justLISTEN! Okay City

Interview by Alan Ng
Words by Amie Nguyen
Photography by Jenkin Au

WEBSITE

[audio:PavingTheWay.mp3]

The justalilhype! Crew interviewed Ray Black and Bill Maka, two hip-hop artists better known as Okay City. The two MCs, who are originally from Ontario, bring the east coast aspect of Canadian Hip-Hop into Vancouver. While they still do a lot of tours, they now have been fusing their knowledge of the east and the west. Not only did Ray and Bill shed their stories on the duo’s perspective and approach to music, but they also outlined and stressed how much hip-hop means to them, and that’s peace, love and unity.

Please introduce yourself to our readers

R: What up? I am Ray Black, I hail out of Oakville Ontario, 22 years old and I am a hip-hop MC.

B: My name is Bill Maka, 23, my hometown is Kitchener, Ontario, I hail from Vancouver and keep it fresh with that real Canadian hip-hop, you know?

Describe to us the origins of the “Okay City”. What’s the concept of the behind this hip-hop duo?

R: I’ll start off with the meaning. Okay City originated out of London, Ontario. We both went to college together and that’s how we met. As we said earlier, I was from Oakville, and he was from Kitchener, the O and the K, that’s how it started. We just tried to combine all our cities and all our backgrounds, into just one community. I think that’s what hip-hop is about. That’s what our music is about. It’s about growth and getting together, building and originating.

B: Hip-hop is all about peace, love, and unity. We are Okay City. What better way it is to bring a city together than hip-hop? It’s Okay City, which is a family, you know?

What do you think sets you guys apart from the rest of the hip-hop crews out there?

R: I think the music speaks for itself. Our live show stands out above a lot of people where a lot of MCs just stand there and rap. They are just rapping and not actually performing.

B: Whatever music type of genre you are in. Whenever you are on stage performing, you have to give them the show. A lot of people in hip-hop think all you need to do is give them the rhyme. You have to go up there and give them a show. It’s all about how you present yourself to other people through these lives shows.

Often times, MCs of contemporary hip-hop seems to go on the route of going solo. Describe the relationship between you two and what made you two decide to go as a duo.

B: When we were younger in our late teens, we were doing a lot of the same shows while producing our solo records. We would do features on each other’s tracks and after shows, people would come up to us and say the energy we perform together on stage is amazing. Creating a good relationship, to create good music for people. When it came down, we were meant to do this together. When we are speaking to the audience, we get our message across more powerful when we share the mic.

Hip-hop duos usually bring the best of both worlds together. List your respective strengths and how do you make sure your acts and rhymes flow well together?

R: Two heads are always better than one, when it comes to us. We both listen to totally different types of music. We both have a different type of style. What’s strong about us is our focus and drive in taking this to the next level. I think that is really hard to find in that type of collaboration or duo. Some people would rather be comfortable working 9-5 and have money rather than on the road, struggling from show to show kind of thing. For us, we know this is our struggle and it is a beautiful struggle. It is something we want to do within our mindset. I can always count on Bill because I know we are going to do this.

B: A lot of it is goal setting. When you are in elementary school, your teachers tell you to set goals and you usually just brush it off. When you grow older, you realize those goals are important and they do matter. When we set a goal, it’s not like it’s going to come easy and we are definitely going to struggle with it. When we set a goal, we just do it. I always say to Ray, what else will we be doing if it’s not for hip-hop? We are just going to do this. It’s not like we can’t do it, you know? We just do it!

Tell us a bit about the Tocsin B album. A lot of sampling and voice clips were used. Does that aspect play a crucial part of the construction of the album?

R: There’s basically a big theme to this entire album; we have a lot of voice clips that are in it. Technically with this album, we kind of want to make a tester. Testing people and testing their ears on what they would feel about Okay City. It was a big test and that’s where the name Tocsin B came from. It was an exercise and test of the emergency signal during the Cold War. We have lots of voice clips and different audio clips during the Cold War that goes along that theme. It’s a test and it’s an emergency. We are here to kind of show you that we are about to make some good hip-hop that you need to pay attention to.

B: This is a test run for both me and Ray’s part on what we have to progress and what we need to do to take it to the next level musically. With the voice clip and audio clips, I do find it does make an impact on the song because for people to know it, they can relate to it and make a connection to it. When they listen to the song over and over again, they will create a bond with the song and from there they will relate to us.

You speak upon many issues in society throughout your music. How does your music fit in politically?

B: I am not going to say we are total hardcore political rappers or anything, by all means, we are not. We do have an opinion on it, obviously. Nowadays, a lot of problems that a lot of MCs have with putting the politics in rap and pushing it to people, I kind of don’t agree with that. You don’t want to force too much of the same thing to people. When we do a song on a political standpoint, with world issues and so forth, we like to express our opinions, but we don’t want to push it too hard. Everything takes time in this world. You can’t just expect everyone to change right away. We just like to say this is what’s up, open your eyes, and keep your head up on what’s going on in the world.

R: I am not a really big political person. I don’t follow the picky stuff. A lot of the bigger issues I do have an issue for such as global warming and world poverty but I don’t go through every day trying to do this and that. Thinking of that stuff and the economy and how people are struggling with it, I do think there are little things that we can do day to day trying to kind of help that situation and even make people aware of it through our songs.

Through the construction and release of the first album, what challenges do you see for the upcoming feature?

B: On a personal note, another goal to set for us is to do something ahead of its time. Music is all about relationships and we need to make music where people can relate to, and what they can expect from us is a song that they can relate to on a personal level. It’s crazy how music, you can listen to a song from 99 and you can get back from that exact moment, that exact episode of something in your life that has happened that was dramatic enough to make an impact in your brain and that song will always bring you back to that great time of your life. When we go on to the next album, we do really have to concentrate in making that connection with our fans, you know? It’s all in a relationship basis, that’s how I look at it.

R: It’s hard to think about a feel. It’s going to have a totally different feel. It’s still going to be Okay City, but a lot of the stuff in Tocsin was written in the East Coast, and since we’ve been here we have experienced a lot. We’ve gone through a bunch of personal stuff. The next album is going to have a West Coast feel, a lot of experience and it’s going to be really good. We’re trying to work as much music as possible.

At the end of the day, what is it like to hailing as artists from Canada?

R: I am so proud to be Canadian. I love Canada; I will rep Canada till I die. I will always see myself living in Canada. This is my home and roots. As far as the Canadian industry goes, people here do support and people here love it, I just think the main problem with the Canadian industry, not really the music, is the amount of people we have in the country. The entire population of Canada can fit the entire population of California. It’s still good. There’s not like a lot of bad artists pushing out there.  A lot of people say Canadian artists don’t get exposure, but there are opportunities out there, people just have to go find it.

Do you have a take on any ideas for our hip-hop scene to grow?

B: I am going to be blunt. If you are not making good music, stop. Please, just stop. I just can’t take it anymore. At the same time, I don’t want to sound like a hater. But there’s a lot of stuff. I can go back with people gassing their friends, you know?  A lot of people don’t have real friends that tell them the truth. As for the hip-hop community in general, those who do want to get down with one another, I think there needs to be more of that, and less concentration on people paying each other for beats and chorus. Money is just an object; don’t take nothing out of it personal.

R: Being out west here, there’s so much talent; people need to step up their game and stop complaining about how there’s no exposure here. I know there’s so many` people out there with so much talent and it’s either they are too lazy or are just thinking too negatively. I think people need to stick to it, and do shows all around, not just in their city. Push it, which would be the best things for the community, having faith in one another. Let’s make our city look good.

What is HYPE?

J: HYPE is energy; it’s a buildup of energy that people are looking forward to. It can be negatively or positive, but I think it’s just a big ball of energy that people can just grab and hold on to.

B: HYPE is Okay City, so welcome to the city boys.