Interview by Jenkin Au & Alan Ng
Words by Ryan Goldade & Alan Ng
Photography by Jenkin Au
CALiPH is a Canadian rapper, singer and songwriter who resides in Toronto. Originally born in Prince George, British Columbia, he moved to the Greater Toronto Area at the age of 5 with his family. He experienced his first performances as a child singing in the church choir. He began writing his own music around the age of 12. His debut single ‘Dedicated’ was placed in rotation on Canada’s most listened to urban radio station Flow 93.5 FM. Equally capable singing or rapping, his clever lyricism and insightful subject matter encompasses a variety of themes drawn from his life.
The justalilhype! Crew got a chance to catch up with CALiPH to discuss about his early life, his music career, and his vision for his future. He describes about the standard that has been set in Toronto’s hip-hop scene, and tells us why it is extremely challenging to succeed in this industry. Furthermore, he explains to us why he wants to pursue to do music for a living and how he is determined to make this happen with the goal to release his debut album titled “The Resignation”.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I’m a rapper, singer, songwriter. I write all my own material. I’ve got some in-house producers that I work with like Donnie Keys, he’s my homie out of Scarborough.
I’ve been working on The Resignation for the past two years. That will be my debut album off the independent label Nasty North Records. Although that’s subject to change sometime soon.
Tell us about your name. Why is the ‘i’ the only letter that is lower case?
CALiPH is a brand. It’s a team, it’s not just me. People call me CALiPH cause that’s my rap name but there’s a lot more behind it. So why I lowercased the ‘i’, it’s like the saying there’s no “i” in team. There’s where I got that from and it’s a good representation of my team.
It started as my own name. There was a time when I was 16 and I was heavy into Islam and reading the Quran. I was even considering converting at the time. There was that word that I kept coming across but I didn’t know what it meant. So I looked it up and CALiPH basically means “the successor of Muhammad.” When Muhammad had past, there were people that took his position and carried the religion forward — they were successors. I mixed that into my own version. If you look at the rap game now there’s a lot of shit out there. There wasn’t a lot of good authentic hip-hop then and I felt like in some sense the essence was dying so I took it upon myself to be one of those guys to carry it forward. Luckily now there are guys that are doing great things like Drake, Wale and all these guys that are taking it back to the roots of hip-hop and staying real to the art. Not buying in to all the mainstream shit. I’m just the successor of hip-hop. Just another cat trying to carry on the essence.
What do you see as the biggest difference between the up-and-coming rappers vs the mainstream rappers?
The biggest difference I see is the creative control. When a lot of rappers sign these deals, the record label has a lot over the creative outcome of the project. I don’t necessarily agree with that but unfortunately that’s the reality of the game. Some guys get lucky. If you look at guys like Wale and Drake, they were signed by guys that believed in their talent and their progress. I’d say the majority of the time when comparing independent to established, it’s all about creativity and how they have boundaries and we don’t. We can do whatever we feel like and put out whatever the fuck we want. That’s definitely something I would have to deal with if I were to ever get signed. That’s definitely something I would have to consider; like, would I be willing to sacrifice creativity. The deal would have to be right.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve experienced while trying to build a career out of rapping?
That’s an easy question. It’s all financials man. The grind is ridiculous. I’m back in school now and I’m trying to balance a part-time job, class, homework, exams and on top of that I’ve got the music and my passion. It get really tough at times just to keep up with bills. That kind of restricts me from doing a lot of things unfortunately. I wish I could have put this album out last year but due to financials, projects take a lot longer to come out. So I guess you just have to dedicate more time into your art and try to make it the best that you can so when the time does come, you can make an impression on people.
What are you going to school for?
I’m going to school for independent music production. It’s a one-year specialized program at Seneca at York. It basically just teaches you how to survive and stay afloat as an independent artist. My manager Chris looks after a lot of that aspect but I took it upon myself to get to his level so we can work together. So school is helping a lot right now.
It’s not only about business. There are some classes there that are pushing me to write in a way that I don’t usually write. It pushes me creatively. For example, I had to write a country song last night. You can only imagine how hard that was cause I don’t know the first thing about country. I hated it but believe it or not, country has a lot of similarities to hip-hop.
Coming from Toronto there must be a lot more pressure when it comes to hip-hop. How you do find the standard of quality in the hip-hop capital of Canada?
Ever since Drake popped off, the standards have been set. Prior to that you had Kardi and such but nobody really reached the status of Drake. He’s known and loved globally, so he definitely set the standard. I think that coming from this city, every rapper has to step their game up and thrown down some hot shit. There’s no slacking now.
Is there pressure? Yeah there’s a little pressure but as long as you love what you’re doing, pressure or no pressure, you’re going to do it.
From a business aspect, what you doing to build momentum and put yourself out there?
Pretty much for the last two years it’s been a creative process in developing this album. A lot of time was put into just making this thing as good as possible. We only recently started getting into our marketing plan and how to handle the business side so it’s still in the early stages of the business push and the album release.
Some things we’ve already done now though: we shot a music video on Sunday and we’ll put that out sometime soon. We’ll hit up all the blogs with it. That’s kind of how it is now. Everybody wants video. We’ll also be doing release parties and minor tours across Southern Ontario. We’ll be attending hip-hop conferences and socializing with industry heads and get them to know our name. This is more of a question that you’ll have to ask my homie Chris cause he can give you a lot more detail than I can. Like I said, I’m still in the learning process of handling this whole business thing.
What’s the worst experience you’ve had during a live performance?
There was one situation where I was asked to be part of a show called Friday Night Live. It’s shot out of Ryerson University. It’s a television show that only airs in Toronto. They asked me to come out and do the season opener episode and close down the show. That was probably the worst performance I ever did. It was my first time on television and it wasn’t too well organized. I was wearing this collared shirt with a tie and it was tucked in my jeans. I was sitting on the side of the stage; kind of nervous. When I got up, my shirt pulled out of my pants and looked all bunched up and stupid as fuck. So I get on stage and I’m already looking stupid when the beat comes on and I can’t even hear the beat cause the guys had it too low. On top of that, the audience was told to be quiet during the performance. So I’m in this room, nobody’s talking and it’s just me trying to go off the energy of myself while I can’t even hear myself. That was probably the most uncomfortable experience. I went through it and it turned out to be okay, but I wish I could go back and do that one again. But you need to go through experiences like that cause it make you stronger as an artist. It also helps you strengthen your reaction time when something fucks up on stage.
What was your biggest learning experience as an artist?
The biggest mistake I’ve made was paying big studios to track my music. We spent a lot of money at big name studios downtown and later when the money dried up we resorted to renting equipment. Top of the line equipment. And we just did it out of our own studio and we achieved the exact same sound that we were getting from the expensive studios. You go through those things and learn off of experience.
How would you describe your style and where do draw inspiration from?
When I first started with music I was a singer, but when I got to high school, singing wasn’t cool anymore. That’s when I got into the rap thing. Now I find myself going back to my roots with the singing. My goal is to be respected in hip-hop for being extremely artistic and creative. A lot of the shit out there is really simple and not very inspiring. There’s not a lot of heart that’s put into the music out there and these guys aren’t very versatile creatively. My goal is to be respected and appreciated from people that enjoy all types of music. I’d like to help people out through my music, you know, help people that can relate to my music. I just want to be able to reach people from a creative level.
What artists do you look up to?
Right now I’d have to say Wale and Drizzy. Obviously all the big names like Hova, Kanye, Nas. All those cats. You can even go back to Tupac and BIG.
Have you ever been compared to another rapper?
One of my favorite things is that a lot of people have trouble comparing me to somebody but everybody tries to do it. They’ll say something like “oh you sound like J Cole” or “you sound like Nas” or whatever. The good thing is that they’re constantly saying different people. I never get the same guy. I guess we just naturally want to associate something new with something we’re familiar with. I’m happy that nobody has nailed me to sounding like one single dude, it’s always a jumble. So clearly I’m doing something right cause my mission is not to sound like anybody. I want my own voice and I want to be my own person.
What is HYPE?
If you got something that people like, I say that’s HYPE.