Lots of good stuff on the come up, so to speak, so that’s why we’re out here reppin’ with The Come Up Show!