Interview with Classified at Rifflandia Festival 2013, September 13, 2013.
I was guided under the bleachers of Royal Athletic Park into a corridor lined with the dressing rooms of the day’s headlining Rifflandia acts. The door labeled “Courtney Love” scrolled by as I walked towards the next paper poster with “Classified” as the title. A table full of refreshments (if you were wondering, yes, there were two bottles of Grey Goose) and snacks were included to keep the Canadian rapper and his posse comfortable. Sadly, I didn’t partake in the fantasy of drinking premium vodka with a popular rapper, but I did get to sit down and ask him a couple of questions.
Vancouver Weekly: Your first single off the new record is called “Inner Ninja”. I was wondering if you could describe what that means in your own terms.
Classified: Inner strength. The whole song is about people… Everyone has problems, things that they go through in life that they need to get through. “Inner Ninja” is like a funny way, a quirky way to say dig down and get through the bullshit towards a brighter day. We knew what the song’s message was, which I think is a great message, but we didn’t really wanna be serious about it. Keep your head up, push on [sarcasm]. I’ve made songs like that. This one, we were like, let’s have fun with it. Getting all the kids on it. It was cool to see what it did. It was crazy.
Why a ninja though? Why not like a cowboy or a…?
‘Cause I was a ninja. When I grew up I was in martial arts. My dad was a black belt. So, martial arts has always been big in my family and I was one of those kids, y’know… I had my ninja suit, I had my nunchucks, I had my bow and arrow and I live in the woods for that stuff. It was actually Dave’s [David Myles’] idea, when he said it I was like, “Damn, I’m down”. I was a really big fan of ninjas and shit like that.
I was thinking maybe it came from, well you did a song with Raekwon, so I thought it could have been a Wu-Tang reference?
Yeah, yeah a little Shaolin shit. It all comes from something like that. Y’know, back in ‘93 listening to Wu-Tang. That’s why the whole martial arts culture kinda took off.
So that’s why you wanted to become a ninja?
Totally. Even before that! That’s what got me into Wu-Tang. You hear the hip hop and taking it from that angle… y’know, martial arts culture.
What was it like working with Raekwon?
Cool. I met Raekwon, we didn’t actually do the track together, we’ve always had respect for each other. He knew my shit, which surprised me. So I played him a few different beats and he picked the one he liked. I was like, “Rap whatever the hell you want, send me a verse”.
So you didn’t have any studio time together?
Nah. It’s really hard, especially with somebody like that’s schedule. And for me, just being a fan…“Dude, you’re returning my emails? Cool.” You know what I mean? Anything you want to give to me, just give me and I’ll put in on the track. It was cool. Definitely, the first time he sent over the verse over my beat… I was just like “Oh, man”.
Yeah, that must have been pretty special. Have you contacted anyone else from Wu-Tang?
Method Man we tried, but that never worked out. Killah Priest, we did beats for him, that was like five years go now.
That’s great. Do you play in Victoria a lot? When was the last time you were in town?
A few times… umm… April.
Where was that?
[asks his friend in the room] What’s the name of that bar we always play when we come here?
Yeah, okay, I was there last night.
Last night? Who was playing last night?
Mykki Blanco. It was pretty crazy. But, I was curious to know if you prefer the festival setting or the smaller, intimate vibe that you find in a club?
Festivals are cool ‘cause I like the outside shit. Being in a club, playing for ten years, clubs are the fucking worst, depressing shit in the world sometimes. Especially in the day time, doing soundcheck, walking around, everything smells like alcohol. You were there last night, a club is the last place you want to be. But, on the flipside, last night we played Sarnia, in a 500 people club, everyone right there was just jammin’.
That’s right, at a club they come to the show just for you. At a festival people are walking around…
It’s even more interactive, people are there right in front of you. At festivals like this, you’re on stage and the crowd is twenty feet away from you and it’s not as intimate like that. Definitely bonuses to each.
Your album is self-titled. How come?
Couldn’t think of an album name.
That’s it? Simple as that?
Simple as that. Could not think of an album name. Usually, when I finish an album I go, “Okay, what’s something that represents this.” I had some ideas, but I just felt like I was doing it to do it. Okay, I’ll call it this ‘cause I need a name. Manager called me and said, “Okay, you need to name this by Friday. What’s it called?” Fuck it, I don’t got a name. Why do we need a name for the album? It’s about the songs and what’s on it.
You collaborate a lot with acoustic guitar players with good voices. Do you play guitar? Is that part of your musical background? Or do you just like the esthetic?
My dad like… there was always music around. My dad plays guitar. He play guitar, my little brother plays guitar. Umm… I think it was just an influence in our upbringing. We always listened to The Beatles, whenever we were in the car, we listened to that type of shit. Then even just playing around… like a lot of even hip hop beats like Nas (“The Message”). Just like, cool picking guitar always got me… just stuff with feel. Whether it’s a guitar or a piano… anything that gives feel.
Well, yeah you find that in the old-school hip hop beats. You got the jazz and the blues and the funk. I guess that would be a big influence for you.
Totally. That’s the stuff I came up on. If there’s like a great guitar loop or piano loop, just something that you lay over on a drum. Just good feeling. Still got that dirty drum to keep it hip hop.
You use a lot of old soul beats too.
Totally… totally. Even David Myles, Chad Hatcher, guys like that, that’s kinda what I always did… They play their song acoustically and I go, “Okay”. Then I start banging on the drums, putting the break beats behind it, shit like that.
How about your tour? What’s coming up?
We don’t have one coming up. Right now, we’re just doing a lot of festivals, stuff like this. End of summer, we did a little bit of frosh week stuff last week.
Where? Out East?
In Ontario, Regina, Saskatoon. We’re doing it like that, two or three days then back home. Which is great. You get to go there and just go hard for two days. Enjoy it. You never get to the point where you’re like “I wanna fucking go home”.
I know your album just came out this year, but any plans for future singles or anything like that?
Yeah, yeah, we just shot a new video yesterday. Umm… I did a track with B.o.B. like a month and a half ago. We still need to shoot that video. Then getting ready to shoot the Raekwon video too. So, yeah, just still promoting the album. It came out in January. I’m one of those people who try and push the album for a full year. I want people not just to hear “Inner Ninja” or just “Three Foot Tall”, I want you to hear the whole thing. I treat every song like it’s a single.
An album has to be a unit. A complete whole and you want people to hear that.
Yeah, so I’m gonna keep pushing this until January.
Classified opens for Paramore at Pacific Coliseum on October 16, 2013. Buy tickets.
Watch Classified’s new video for “Inner Ninja (Remix)” featuring Olly Murs: