Choclair at Revival (783 College), Wednesday (June 25), $tba. 416-535-7888. Rating: NNNNN
As the first hiphop artist signed to a major label in Canada, Choclair had to be as surprised as anyone when last year he suddenly found himself label-less. The Toronto MC's 1998 signing to Virgin was big news in the lily-white Canadian music industry, but when his awkward, thuggish second disc, The Memoirs Of Blake Savage, tanked, Choclair quickly found out that even trailbreakers aren't immune to the chop.
To his credit, the smooth-voiced MC wasted little time in putting the pieces back together. Choclair's new Flagrant is released on his own Greenhouse imprint - distributed, oddly enough, by his old bosses at EMI. Back on his own, Choclair has found his voice again.
Where Memoirs seemed to crank Choclair's playboy thug image to cartoon levels, the songs on Flagrant are almost restrained by comparison, with compelling tales and shout-outs to Dwight Drummond spun over Saukrates' and Solitair's slinky funk beats.
"I had people in my ear saying what kind of record I should come back with since the last one didn't work," Choclair explains. "For the most part, though, I wasn't thinking about a comeback.
"I know a lot of people didn't get Memoirs. A lot of people did, though. It's not a record that I'm going to hide from. This new record has a lot of the similar sounds and influences, but maybe they're a bit less extreme.
"I also really just wanted to represent the Circle on this record. It's been 10 years now, and everyone's really starting to take off on their own. As a group, it's really time for us to get our shine."
That spotlight comes in the form of Till Now, the on-disc debut of Choclair's Circle clique - featuring Solitair, Jully Black, Saukrates, Ro Dolla, YLooK, Tara Chase and Kardinal Offishall.
It's an A-list representation of T.O. hiphop talent, a snapshot of the scene as it was during the T-Dot explosion of five years ago. But after 10 years together, the most shocking thing isn't that they've finally all appeared on one cut but that that they're still pals and working on one another's records.
"The Circle was originally larger than just nine people," Choclair admits. "People definitely have their own lives and their own projects to focus on now. YLooK's gone back to school, and other people are drifting in and out, but eventually you run into each other.
"You see kids coming up doing their thing, and everyone starts to realize that they're getting older. We do a lot of reminiscing about the old days when we did this and that and were all in the studio, and suddenly we realize we can still do that. That track is just proof."