Interview by Jenkin Au and Alan Ng
Words by Cornelius Suen and Jenkin Au
Photography by Jenkin Au
Please introduce yourselves to our readers.
Device: My name is Matt, AKA Device, AKA Wolverine. I joined the crew in 2009. Frost put me down and I’m glad to be in Ground Illusionz.
Fresh FX: I’m Fresh FX and I’m one of the original members. I got my name because I wanted to be original.
Fate: What’s up? My name is Jesse, AKA Fate. I’ve been with Ground Illusionz since 2009 and I got my name from graffiti because I’m also a graffiti artist.
Dust: My name is Dust and I’ve been around since 2005 and I also got my name through graffiti.
Frost: My name is Frost Flow. I founded the crew in 1999 and I got my name from a dream.
Ways: My name is Ways and I’ve been with the crew since 2005. I got my name from some guy I don’t really like but the name sounded good so I kept it.
Rubexcube: My name is Rubexcube and I’ve been with Ground Illusionz since 1999. I battled Frost one time and I got into the crew.
Neo: My name id Neo and I’ve been with the crew since 2000. I got my name in high school after The Matrix and I got into the crew through Rubex and Fresh.
Brandon: I’m Brandon – I’ve been with the crew since June 2010 and I basically got accepted by working hard.
Ju Rock: My name is Ju Rock and I’ve been with the crew since 2009. I got down because Fresh FX saw me at a battle and then I went to their practice. I basically got my name because I’m Jewish.
Burn: I am Burn. I’ve been in GI since 2008 and I got my name from Frost. I got down with the crew because I started going to practice.
Phade: My name is Phade and I’ve been in GI since 2008. How I got down with the crew was by just sticking around and bugging Frost. I always had my name before the crew and just stuck with it.
Please tell us about Ground Illusionz as a whole, how it started, and how it got its name.
Frost: Ground Illusionz started originally in 1998 under the name Overload. We have changed the name several times after one of our original members left. Ground Illusionz was mostly a battle crew when it started, when it was still only a few of us. After a hiatus in about 2003, I started reforming the crew with guys like Dust and Spooky and Ways. We reformed the crew and became more of a community development crew. The emphasis was on being able to battle, perform, and teach, all while keeping the mentality of having an original style and transcending foundation.
What is the meaning of your crew’s name, Ground Illusionz?
Frost: I remember a couple of people gave us the name. An old friend, Pam Lopez, and Arvin Paz, they gave us the name of Ground Illusionz. We liked it because it sounded cooler than whatever silliness that we had before.
Frost: I had Jarome’s blessing for Ground Illusionz, so it’s all good. What I think it means is that I’m an illusionist – you think you’re soft but you’re getting confused and missed the point because I hit it. It’s like you can’t see what we’re doing – it goes over your head. We’re too next level and we’re too transcendent – we’re like another dimension.
Ground Illusionz is not only a strong b-boy crew but it is also a full representation of the elements of hip-hop. Tell us how the members of this crew have branched out and touched upon the other elements of hip-hop, keeping true to the foundations of hip-hop.
Dust: A lot of us are visual artists, graffiti writers, musicians, etc. I’m a musician, Matt raps, Rubex raps, Neo is an illustrator, Ryan is a drummer, Phade makes beats… there is a lot of stuff that we all do.
Frost: We have a lot of DJ’s as well as a couple of underground DJ’s. They all play fresh stuff.
Originating from the suburbs, do you think this gives you an edge over some other people who might have everything accessible within walking distance? For us, it teaches us to be more innovative and creative with what we have.
Fresh FX: Yeah, I would say so. Instead of being so influenced by people we see all the time, we are influenced through our own crew. Maybe that’s what has contributed to our style – our crew, compared to some other crews in Toronto, put an emphasis on taking our foundations and make them very intricate. Like Brandon or Ju Rock for example, they are taking concepts to a whole new level. We take those concepts and we just rape it. We are heavily influenced through each other and we just keep going.
Frost: Originally, the crew started in Mississauga but has now expanded all over the map. We’re coming from Brampton, Mississauga, Toronto, North York, Ajax, everywhere. We even have people out from Korea and Japan, and we have family all over the place. To add to what Fresh said, we’re all about transcending our foundations. We also have a visual artist J Gar, and he came to our crew when we were solidifying our founding generation. I remember he kept saying that we transcended what we were doing and that we were always taking it to another level. It’s been good that we’ve come out of the suburbs.
With such a large crew covering the aspects of hip-hop, and going through all these different areas, selection of the crew members is the most crucial part of maintaining the crew because it continues the message of transcendence. How do you choose which members join the crew?
Frost: Well, they have to be handsome.
Frost: I think the most important aspect of it is the mentality. You have to have a similar mentality and there is a long process in getting into the crew. Originally, back in the day, Rubex was still in what we called “Training”, which was like a probationary period. Now, the process goes like this: if there is someone that the crew is interested in, we get in contact with the person of interest and they have to battle a representative of the crew to get into training, which is now called the “Overload” – our original name. Once you’re an Overload, then you have to do a series of tasks to prove yourself and you have to be able to represent the four qualities of skill, commitment, desire and creativity. If you have those four qualities and the rest of the members of the crew witness this, then they get initiated by a battle. That is the final initiation and then you assume full responsibilities – we battle, we perform, we teach.
With the skill set of this crew being so high, it’s obvious that not everyone that you are eyeing will be able to beat the crew members. Do they have to win that battle?
Frost: No, not really. It’s kind of like, “You’ve made it this far, so here you go.”
Dust: Winning is more in the heart.
Balancing the aspect of mainstream and underground elements, how do you maintain your credibility within the street culture scene?
Fresh FX: Competing all the time and being involved with the rest of the community events and jams.
Why is it important as a crew to keep active with projects such as Blue Print for Life, rather than just competing all the time?
Frost: While the crew was on hiatus in 2003, I went to school for community development. I was in art school originally but then I transitioned to community development because it’s important to be an advocate of the community. A lot of the work that I did at the start of my career, around 2007, was mostly about advocating hip-hop, implementing the first hip-hop curriculum in the City of Mississauga through the community centers, and then re-building the crew. Then Buddha from Floor Masters, who is kind of the head of the Blue Print for Life project, saw my commitment and passion, and he trusted me to go onto his team, myself and Raul from Fresh Format. We were the first dancers outside of his crew to join Blue Print for Life. We’ve been working with Blue Print for Life for 4 years, working on 20 different projects, and I’ve grown a lot as an individual, a facilitator, and as a dancer. Hopefully some more guys in GI will be able to move up and join as well because they are all very talented and the mentality is in the right place.
Continuity is very important in every scene. What one generation passes down to another generation has huge effects on the whole scene. What is the message that GI is trying to pass down to the next generation?
Dust: For the hip-hop and arts in general, we like the way that it connects people and gives them that common ground. With Blue Print, it’s connecting people from vast backgrounds and personalities.
Phade: I would like to pass down the things that were passed down to me – skills, creativity, commitment, and desire. I want to tell them to keep that going down every generation.
Matt: Another thing that’s important is that as an individual, you can be yourself and have a voice, but you can still share that with everyone and vibe with everyone.
Neo: Just keep dancing and be passionate about it. With the older guys, as time passes, we are still dancing. Even with work and our lives and school, we still dance. Dancing can always be there.
For some of the newer members of the crew, what are your experiences with the Crew and your thoughts about it?
Neo: A lot of us teach workshops and it is good because kids need to have a place where they are reminded of the roots of a scene that is 20-30 years older than them. Especially with the younger members, we always tell them to learn and keep going to class. They need to learn from people from the 70’s and the 80’s who roll through town.
What does the older generation want the younger generation to achieve through Ground Illusionz?
Frost: I was talking to Matt D about it, and given the fact that the root city is growing so much and our multifaceted and talented aspect of the crew, I feel like our crew is meant to grow in a direction where we are leaders of a mentality or way of doing things. I can see us opening up a school or some sort of movement where people can come and grow and move forward. Everyone in the crew is very talented and I learn and respect so much from this crew. Together, as a family, we are really strong. Our passion is inspiring to all generations and for this, I see GI being a bridge in the GTA and the rest of Canada. I don’t know if there are any other crews doing things the way we are doing, around the world, and if they are, we’d bridge with them too. We are about peace and love and we’re about taking things to the next level.
It is very clear that the passion among all members is here and evident. But during the duration of GI, there was a hiatus. What caused the hiatus?
Frost: There was a hiatus because people were making a transition in their life from high school to post secondary, I was injured, and some other things. We learned a lot from the first era of GI, like how to do business and how to deal with each other. We needed time apart to collect ourselves individually and then grow again and restart. During that process, we were able to understand why we were passionate about it and why we did it in the first place. We returned to it.
Tell us about the importance of a handshake for this crew.
Rubex: For me, I know that Arthur (Flight) and I were the closest for a long time and we would always break together. We did routines together and it was where we would move together as one. We didn’t like to do too many choreographed moves, so we kept it together. We had a handshake that was super complicated by the end of it, we would end with GI in the hand positions. It stuck with the crew and that’s where it came from: being one. It finishes in the same timing and every time a crew member comes together to do a handshake, it’s like they are fusing to do a movement and then they disconnect.
What is HYPE?
Fate: I think it is an energy. Whenever you are feeling good about something or you are drinking coffee, you are feeling HYPE.
Rubex: I am the great white HYPE.
Frost: Instantly, I think of all the people that inspired me. What is HYPE to me is when you’re in the pocket, in the zone, and become it.
Neo: When something triggers your senses and you feel that energy, that is HYPE, regardless of whether it’s something visual or something you taste.
Dust: When something is buzzing and it’s something you need, that’s HYPE. All great artists need HYPE because it’s what directs people to great shit.
Ju Rock: To me, HYPE is when you feel everyone’s energy, not just your own. You take everyone’s energy and you use it, and everyone can see it.
Matt: One instance of HYPE is the combination of love and excitement, but fear at the same time. I remember the first time when I was trying to go into the circle and cypher, I was scared out of my ass. I was so scared but I was so excited, enough so that I could go into the circle and share with everyone.
Ways: For me, HYPE is just creating something and you know that’s never been done and you know it’s yours.
Burn: To me, HYPE is being yourself and doing you and expressing yourself.
Brandon: HYPE is the feeling you get where whether you’re feeding off the crowd or feeding off the people in the cypher, you’re just doing what you love.
Phade: I think HYPE is the feeling that whatever you’re doing, it’s the feeling that you feel inside.
Fresh: To me, I get HYPE when I find something that captivates me or when I feel that I have to do something or share it with someone. If I have a new move, that’s what gets me HYPEd.