BRASSMUNK opening for SWOLLEN MEMBERS at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Saturday (December 21). $24.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Hiphop is a genre that measures longevity in weeks and months rather than years, so it's surprising to hear the members of BrassMunk say that after a decade together they feel like they're just getting going. This is clearly a crew that works with long-term gains in mind.
The Toronto foursome have already had their share of success, including an award from NXNE and praise for their independently released singles, but it's through their new deal with Virgin and the release of the excellent Dark Sunrise EP that the BrassMunk 10-year plan is beginning to pan out.
Take, for example, their idea to start slow and release an airtight mini-album rather than go the typical hiphop route and blow their wad on a bloated 22-track CD. Between the unpredictable beats and loose-limbed rhymes, there isn't a dull second on Dark Sunrise, and the group's measured approach augurs well for future success.
"The EP's really just a sampler covering a bunch of different moods and ideas," BrassMunk MC May One 9 explains from Calgary. "We've got lots of different things to say. The track Whistle While You Work is a great example of that.
"We've all suffered working the 9-to-5 woes, so we wanted to put that out and make people know we understand the reality of day-to-day life. It sucks working unless you really enjoy it. It's taken us a long time, almost four years, to make this a career. We're not getting rich and living some fantasy life where we talk about driving Benzes. This is real life."
The battle to break out in Canada is one any independent band can attest to, but it's even more of a struggle for hiphop acts. With minimal radio support and marathon treks between gigs, Canadian hiphop artists face a formidable climb toward success.
Midway through a Canadian tour, though, BrassMunk are finding that the country is warming to homegrown hiphop in some of the least expected places.
"A lot of people out here don't even know who we are," he offers. "Calgary just got an urban station, so that helps, but in places like Edmonton we're basically unknown.
"When people hear the music, though, it's totally different. We ripped it in Saskatoon. It's just a very gradual thing."
The side gigs of BrassMunk producer Agile could help spread the word a lot faster and wider.
In addition to producing new tracks for Kardinal Offishall and Jully Black, Agile did the beat for the stunning final cut on Nas's new God's Son album. The story behind the hookup between the Toronto producer and one of the planet's hottest MCs is the stuff of dreams.
"Jully was in the studio in Orlando and Nas was in another room," Agile laughs. "Nas walked by and heard one of my joints she was playing. He played that cut six or seven times in a row and wanted to know what she was doing with the track. She said it might make her record, and he said he wanted it for his. It was ridiculous."
The prospect of future high-profile production jobs aside, though, Agile's actually more excited about what he's got for BrassMunk's forthcoming full-length set, due next summer.
"We recorded a cut with Dwele which is sick," he exclaims. "There's also a joint with Saukrates that's bananas, some straight-up experimental shit. Like May One 9 said, the EP is really just dim sum. The album is going to be high-concept. I'm pumped already."