“Just think while I sink into the brain structure” – Erick Sermon
by Nigel Webber
Hip-hop music in Winnipeg is in a moment. Artists representing different sub-genres of rap, from boom-bap to new school to trap, all are finding their place in Winnipeg in 2020. While most of the attention is usually heaped on the rappers and DJs, less attention is given to the producers, those responsible for making the actual music in the song. With the lack of attention comes a lack of understanding of proper titles. An important distinction must be made between a producer and a beatmaker.
Producers typically work with artists in-studio and are often involved in the writing of the song, as well as the mixing and mastering. A beatmaker typically will make a wide selection of beats. They tailor them to a famous artists’ sound, which is called ‘type beats’, and then upload them to YouTube where other artists can download them and use them in their own songs for a small fee. Winnipeg has its fair share of both beatmakers and producers, but in this special edition of Winnipeg State of Mind, let us take a look at three local producers all with varying levels of experience and expertise.
Hoopaloop is coming at hip-hop production from a different angle than most. Making beats for about three years, Hoop started his musical journey playing guitar and singing in metal bands. He knows that he’s got a lot of catching up to do in the hip-hop world but in 2020, he’s well on his way. The metalhead past has lead to the frequent use of live guitar, bass or piano on his tracks and a noted love for analog recording equipment, particularly the Akai brand and their MPC gear. There is a through line that connects Akai with some of the most impactful moments in Hoop’s music career. Hoopaloop is most associated with the local rapper Kairo.
They just released an EP titled Give Thanks in late February. The two first met on the recommendation of Pollyfree, an Edmonton- based rapper who worked with Hoopaloop while living in Winnipeg. Before their first real recording session, Hoop and Kairo had to make a stop at a music store for some headphones. It was on that day that Hoop purchased the MPC X, Akai’s new, software connected, drum machine and sampler. At that first session together, on the first take, the pair made the song Radiate. Hoop still regards it as one of the favourite tracks he has ever produced saying “Radiate is kinda what set the bar for us.” The song also got a video treatment from director Brett Enquist. A few months after the Radiate video came out, Hoop asked Enquist to come to his studio where they staged a photo that shows all of Hoop’s Akai gear artfully assembled in his Trendkill Productions studio. Hoop posted the photo to his Instagram and moved on.
But a few months later, the Akai official Instagram page re-posted the photo of his studio. As cool as it was to see that, the re-post lead to one of Hoop’s biggest successes. One of the people that caught wind of Hoopaloop through the Akai re-post was Ishq Bector. A quick PSA for young Winnipeg hip-hop heads: know the name Ishq Bector. Then known as Sunil aka Sun Lo, Ishq was a founding member of foundational Winnipeg rap group, Frek Sho. Before moving to India in the early 2000s to be a Bollywood musician, Ishq rapped and produced all the beats for Frek Sho, who started in Winnipeg in 1994. Now living in Vancouver, Ishq is an undisputed star in India. He’s written songs for famous Bollywood movies, written English versions of popular Indian songs and continues to produce his own music. Ishq reached out to Hoop and asked if he would do a hip-hop remix of Ishq’s new song “Chaand Sitare ft. Supa J.” Within a day of first making contact, Hoop had the files in his inbox and was developing a remix off a background synth. Ultimately the remix helped introduce Hoopaloop to a new crowd of listeners and expanded his musical horizons saying “it was a real challenge but [Ishq] had faith in me so that meant a lot.”
While that remix remains a one-off, it is Hoopaloop’s work with Kairo that is setting him apart. With a big 2020 planned, Kairo and Hoop were compelled to end 2019 with Never Back Down. Released as a single in the final days of last year, Never Back Down and it’s cover art will make sense to anyone who lives in Winnipeg. The art, made by Hoop, is a collection of headlines from local media, showing the record number of homicides that took place in 2019 and other social issues such as the liquor store thefts. Kairo reflects on that in the chorus of “I vow to never back down / All the bad shit occurring in my damn town / I can’t drown getting caught in negativity / the system that’s in place was designed just to get rid of me.” Hoop explains that, “it’s hard to find a constructive way to talk about it [but] we wanted to put light on it in a way that wasn’t just negative yet could embrace the negativity of constantly seeing those headlines.” It’s been a dark time in Winnipeg of late but Kairo and Hoop want the community to know there is a way to talk about it.
Pascal Beatz On the south side of Winnipeg, a new movement in local rap is heating up and it’s largely due to what Pascal Beatz is cooking up in his home basement studio. Also making beats for about three years, Pascal was inspired by his older brother, a rapper, to get into production. Starting in his last year of high school, Pascal quietly learned his craft, only letting a few people, like his brother and cousins, hear his beats. But in 2018 Pascal heard of a new competition for Winnipeg producers and decided to enter the inaugural Winnipeg Beat League contest.
Looking back now, Pascal remembers, “I was the youngest person there out of like sixteen contestants,” but he wasn’t about to be intimidated. As that night in November 2018 wore on, Pascal kept advancing to the next round. His trap-style beats had the crowd pumped up. When it was all said and done, Pascal was crowned champion. The plaque he won that night is now mounted on the wall of his studio. He gazes up at it while telling the story of that night, saying that winning “gave me the confidence to start sending beats out to artists and posting stuff online.” The first of those artists was Myazwe. The local rapper made waves in 2019 with the release of his album Things I Never Said and an opening spot for YG and Tyga at the MTS Centre. And much of that rise is fuelled by Pascal’s beats. While not the only producer Myazwe works with, Pascal produced more than half the songs on Things and expects to have a similar amount on Myazwe’s upcoming album.
Pascal entered the 2nd Annual Beat League contest in 2019 and placed third. Disappointed not to repeat his title, Pascal humbly remarks “it was nice to see all the [other] producers in the city pop off.” He notes that the most important part of Beat League and similar events is to build up the community of producers so they don’t feel isolated, but so they can share tips and tricks and just become friends. The other artist making big waves over Pascal’s productions is YSN Fab. Pascal initially saw Fab in a freestyle video on Instagram, blown away that such a talented rapper lived in Winnipeg. Although Fab came through the studio shortly thereafter, it took a while for his second visit to happen. But Pascal describes that second session as when he knew they had something and, “since then we’ve been locked in.” That session Fab recorded Nobody Loyal, his first single, which currently sits at over 156 thousand listens on SoundCloud alone.
Pascal is tight lipped here but hints at big things to come from YSN Fab in 2020. Pascal, who doesn’t play an instrument or rap, is in the process of learning to DJ so he can in consideration as a tour DJ for YSN Fab and Myazwe. Until then, as his producer tag says, “you already know Pascal cooking up, right.”
Malcolm-Jay Rapper-producers are nothing new. From Pharrell to Q-Tip to Kanye, producers who also rap have been around. Even locally there has been sufficient representation through the years with artists like BBS Steve carrying the torch passed on by the likes of The Gumshoe Strut and mcenroe. Malcolm-Jay is another heavy hitter on that relatively short list. Producing since about 2012 and rapping much longer than that, Malcolm has developed his skills to the point where he is now giving back and teaching beat making.
Originally starting with the occasional workshop at Studio 393, Malcolm was asked to start teaching a weekly workshop at Ndinawe on Selkirk Avenue, a youth drop-in centre. Now there for over a year and a half, Malcolm says that he just loves teaching the youth what he can. Teaching beat making and rapping to youth has also lead Malcolm to a weekend workshop at the youth jail and now to his latest endeavour, teaching adults. After being asked many times about teaching hip-hop producing to adults, Malcolm took the plunge in early 2020. At his office space on Donald St., for a very reasonable fee, Malcom-Jay teaches everything from “Intro to Hip-Hop Production” to “Business Tools for Artists” to “Intro to Rap Techniques.” Through his website, winnipeghiphoplessons.com, Malcolm is trying to do for others what no one did for him in his early days. He explains that, “this took me years to learn but it would have been a lot faster if someone had just shown me all these tricks.” He understands that the competitive nature of hip-hop hasn’t always allowed room for teaching and bringing up the next generation, but he wants to see more collaboration instead.
On the topic of an event like Beat League, Malcolm notes how important it is to get all those producers in the same room but would rather see them join forces somehow instead of actively competing against each other. At the same time, Malcolm recognizes that his style of hip-hop, more socially conscious and with a live band, often fits more with the local rock crowds than the modern hip-hop scene. The fact that they can co-exist is what is important.
Ultimately, no two producers are alike. Some can rap, some can play instruments, some can DJ but none of these are pre-requisites for getting into producing or beat making. With just a laptop and a free, easily downloadable program, you can start making your own beats. And with social media, it doesn’t take much to get those beats out into the world. It’s even possible, with the example of Murda Beatz from Fort Erie, to go from small-town Ontario to being one of the most popular and successful producers in the rap game working with Migos, Nicki Minaj and Drake. But, as all of the producers
interviewed for this piece stressed, it starts with showing up to events and supporting the hip-hop community locally.