MR. COMPLEX with EL DA SENSEI, L-FUDGE, RISE N SHINE, KEN BOOGALOO, SUBCONSCIOUS and more, at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Friday (December 7). $15/advance, $20/door. 416-466-0313.
After nearly a decade in the hiphop underground, you'd think that Manhattan mike-wrecker Mr. Complex would be ready for the big time.
Yet while many of his independent contemporaries are ditching the DIY approach for outside major-label help, Complex seems to be just settling in.
After a string of singles on a host of tiny labels, from Rawkus to Nervous, his new Hold This Down disc -- featuring contributions from Toronto producer Darp Malone as well as regular collaborator DJ Spinna and UK producers Beyond There -- is released on Mr. Complex's own Core Records label. Taking control of his own affairs is clearly a step toward longevity in a genre where three-year-old records are often considered old-school.
"I've been down with every significant East Coast hiphop label, and it's been fine," Complex offers from Los Angeles. "After a while, though, you learn the business and realize that if you have the initiative, you can and should do this on your own.
"This isn't a game where people last long, both onstage and behind the scenes. The last thing you want to be is someone who gets signed to a major label, is big for a minute and then disappears. It's impossible to come back when you fall off. Who wants to be Redhead Kingpin in 2001? That's the real struggle, and I've been lucky so far."
He's also worked hard at operating outside of the traditional hiphop game. While Mr. Complex has added rhymes to records with Talib Kweli and Pharoahe Monch, he's also worked with British triphop crew Morcheeba and has completed more than an album's worth of new music with people from around the globe.
"I've been making connections all over the world -- in London, Denmark and Toronto," Complex confirms. "Doing shows helps me pay the bills first and foremost, but I've also met a lot of people with beats. Just because someone's not from New York doesn't mean that they can't make dope music.
"You probably don't expect it, but some kid in Nottingham or Copenhagen might have the shit, and the beats are universal."
Of course, if the music suddenly stops coming, Mr. Complex can always switch to Plan B. The New York Film Academy grad is working on the world's first hiphop game show, and has posted a clip on his Web site -- www.mrcomplex.com.
"The show's called Hip To The Game," he explains. "I've been working on it for a while. We shot a pilot last May and have had a lot of interest from different people. It's funny, but also serious, and there's nothing quite like it.
"We're thinking of launching it overseas first. I have a lot of people in Europe who are really excited about it, and then we'll try and break it here, Weakest Link-style."