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NXNE Interview: 84.85

MC Cass

Even with De La Soul and Kid Sister closing out the festival on Sunday night, a hip-hop act still seems like a rare animal at NXNE. Luckily, I brought my big net to Toronto and tracked one down. Based out of Toronto, 84.85 is comprised of DJ/Producer Jay 84 and MC Cass. Toronto's NOW magazine named them one of the best 15 bands at the festival. I spoke with Jay after the festival wrapped for an update on the Canadian hip-hop scene and to discuss the duo’s upcoming Good Problems EP.

CB:  Most influential Canadian MC:  Snow or Tom Green?

Jay:  [laughs] I’d have to take Tom Green. Because for what he lacked in ability, his content was always stronger and of a more serious nature than Snow.

CB:  He was more serious than Snow?!

Jay:  No, I’m just playing. I just always had a soft spot for Organized Rhyme. With their Ottawa Senators jerseys.

CB:  [puzzled silence]

Jay:  You never saw the video? Check out the video for Check the O.R. It’s like – “Check the O.R., you like it so far?” [pause] So wack.

CB:  With that in mind, Canada isn’t especially known for its hip-hop. What’s it like trying to come out of that scene?

Jay 84

Jay:   It’s interesting. Canada isn’t really known for a lot of well known entities in the States. We do have a couple – like Kardi, and Saukrates was signed to Redman’s label for a minute there, K’Naan coming out, he’s doing really well, and Drake, obviously, he’s the most prominent example right now. It’s funny, as hip-hop fans that’s something we always thought about, but as a group we existed in a smaller bubble where it doesn’t matter if you’re Canadian, especially with the internet now, we’re not coming through the mainstream rap scene. We’re in more of what we call the West End scene – a little like a Brooklyn scene – like a more alternative scene. Where kids who used to like punk now dress like hip-hoppers a little bit, and kids who liked hip-hop that wore baggy shit started wearing a little tighter shit, and everyone started dressing like more of a dirtbag. We came through that scene so we didn’t have the same pressure of – well, what do the Canadians think? Because we were thinking of the lifestyle as opposed to thinking about Canadian culture. That lifestyle seemed to be a little more transcendent than the material culture, or referencing places in Toronto, or whatever traps Canadian rappers usually fall into.

CB:  What was your NXNE experience like?

Jay:  It’s amazing. This was our second year and this was our first real show playing with actual hip-hop DJs. Playing with Ed Lover – an absolute legend, classic – we’ve never been put with hip-hop. We’ve always been put with either dance music or punk bands. So this NXNE experience was particularly awesome because people were a little more open to the hip-hop aspect of our show instead of fixating solely on the dance music aspect.

CB:  You guys are working on a new EP?

Jay:  Yeah, we’ve got a new EP, it’s called Good Problems. We’ve been working on it for about the last year – it’ll end up being two EPs, but the first one is coming out in July.

CB:  I read you and MC Cass were collaborating long distance for awhile. Is that still happening?

Jay:  No, we finally moved to the same city, so now it’s a little more cohesive.  We met when we were both going to school in Ottawa, and then I moved back to Toronto, so we were long distance for awhile there. We never practiced our shows because we were literally never in the same city. We’d get on stage and it’d be like – ok, so, uh, let’s do this.

CB:  Did you have time to prep for NXNE?

Jay:  Oh yeah, being in the same city we rehearse a lot and we’ve gotten really tight. Our sets are all mixed through like a DJ set would be, so there’s no stops. In a hip hop show there’s usually a lot of stops and starts where the rapper talks in between – there’s none of that. So we really have to practice, because it’s all one mixed through party.

CB:  Any plans to tour outside Toronto?

Jay:  We’ve played a bunch of different places in Ontario and we’ve played Montreal a bunch of times. We have friends in New York and could probably get a show, but would people be there? Would they know the material? Would it be worth doing it? It’s about getting there at the right time. We’re working on it and hopefully after Good Problems we’ll have a little more traction. At least that’s my plan.

Look for 84.85's Good Problems Vol. 1 EP to be available in August.

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