It’s 8:45 p.m., a couple hours before the show will start and several hours until Canadian emcee D.O. is scheduled to hit the stage for his headlining performance at Toronto’s monthly hip-hop show, #BigTicket. But he’s at the venue, doing press, sound check and humbly taking in the other talent on the bill. Despite it being the release party for his latest project, Down Home, there is no entourage, no bottle popping and no ego. For D.O. this is his professional career and he treats it as such, not just a 9 to 5, but also an all day, every day grind. He laughs as he shares his day to day, which includes waking up at the crack of dawn and juggling making eggs and bacon for his two children while writing e-mails overseas to his European contacts so that they can receive his messages as they start their work day. His work ethic is unwavering, and when combined with his skill, which landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records for world’s longest freestyle in the past, D.O. is just the person to push the culture forward, not only in Canada, but all around the world.
WHAT WERE YOU STRIVING FOR WITH THIS ALBUM? I wanted to give people the Canadian black experience because I think that’s what Nova Scotia is. When I say Down Home, I’m talking about that’s where my family’s from. When I moved to Toronto, I didn’t understand when people said where are you from because my family’s not from a different country; they’re from Canada. And when I talk to people in the music industry too, I want to let them know that Canadian black history does exist and it’s a rich history. Going to Nova Scotia, working with Classified, on the song “Down Home”, I say, “Not first or second, you need to get it straight son, because we’ve been here for several generations.”
CLASSIFIED IS THE SOLE PRODUCER ON THIS ALBUM. WHAT PROMPTED THAT DECISION? On Classified’s last album, not the one that just came out, but Handshakes and Middle Fingers, on the intro song he has a line like, ‘you know I wish I could find emcees that make the sacrifice, I’d pass the torch at Halflife.’ I’ve toured with Classified before; I’ve done 30 days with him across the country. I’m a hustler. I’m the one up selling CDs and making sure everything was on point, that we were killing every show. I was like you know man, I work hard, we should do an album and he was down for it, so I went down to Scotia. It was cool to just vibe out with him in the studio doing beats.
THAT HUSTLE THAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT, I DON’T SEE IT IN A LOT OF ARTISTS. WHERE DOES IT COME FROM? It comes from wanting it. I don’t think a lot of people really want it, because I think really wanting it means that you have to do things that you don’t want to do. It’s like practicing for any sport, except in the hip-hop sport practicing isn’t just on your bars and rhymes, it’s on your business skills. I took a look at the game and I said there’s not a lot of good managers in the game, there’s not a lot of good labels in the game, I said I could do that myself.
I think that’s what Canadian hip-hop needs, is some new blood, that next generation.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS OF RECORDING THIS ALBUM WAS? It would have to be the last song that we did, because the last song was the first song on the album… I really think the intro sets the tone and so in the studio we just went through beat after beat after beat… Then [Classified] played a sample and went on to the next one, but I was like no, go back to that. And it was really raw so he had to create the beat right on the spot… he went back to the MPC, started chopping things up, put the drums on it… Seeing him create on the spot, I think that’s the dope thing about a real producer. He does that in his live show, makes a beat, but to see him do it live and for it to be the first song on the album, was a lot of fun.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH A PRODUCER WHO IS ALSO AN EMCEE? It’s good when you have a good relationship with the producer, because he’s also an emcee. There were some times when I was in the booth where I’m laying down a verse and he’d be like dope, but there were some times when he’d be like that was cool… whenever he said that though I was like alright, and I would just go back, maybe it was on the spot, maybe it was back in the hotel room, and I’d write a new verse and come back to the studio the next day. And then he’d be like that one was dope. And so it’s cool that you can have that trust with somebody that they can tell you that something was dope or not, because really you want the hottest product possible. You don’t want that bar or that verse to be weaker than the others so having an emcee around you is very helpful.
A LOT OF ARTISTS DON’T WORK WITH OTHERS BECAUSE THEY WANT TO BE THE FIRST TO MAKE IT. WHY DO YOU THINK COLLABORATION IS IMPORTANT? One of the things I’ve really made an effort to do is take Canadian artists across the world so last year when I was out in Amsterdam, I was instrumental in creating New School Rules, the biggest hip-hop conference in Europe and I brought Rich Kidd, Shaun Boothe and Famous one day and I connected them with a top production team in Amsterdam [who was thinking] D.O. man you didn’t bring a crew, you brought an army. To me it was never about one of us getting on, it was about moving as a unit, and I think that if we did that collectively more in Canadian hip-hop we’d have more success.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHERE CANADIAN HIP-HOP IS AT RIGHT NOW? I think that Canadian hip-hop is in one of the best places it’s ever been. I think the reason for that is really the production side of things. Ever since I started rapping the biggest problem was getting beats, because especially with the technology, not everyone could make beats. We’re at a point right now where we’re known for making the best beats in the game. When you have dope beats, it makes it easy as a rapper to rap over those, so that’s only going to bring the emcee skill up. Once you get producers into the game, they’re able to tell, if WondaGurl is producing for Jay-Z she’s able to tell Jay about a new rapper who’s coming up who might not even be on my radar or your radar, but he’s just a hungry kid in school, and I think that’s what Canadian hip-hop needs, is some new blood, that next generation.
Words By. Priya Ramanujam + Photos By. Iris Gill