Nova Scotia’s golden emcee takes time out to reflect

Hard work really pays off when you truly enjoy what you do. Don’t believe it? Just ask Enfield, Nova Scotia emcee Classified – who has evolved from a youngster who fell in love with rap music after hearing Run DMC’s “Tricky”, to a grown man who has taken his hip-hop passion and worked tirelessly to make it his profession without pretending to be someone he isn’t.

Now with a remarkable total of 15 solo albums under his belt, the Half Life Records artist, and owner, has more than a few things to be content about – he’s seen his following grow substantially over the years, he hasn’t had to compromise his sound, and in his life away from the microphone, he’s a proud father.

Classified has consistently silenced the naysayers while proving that persistence pays off – climbing up the ranks through non-stop touring, dropping several hit records like “Oh… Canada”, “That Ain’t Classy” and “Inner Ninja”, and working with many of his renowned peers, such as Maestro Fresh Wes, Kardinal Offishall, Royce Da 5’9”, and Snoop Dogg. He has become one of Canada’s most successful hip-hop musicians along the way.

With the release of his latest record, Greatful, Classified appears to be enjoying the fruits of his labour, while still refusing to let go of his undying urge to create.

Just where I’m at in life – I’m always going to be making music … I just don’t know if I’m going to take the time to set a year and a half aside and focus on just my own album.

WHY DID YOU TITLE THE NEW ALBUM GREATFUL? Just being honestly grateful for what I get to do for a living. Just my life in general, you know? Having kids, having a wife that I get along with, having a job that I enjoy – that’s one side of being grateful. On the other side of it, it’s about trying to be great in your life – whatever that is for you, whether you’re chasing a dream or just working hard at your job, being great at it. If you get to where you want to be, be grateful for what you get.

ON THE OUTRO [“BEST OF ME (CLOSING CEREMONIES)”], YOU ALLUDE TO THE POSSIBILITY OF THIS BEING YOUR FINAL FULL LENGTH ALBUM. WHY DO YOU FEEL SATISFIED WITH THIS ONE IN PARTICULAR BEING YOUR LAST? I kind of feel like that after every album, especially with this one – I got to work with a lot of guys that I look up to, like Snoop and Premo. Just where I’m at in life – I’m always going to be making music, whether it’s producing for other people or even just working on tracks of my own. I just don’t know if I’m going to take the time to set a year and a half aside and focus on just my own album. I just kind of felt like it was a nice wrap up of what I was doing. Maybe Luke Boyd (Classified’s birth name) will put an album out next; I don’t know (laughs).

YOU’VE GOT SOME BIG HIP-HOP NAMES ON THE NEW RECORD – DJ PREMIER, SNOOP DOGG, SLUG FROM ATMOSPHERE. OVER THE YEARS, WHICH ARTISTS HAVE YOU ENJOYED WORKING WITH THE MOST? Maestro – just because Maestro and I know each other. With Snoop, it was cool; he’s like my idol, you know what I mean? But it was like three hours in a hotel room where we made the studio up. The song [“No Pressure”] was already kind of laid out – I had the song how I wanted to do it. It was cool, believe me, it was a great moment. Even with Premo I had the song done, I wanted to get some cuts and we reached out. Royce Da 5’9”’s manager, Kino, actually hooked me up with Premo and he called me up on the phone like, “what’s up man, this is Premo – you got the track, I’m down to do it.” I was like, “Oh fuck, Premo just called me.” Those parts were cool, but with someone like Maestro, we’d go to the studio for like two or three days. He’d come down, stay in Enfield, live in my house with me for two or three days. We’re friends that make music. Premo and Snoop don’t really know me [like that]. They respected me enough through the music. With Maestro, it’s more personal.

YOU’RE NOW A PROUD FATHER OF THREE GIRLS. ON THE NEW RECORD YOU’VE GOT A TRACK CALLED “HAVING KIDS IS EASY”. TELL ME ABOUT HOW YOU PUT IT TOGETHER AND HOW FATHERHOOD HAS CHANGED YOU AS A PERSON. On my last album (the self-titled project, Classified), I had a track called “Growing Pains” with the typical, “I love my kids, life’s great, don’t change, don’t grow up, blah, blah, blah.” On this one, it was like, “Okay, let me show you another side.” I love my kids and all, but it’s not all easy (laughs). There are a lot of times you want to pull your hair out, you know? It’s not the easiest thing to do. Your life changes [and] there’s a lot of stuff you can’t do. There’s a lot of stuff that you have to do that you don’t want to do, but to be a good father, you’ve gotta do this shit. That’s the flipside of it. No one’s totally done a track [like that]. I thought it would be a cool thing on the album, but now we’re even thinking it might be a single – just because topic-wise, I feel like so many people can relate to it.

It’s just like some white people feel more comfortable if it’s coming from a white rapper and they’ll go to those shows. I’ve seen that. That’s a little f*cked up to me.

OVER THE SPAN OF YOUR CAREER, YOU’VE GONE FROM INDEPENDENT TO MAJOR LABEL, AND MORE RECENTLY FROM SONY TO UNIVERSAL. WHAT HAS THAT PROCESS BEEN LIKE FOR YOU AND YOUR MUSIC, PARTICULARLY IN A DAY AND AGE WHEN SOME ARTISTS ARE FINDING SUCCESS BEING INDEPENDENT? Technically, I’m still independent. I was on Sony for Handshakes and Middle Fingers, and then I left Sony and did a deal with Universal, but I wasn’t signed directly through Universal. They signed my label, Half Life, so it’s almost the best of both worlds. I’m an independent artist, but I get to use all of their marketing, their publicity, their video team. I own everything, but I get all of those advantages of having a major label team helping [me] out. Universal’s been great. JP, my main guy there is a real fan. He knew my old shit like “Fall From Paradise”, all that. It’s cool to have someone who is actually really into the music in your corner helping you push the stuff. I did a [worldwide] major label deal with Atlantic when “Inner Ninja” came out. They pushed it; it didn’t go as big as they wanted, and they didn’t even push the album that hard. They basically signed me off of one song – “Inner Ninja”. They wanted it to be more of a pop type thing. I just wasn’t feeling a lot of things they had in mind, like doing songs with Cody Simpson like, ‘I’m not doing this … what are you talking about?’ It’s all independent [now] – Half Life through Universal. That whole second verse [on “Heavy Head” from Greatful] is basically my story with Atlantic and how that relationship went.

A FEW YEARS AGO, YOU WERE CRITICIZED FOR THE “OH, CANADA” MUSIC VIDEO FOR NOT REFLECTING THE COUNTRY’S DIVERSITY. IT’S ALMOST LIKE THE ‘WHITE RAPPER’ THING IS SOMETHING YOU JUST CAN’T DODGE, BUT YOU’VE EMBRACED IT, AND YOU’VE PAID HOMAGE TO THE HIP-HOP CULTURE. AS A WHITE CANADIAN RAPPER, WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON MACKLEMORE’S SONG “WHITE PRIVILEGE II”? I don’t know yet. I like Macklemore. When he first blew up, I heard of his stuff a little bit, years ago, but I never really checked him – like that track “The Town”, I remember seeing that. “Same Love”, when that came out, I thought that shit was amazing; it was clever. It just goes back to clever, uncomfortable topics that no one talks about. Whenever I see a rapper do that and it’s done well, I’m like, “this is fucking great, I wish I came up with this idea.” With the video and everything, it was just powerful. Even with “Thrift Shop” it was a fun song … it’s making it cool to go thrift shopping, not all about money, money, money. Then when “Downtown” came out, I was disgusted; it just confused me (laughs). “White Privilege II”, I started to listen to it, but sometimes with Macklemore, it’s like, I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like he just does things to try to prove something. Maybe it’s wrong to say that – it’s a great topic, it’s something that should be addressed, and it’s great that it’s getting people talking, so I think that alone is a great cause. Sometimes with Macklemore, I guess I’m still trying to judge if it’s coming from the heart or if he’s just doing this because he thinks this is what he should be doing to be accepted. Sometimes I do look at it like that. That’s how I felt before, then I found out that he had a version of this released before he blew up too (“White Privilege I” from 2005). I had never heard that before, but once I heard that too, I was like, “Okay, maybe this is something he is sincere about.” But either way, just to have people talking about that topic is a great thing. A lot of the shit he said in the song, I’ve went through too – I agree with a lot of the stuff, like people coming up [saying], “You’re the first hip-hop show I’ve ever seen.” What are you talking about? It’s been around for [more than 40] years. It’s just like some white people feel more comfortable if it’s coming from a white rapper and they’ll go to those shows. I’ve seen that. That’s a little fucked up to me. I get a lot of the points he’s saying.

Photos supplied by Universal Music Canada