Toronto beat doctor unleashes contagious hiphop illness
DJ SERIOUS REVUE, with DJs MIKE TULL, PAUL E LOPES, MASTERMIND and KOLA, at Reverb (651 Queen West), Saturday (September 23). $10. 504-0744.
the dj serious hiphop countdown Rating: NNNNN
Things have never been more hectic in the Toronto hiphop underground, but the man in the middle, downtown cut-creator DJ Serious, seems utterly unflappable. Over lunch on College, the 20-something vinyl junkie would much rather talk about Pete Rock’s recent return to form and the abstract science behind Jay Dee’s jazzy beats than the excellent debut LP he just finished 24 hours ago.
This isn’t a surprise. Any discussion with Serious, who got a set of turntables in 92 and began making beats almost immediately, eventually becomes a conversation about records.
In part, it’s his job — he spins at virtually every major hiphop show and is the resident hiphop expert at Traxx — but mostly it’s his love for the music.
Serious’s obsession with detail regarding other producers’ beats runs over into his own energetic and eclectic production style.
It’s only fitting that people are beginning to pay attention.The buzz in the underground on DJ Serious’s Dim Sum album is immense, but the talk stretches well beyond the T-dot hiphop scene.
Dim Sum is being released through Sound King, the label that brought us Danko Jones and Blurtonia. Serious also just did three shows in the decidedly non-hiphop arena of Our Lady Peace’s Summersault tour, and might end up spinning at some Moist gigs this fall.
Even this unusual career twist is taken in stride.
“Hiphop isn’t what you do but how you do it,” he reasons. “I can take two copies of Aerosmith and make that hiphop. In fact, Walk This Way is just that.
“As a DJ, I can play a lot of different stuff in any venue, but I always flip it in a hiphop style. That’s what people like Bambaataa did back in the day.”
Purists will be thrilled to know that while there are a couple of titanic guitar riffs on the record, Dim Sum is pure and raw underground hiphop.
It’s also a showcase for Serious’s open-minded ideas about what hiphop can be, from the album’s title on down.
“At first, it was a joke,” he laughs. “I mean, why would you name a hiphop record Dim Sum? It fits so well, though.
“For us Chinese people, dim sum is like the first meal of the day, and this is also my first album. But it goes deeper than that — there are a lot of styles on this record, a lot of different dishes and flavours.”
Who’s on the Dim Sum album is as important as what they end up doing with Serious’s beat.
There are none of the familiar Toronto hiphop superstars. Instead, the DJ has assembled an inspired crew of intense underground MCs including Brass Munk, D-Sisive, Unknown Misery, Arcee, Asicks and Nish Rawks, who absolutely demolishes Dim Sum’s anthemic leadoff single, The Enlightening.
“These guys were hungry to the point that they wanted to hook up,” Serious insists. “I appreciate that. That’s not saying that the other guys aren’t hungry, but no one knows these cats, and they really have to work for what they get.
“These relationships are complete creative freedom, without things like a record label or management or contracts dictating what goes on.
“Shit is always casual with me. I’ll link up with someone, give them a beat and they’ll spit their lyrics onto it. Then I’ll take it back and rework it. A couple of the tracks on the album began with completely different beats, and I designed the final rhythm around the MC’s lyrics. I like an artist who’s cool with that.”
More than anything, the artists on Dim Sum are a reflection of the different layers the Toronto scene has developed. As artists like Mastermind, Choclair, Saukrates and Kardinal Offishall ink major-label deals, it’s reassuring to know that there’s a crop of unknown basement MCs waiting to take their place in the underground.
“It’s mind-boggling how much talent there is in Toronto,” Serious nods. “The recent signings are one thing, but on another level, people have no idea. Crews that no one’s heard of, like Points of Pressure, are just sick.
“As a producer, I’ve got to stay on my toes. You always know in the back of your mind that there’s got to be this kid who does nothing but play with his two turntables in his bedroom and who could kick everybody’s ass. I love that feeling.
“Wait until you hear the next album,” he laughs. “I’ve got a whole crew of sick cats that no one’s heard of before, and they’ll fuck you up!”
Serious is in large part responsible for that swell of underground talent, or at least for bringing it out of the bedroom.
His monthly hiphop showcase the DJ Serious Revue has become the city’s premier stage for emerging talent from all four corners of hiphop culture. While DJs and MCs cut it up onstage, B-boys work the cardboard on the floor, graffiti artists trade bombing tips in the crowd and everyone generally gets down.
How terribly un-Toronto.
In fact, the showcases are so successful that there’s talk of taking the Revue out on the road.
Yet while a cross-Canada hiphop excavation program sounds promising, with Serious lugging his crates into underground scenes from Truro to Red Deer, the DJ is already looking well beyond that prospect.
“I want to hook up a hiphop railroad,” he laughs. “I’m interested in working with French rappers and there’s a lot of talent in Montreal, so I came up with the idea of an exchange. Two or three Montreal groups could come and do a show here, then some T.O. people could go to Montreal, and then we just break it open.
“We could have this constant flow of talent back and forth. That’s the idea of taking the Revue on the road — exposing people to something more than the image of hiphop they see in the media. Can you imagine how strong that would be?”
Who better than DJ Serious to run down the platters that matter three-quarters of the way through 2000? These are DJ Serious’s hiphop picks of the moment. Pay attention.
1 APANI Fly Emcee/A Million Eyes (Bronx Science)
2 ARCEE Super Educated (Revolve Recordings)
3 DE LA SOUL View (Tommy Boy)
4 PRODIGY Keep It Thoro (Loud)
5 NISH RAWKS The Enlightening (Sound King/Headless Heroes)