Interview with Kobi from Canadian Winter

“FRESH” in its original hip-hop speak is best translated as “something that defies comparison”.  And in that classic sense of the word, the ‘Winter’ are easily one of the freshest sounds in Canadian hip-hop today; a true rarity, that defy easy categorization.  Fusing traditional beats with live instrumentation, old school lyrical wit, and a touch of charm, Canadian Winter have been an important fixture on the Hamilton scene since their debut release “Just Wait til February”.   Their critical acclaim and list of accomplishments is only half the story.  Their true importance to our music community is best evidenced behind the scenes, where they’ve fostered much cross-genre collaboration, connection and camaraderie.  It could be said, possibly more than any other group in our city, Canadian Winter bring people together.  The ‘Winter will continue to bring the people together this weekend at the Homegrown Hamilton show with Mother Tareka,  Haolin Munk, and DJ LP.

We caught up with Kobi from the Winter to talk about 2012 and the year ahead.

Last year was a big one for the squad.. with some changes to the line-up and new musical relationships forged.
Can you take us through the 2012 CW highlight reel?
It was eventful for sure. We put out the ‘Original 6’ EP, and with the line-up changes Jay and Close brought a new vibe with them when they joined.  It’s been fun having them  add their vibes to the music. We hooked up with our buddies, Kojo ‘Easy’ Damptey, Sara London, Bonnie Hamilton and an amazing four piece jazz band from Hamilton called Haolin Munk and played a couple of shows as a 10 piece band called The Snow Beach Players – named for the Ralph Lauren windbreaker that Raekwon popularised in the ‘Can It All Be So Simple’ video

Other than that – we won a couple of awards for the ‘Get The Show On The Road’ video (directed by Lee Skinner). We also played at the Wavelength Festival in Toronto, a show with DJ Kev Ski of The Get Fresh Crew (and got to hear some pretty cool Slick Rick stories).  All in all, it was a good one. Now we’re just working towards finishing off ‘The Snowball Effect’.

The Canadian Winter sound is so unique, a hybrid of traditional hip-hop beats and live instrumentation.  What is the band’s process for song writing. How do you get a song from the planning stage to the actual live-music stage?
It varies for each different producer, with Supa – he’ll send over a beat he thinks will work for us and more often than not, he’ll get it right. Last time around, Paddy gave us a CD, but when we were starting to work on the new album I went over to his spot and he played me some madness. Dex pretty much appears like a genie, when I’m trying to find a beat to write to and with Fyhlox, we’ll speak, I’ll send him an a cappella and he sends back an incredible remix. We’re sticking with the core of producers that we used for the first album, just because we’re trying to show the growth in terms of lyrics and beats.  So it’s the same crew – we just wanted to reflect the changes that naturally come with time in the music.

In working on the new record, we also tried to leave more space for live instruments in the beats, so we could add more to them. So, while I’ve been writing, Jay and Kojo have been figuring out what to play on tracks. We were lucky enough to get Haolin Munk in the studio as well, and they’ve really helped to flesh out the live sound half of the equation.

Kobi, your style of ‘story telling’ harkens back to many of the early greats (Slick Rick, Nas, Biggie, Tupac, etc. ) , looking through your catalogue with the exception of Mr. The Ruler, one might say you do it more than any of them.  Is this something you intentionally work towards or is it just what happens to come from your pen?  Who do you see as the best storytellers in present day hip-hop?

It’s definitely intentional. I’ve been a fan of film since I was a kid. So movies were a big influence on the way I write. I think some of my favourite directors today have threads running through their various movies tying them together like Spike Lee’s The Bomb Malt Liquor, Tarantino’s Red Apple Cigarettes and Kevin Smith’s Mooby’s fast food. I always thought that call-backs like that were pretty cool. Everything about ‘Just Wait Till February’ from how it was made, to the story it tells reminds me of an independent film.

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man,  some of the rap that floats around the airwaves today seems like it’s written to satisfy a set of focus group requirements, rather than being made to be relatable, and that was something that I felt was missing in the music I was hearing when we started out in ’09.

I guess the stories are an easy way to make what we were doing different from other music that is out there. In terms of the storyline, my parents’ generation had their own stories about moving from the countries they were born in. I figured I could write something in the same vein that would touch people who have been through the same things I had or wanted to hear music made from a different perspective. I think the deciding factor for me was that I liked the idea of making a series of albums that had returning characters and continuing plots, where you can listen to the songs casually, but if you want to really dig into the lyrics, you can follow the story through.

Nas is definitely one of the best storytellers.  He’s so good that he tells them backwards, sometimes.  Black Rob is hugely underrated as a story teller. Life Story is an incredible album that I slept on when it first dropped. Ice Cube’s ‘Predator’ album was always a favourite of mine because it felt like he was reporting live from LA during the riots. It was a definitive moment of the 90’s and to be able to hear the uncensored view of someone who was so synonymous with the city was definitely interesting, Raekwon and Ghostface are still amazingly vivid. Andre 3000 can make the most mundane experience into a movie. Q-Tip is also a genius with his.

Photo source- cbc.ca
You’ve been living in Hamilton for a few years now and are well connected to the city’s scene.   Having bounced around the world a bit, in person or as music journalist,  and glimpsed a few different scenes,  how would you say the Hamilton hip-hop scene stacks up?  What do you see as unique or different about the Hamilton hip-hop scene compared to other places?
Hamilton’s scene is definitely unique. It’s that mixture of the community spirit of a small town and the opportunities that come with being in a city. There’s enough people around that appreciate music that everyone can find an audience for what they’re doing. I’ve been to a couple of house shows in the city and there’s just a vibe about Hamilton. It feels like something great is potentially being created behind any door on a street.   I can walk down the road at 3AM in the summer and hear someone playing blues guitar well on their porch. There just seems to be a crazy talent/per capita ratio, in Steel City .

The sense of community is different from other places I’ve been, for sure.  There’s a lot of encouragement – and I’m a big fan of the fact that acts don’t sound the same, despite the fact that some even share producers. It says a lot for the creativity of the people who make up the scene. And it doesn’t just stop at one generation – there’s a whole load of younger musicians like T.Y, Mike F, Bo$quiat Clique, J-Ache$,  and many more working hard to make the best music they can and get it heard. The future of hip-hop in the city is in good hands.

If you were giving out a ‘Kobi’ award, for greatness in hip-hop in 2012.. who would the nominees be?
Ha – I don’t think I’m qualified to hand out statues, but there were a bunch of records that meant something to me that came out this year – ‘R.A.P Music’ by Killer Mike, ‘Life Is Good’ by Nas and ‘Good Kid M.A.A.D City’ by Kendrick Lamar were probably my favourites.  All three of them were honest albums about how the artists feel about their lives and their place in the world. I was also digging the Roc Marciano ‘Reloaded’ album. It’s like a Donald Goines novel in rap form.

What’s next for Canadian Winter?  Any big plans for the year ahead?  Lyric-wise, the album is about 90% written, at the moment, and we’re lining up a couple of things at the moment to spread the word, before it drops. Personally, I’m looking forward to getting to perform the album and getting a video or two out there. I’ve been lucky enough to guest on a few projects both in Canada and back home with some good friends, so they should be coming soon. Just excited to see where it takes us!

Thanks,  Kobi!

The Canadian Winter / Mother Tareka / Haolin Munk / DJ LP show is going to be excellent.
Check out our post for all of the details.