justLISTEN! Shaun Boothe

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

Location: Toronto




Please introduce yourself to our readers.

My name is Shaun Boothe – I am a hip-hop emcee and I produce a little bit on the side as well. I’ve been doing this for what seems like my whole life. I always had a passion for words, for writing, public speaking, and yeah, that’s pretty much it.

What got you into the hip-hop game? What is it about hip-hop that keeps you going back to it?

My first memories about rapping wasn’t really rapping – I was writing little poems and songs, making fun of the girls in class, stuff like that. During recess, I would use that to tease them and I got really good that way. I always had attention that way and it just kind of developed into hip-hop and that was when I was 10 years old. It sounds a little cliché but it’s really true how “Hip-hop chose you”, because I was doing hip-hop before I even knew it was hip-hop. I was naturally writing poetry and then the culture just naturally took over. I was listening to everything from N.W.A. to Kid ‘n Play. I am two sides of the spectrum for some reason – I just gravitate towards all hip-hop.

Please tell us how hip-hop is a reflection of who a person is, and how you conveyed this idea of the different sides and angles of an artist through your release, Hip-hop is 3D.

I’m not sure if hip-hop is a reflection of who a person is. Hip-hop is a culture and you can identify with it, but ultimately, there are different parts of me who don’t align with that culture. I think my music is a reflection of who I am and I try to put as much of myself into my music, because if people who listen to my Hip-hop is 3D project don’t understand who I am, and then I feel like I haven’t succeeded in what I’m trying to do. The whole Hip-hop in 3D project stems from multidimensionalism. We have so many one dimensional artists and I feel like we as rappers have this superman complex. We are so afraid to show the Clark Kent of us. Hip-hop in 3D is showing all sides of me – it’s showing me flying through the sky and it’s also showing me when I have landed, reporting on real life everyday shit. I’m not afraid to show everyone my sides.

With your unauthorized biography series, it started because of your love for James Brown. How do you select who you do the biographies for?

When James Brown passed, I really wanted to do something to show my love and respect for what he’s done. A DJ reached out to me, wanting to jump on a James Brown joint, but I wanted to do something different if I were to get on that mixtape. I came with the idea to pay homage to what Nas did for Rakim. That grew into the series. It’s hard to say what the criteria is. I tried to focus on cultural icons and people who transcend the genre that they’re known for. Mohammad Ali, for example, is much bigger than a boxer and Bob Marley is much bigger than a reggae artist. I wanted to focus on people like that, people who have impacted society in bigger ways.

Is that one of your own personal goals? To impact society in bigger ways?

Well, yeah. Doing the whole biography series, it got me thinking about how I wanted to be remembered. The challenge with the bios is that all these people have great epic lives, but you have to figure out what the true legacy is and what their story really is.

It’s hard for me to sit back and think about what my legacy really is and it motivated me to really want to do something substantial, not just make hit songs that are on the radio, stuck in your head – I want to make songs that are stuck in your heart. That’s my focus. In the bio series, it has definitely helped me realize that.

The bio series has definitely reached out to many different people and have created a lot of buzz on the internet. What was your reaction to the reception of the series and how did it feel to get acceptance from Mohammad Ali and Bob Marley’s family?

That’s the ultimate…I don’t even know if I could possibly want more, especially to have Mohammad Ali’s daughter reach out and say that I got it and captured who her father was. Sometimes, you worry about how people think I’m doing it as a gimmick or for ulterior motives, but when a family member reaches out and say that I got it, then nothing else matters. That is definitely an honour and obviously when Kanye posted it. As an artist, we all want thousands of fans but at the same time, we want to be acknowledged and recognized by our peers and the people we look up to. Kanye is definitely someone who I look at and I think, “Damn, he’s so incredibly talented.” For him to show love on his blog, it means a lot to me.

As a firm believer in education, how did you add your studies and knowledge is philosophy and psychology into your music? Furthermore, what are your views in utilizing new media technology as an educational tool?

I have flashbacks of me being in school when I do these bios, for sure. All the research is intense and having to summarize stuff is just as difficult. Writing essays always came back into my head. What is my thesis statement? How do I section things off? How do I get my message across? All those things that I did in school, I kept those tools and knowledge and applied them to this. I think this is what my true calling is. I dropped out of school a few years in, even though I love learning, that wasn’t necessarily my path. As far as new media technologies, I think we as a society needs to keep adapting and learning. The system is pretty archaic in many ways and it needs to be re-evaluated. The way we communicate with people has changed so why doesn’t the way we educate change as well? With the bio series, teachers have reached out to me and tried to use them. They print out the lyrics and then they teach it to their class, as part of Black History Month. They hit me up on Facebook or Twitter and they tell me their students really dig it. To use the bios as an educational tool is great – it may not teach a lot but it definitely can inspire people to learn more and appreciate. Whatever the bio, it sparks interest and it gets people thinking in different ways. I was always a big fan of Tupac and I think that he’s one of the first rappers whose lyrics are studies in universities. His music is actually studied and it’s so raw and real – for it to transcend its original element and teach people, it’s unreal. For mine to be remotely similar is unreal.

Tell us about your relationship with Atmosphere. What have you learned from this man, who you regard as an older brother.

Atmosphere…touring with them was such a good experience. Slug, he’s a veteran, man. He’s been through it all in the industry and with his personal life, and for me to be able to soak up some of that wisdom, it was incredible. He’s such a supportive guy and his whole team have been so supportive to me. What did I learn from him? Man, I had so many conversations with them and they always said that what they did back then doesn’t apply today. They can do the same stuff and it wouldn’t get to the same place. Now, there are so many people doing the same thing as they did in the past, it doesn’t even matter anymore. You have to adapt to the times and you have to evolve. These people have already created their fan base, so they don’t have to change that much. For everyone else, we still have to find that way to get to where we want to go.

Speaking of the evolution of the whole music game, where do you think the music game is heading? It is very uncertain where the music game will go, especially since we are at the turning point of another genre.

It’s hard to say. If I had the answer, I would be a very very rich person right now. I don’t know – we are seeing people move away from the mentality of purchasing music. There are going to be a lot of artists who are doing it themselves and they will have their own mediums for their outlets. Everything seems to be on the decline in the music industry, except for the publishing side. Honestly, I can try and give you theories and stuff, but who knows? There will be less and less people pursuing it for the obvious reason because it’s not a get rich quick solution. Even the fantasy of it, people are beginning to realize this. People are knowing that if they are in it for the money, they are better off with real estate or going to school. That may be a good thing because people who are doing it are going to be doing it for the right reasons.

I think we have technology to thank for that – it demystifies all the glamour and glory because everyone is broadcasting the truth about the struggles.

Exactly. It’s interesting, the demystification of music. I think it’s a great thing, but at the same time, it takes away from the magic of things. It’s definitely a love hate thing – I remember listening to Jay-Z and he was this mysterious figure and it made him bigger because you didn’t know every little aspect of his life. Now, you have access to everything about this guy and I kind of miss the mystery. There are pros and cons of everything.

Who are some of the artists that you are being compared to? Do you agree with these comparisons?

Some people have compared me to Kid Cudi and Nas, and I think that comes from how I want to give you songs that have substance – Nas definitely does that, as well as the biography series, is very Nas. I’ve even heard Kanye and Wale. It’s all cool but I don’t take it to heart too much. To understand something, people have to put it in a category so as a new artist, you can’t just be you. To begin with, you have to be compared with and put into a pre-existing lane for people to digest it, and then you become yourself afterwards.

Tell us about the hip-hop scene in Toronto. What are your views on it?

The hip-hop scene is so rich here. Producers are on a whole different planet and they are so talented. Then, there are so many other producers who are making a whole lot of noise and it just blows my mind. There is a strong community as far as producers go. As lyricists go, that’s true too. You have poets and lyricists, and you have such a mix of everything. It’s also a huge reflection of the city – I call it the “Sub Zero Melting Pot”. For people, for ethnicities, and for our music, there are so many scenes going on. There is still the struggle and many people who are trying to push it further. The city gives us all hope.

Many artists take a hard stance on political and worldwide issues. Nas really takes a strong stance on Black history and rights. If you were to take a stance, where would your stance be?

It’s hard because when I think of what I stand for, it’s not so polarized to make it one thing. I just want to contribute positively. I think Nas is great for raising awareness and the consciousness of his listeners. I like to do that but I’m the type of person who puts medicine in ice cream. My reporter song, I tried to say something while doing it in a creative way, without beating you over the head. I think Pac was great for what he did, making songs about money, sex, violence, and all that. A lot of his stuff isn’t what you might call “conscious” but it was real. And it was what a lot of people could identify with. He built a big fanbase that way. But at the same time, he took the time to make songs like, “Dear Mamma” and “Keep Your Head Up”. That reached the right people. Sometimes, I feel like if you’re such a conscious writer and that’s all you got in your library, you’re only going to be reaching the people who are already looking for that. You don’t need to preach to the converted. I don’t want to do that – I have a lot of things I want to say but it’s all about how you say it. I want to make people comfortable being in the skin that they are, being who they are. If I talk about my flaws, I feel like people can relate to it. I think that’s the way I want to be remembered.

Throughout the years of performing and emceeing in Toronto, you have definitely set up a good track for yourself. As you continue to progress, one of the biggest debates about artists is whether they stay true to their underground roots or break into the money making mainstream crowd. What is down the line and how do you plan to stay focused?

I’m just me at the end of the day. Once you get into the thought pattern of what other people want, that’s when an artist gets lost. I think it’s easy to feel that through other people’s music, and you never know what they really want. You’re much better off loving every song on there – by loving every song on your work, then that’s it. Not everyone is going to like every song, but I just have to accept that. I like commercial music as well – I’m not one of those people who are so angry with the state of music. It’s really about choice – there are so many other options out there. I barely listen to the radio because there are so many more options out there. There is no real reason to complain anymore because there are so many other choices. To answer your question, I’m not worried at all. I don’t even want to make it unless I’m being genuine to myself, you know what I mean? People who like my music are accepting me. It’s more of a spiritual thing, if we break it down. I want to get out my emotions through my music. If we keep switching it up and trying to cater to other things, then I’ll be lost.

What is HYPE?

What a brainteaser…I think with HYPE, at least in this day and age, we’re so used to having a negative connotation to it. What is it, though? Is it fully negative? No, HYPE is the anticipation that someone or something has to live up to.


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