justLISTEN! Scopez

Interview by Alan Ng
Words by Alan Ng and Cornelius Suen
Photography by Patrick Giang

Location: Vancouver

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On a late Friday night, the justalilhype! crew met up with Scopez, a Vancouver-based lyricist and producer. An introspective and self-proclaimed anti-social individual, the young Chinese emcee explains that he is working hard to prove himself to the rap champs of the city. Having already built many connections and having worked with many up and coming hip-hop talents in the scene, Scopez is prepared to make a name for himself and to put Vancouver on the map. Throughout his interview, he also tells us a bit about his influences and his view of the controversial North American Asian music industry and the Asian hip-hop scenes out East. He also shares with us the meaning behind his Red Eye concept and sheds light upon his upcoming musical projects.

Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

I go by the name Scopez. There are a couple of meanings behind this name. It generally describes how I have my ‘scope’ on life and the hip-hop game and how I express those personal views through my music. Another meaning behind the name is that it stands for “life under scopes,” and conveys the idea of life in the public eye, a life under scrutiny, and an “all eyes on me” type of mentality.  I was also playing on the Asian stereotype of how we all love to play counter-strike and how ‘scope’ could be a common Counter-Strike username.

At what age were you exposed to the world of hip-hop?

I first got exposed to hip-hop through the And-1 street ball videos.  Through those tapes I got into hip-hop. One song especially stood out for me, and that was Capone-N-Noreaga’s Invincible. After hearing that song on those tapes, I was all about hip-hop.

A lot of rappers started out either wanting to be a professional basketball player or a rapper. What is it about basketball that endears it so much to hip-hop culture?

I love to ball. I think it’s just a cultural thing. It’s all part of urban culture. Hip-hop and basketball have always gone hand in hand.

Tell us about the style and subject matter of your rap?

I aim to be introspective in my style and subject matter. I want to focus on that because I am an introvert; I can be pretty antisocial.  Because it’s so introspective, my rap can get pretty deep. However, I do like to contrast my darker and deeper side with lighter and brighter elements. I can do club records and the more commercial stuff, but I do try to focus on stuff that is more underground in style because that’s my passion.

What other elements of hip-hop attract you other than emceeing?

I am a producer as well. If I had to pick another one it would be DJ’ing.  Even though I don’t know how to scratch, I have a good ear.

Speaking of producing, what got you started with that?  It seems like a lot of rappers want to produce their own sounds nowadays.

To be honest, I started because I couldn’t afford other people’s beats. I had to work to my own beats. Then, I realized how beautiful and creative my beats could be. I actually took two years off just to focus on my beats. I focused on just being a producer for a few years. But then I got into a car crash and that changed my perspective on life. After that, I started to take hip-hop and rapping more seriously.

Sometimes you do covers and sometimes you rap to your own beats. How is it like rapping to your own music and rapping on beats that have been made by someone else?

It’s important to cater to both masses.  The Asian hip-hop demographic is still stuck in the YouTube phase. They are still pretty obsessed with the covers. And that’s cool, I can’t knock them for that. But, at the end of day, I am trying to cater to both masses. I like doing freestyle and it’s fun every now and then, but I am trying to focus on the art and doing original stuff.

What are your hip-hop influences? Name one influence from the older age of hip-hop and one from the newer generation and then talk about how they impact your music.

Ghostface Killah and Kid Cudi. For Ghostface Killah, I had older cousins and they were bumping Wu-Tang Clan heavily back in 1996. That really stuck with me. There is definitely a Wu-Tang influence in my beats. With Kid Cudi, I was in a really dark and depressed state back in ’09. I was really lonely in Toronto and Kid Cudi’s music really fuelled me through that difficult time. His music is so introspective and emotional. I love that about Kid Cudi.

Being Chinese and being raised in North America, what is the difference between North American Asian hip-hop versus Asian hip-hop in other parts of the globe?

The North American Asian hip-hop scene is blowing up due to YouTube with acts like J.Reyez, Dumbfoundead, and the Cypher. The Cypher is actually my favourite Asian emcee. The North American Asian market is blowing up right now because they have access to their homeland. They can fly back and build up their careers there. As far as Asian hip-hop goes in other parts of the world, they aren’t at the same stage that has been reached here in North America. However, I do think that those scenes are progressing, albeit at a much slower pace.

What do you think is the influence on the increasing emergence of Asian rappers?

Guys like Jin, Far East Movement, and Snacky Chan. Those are the main dudes, in my opinion, who have influenced the Asian rap game. AZN.com, which was pretty big back in ’06, also gave aspiring rappers a lot of exposure. A lot of people who were posting stuff on that forum blew up in ’10 due to YouTube exposure.

What’s your game plan right now? You are in Vancouver, where there are lots of Asians, and you have the option of heading out east to Hong Kong. So, what’s the plan?

My focus right now is to build a name for myself in Vancouver. I want to focus on getting the hip-hop heavyweights in Vancouver to respect my music. If I can put Vancouver on the map that would be good too, but I also want to head over to Toronto or down to the states as well. Matt Brevner told me that you actually need to leave the city and make a name for yourself elsewhere in order to get the city that you are originally from recognized.

Being Chinese, have you ever thought about rapping in Chinese?

I have to actually be able to speak Cantonese first. I can understand Cantonese but I have a hard time speaking it right now. I probably have to head to Hong Kong and stay there for a few years to pick up the language.

Why is rapping the main hobby in life for you? Rapping is an art form and it’s like every other art form where, as an artist, you may not always be able to make money or a living off of what you are doing and yet you pursue it passionately anyways. What is it about rapping that continues to motivate you?

It took me a long time to figure out, but I realized that I operate on a different wavelength than other people. It’s either a social thing or I just see things differently than others. I use rap music as my main way to express myself because I can’t really express myself through normal conversation. I feel like people can better understand who I am, and really get to feel my presence and my energy through my music.

Speaking of your circle of friends and affiliates, who do you think has been there for you since the beginning and who really push you as a rapper?

My brother from another mother, Ryan Christian Ventura. He’s been pushing me. He’s been helping me with everything. He got me the J.Reyez show, where I opened for J.Reyez. He is my number one supporter when it comes to hip-hop in Vancouver. And other than that, my boy Leo over on the East coast has stuck by me for a long time. My boy sheps, from here, is another great source of support for me. And of course, Matt Brevner. He is a really nice guy who is down to earth and gives me lots of advice. He understands where I am coming from and he seems to really support my music. He is a cool dude. I’ve chilled with JayKin too, and he is a good dude. He is really humble.

Speaking of the show with J.Reyez, what was it like sharing with stage with Timothy DeLaGhetto, Chengman, and of course, J.Reyez, and just performing in your own city with so many upcoming rap stars?

It felt good because it was a demographic that I never thought I was going to hit, that high-school, teenage girl demographic. I felt like it’s good to diversify and I felt like that concert was my intro to performing. That was my first performance and I performed for 20 minutes. I did a couple of personal joints and some covers. It was a great experience.

What is your next musical project?

RedEye Sessions. This is an online album/mix-tape. It’s available through free download and it should be coming out in October. It’s all originally produced by me except for one track.  I have a few local acts on there and international acts as well. Kris Blades is going to be on there. Ronnie Murakami, a blogger and twitter celebrity will be on a track as well.  Sessions is like an intro to me and a prelude to my actual album, which will be named RedEye Flight.

It’s good how you have a theme for your albums. Can you explain the concept behind “Red Eye”?

It’s about grinding and getting no sleep until you achieve what you want to achieve. The music I make is for the night time, post- clubbing and after a few drinks. It’s like take-off music for the late night Red Eye flight. It’s chill.

Speaking of the technical aspects of music, when you produce songs do you create a story and lyrics before creating beats, or do you create beats first and then find lyrics to fit those beats?

I have been experimenting with both. It used to be just me making mad beats for six days and then writing. Now, I am trying to switch it up.

What are some of your all time favourite producers?

Those would have to be J Dilla, MF Doom, Pharrell, and Skee Beats. Those are who I think of off the top of my head.

Being a producer and a rapper, do you have advice or suggestion to other rappers out there about how having production skills can help you in the rap game?

It’s hit or miss. Some people make amazing music as a producer and as a rapper, like Matt Brevner. However, some people are natural lyricists and they just focus on that skill. But, I think being a producer and being a great writer is a definite advantage. That is the general direction that hip-hop is going in now. It’s not solely about words or lyricism anymore. It’s about painting a picture and being able to capture emotion and mood with your music as a whole.

What are your standards for a great rapper?

They really know how to market themselves. They understand what their fans want and what their fans need. I feel like some people don’t understand that. Rappers tend to start performances off with their old stuff, which fans tend to love, but their fans don’t necessarily like their new stuff. Fans need to understand the progression of the artist and not just remain fixated on the stuff that the rapper did during a particular time. I think the best example right now is Wiz Khalifa. Everyone is going off about how his old stuff is better and they are complaining that he has ‘sold out’ now. I feel like his music was always naturally commercial, and that’s why he is so good.

What is HYPE?

To me, it’s like a force or energy that everybody has. Everybody can feed off that energy, and it’s really easy to feed off of that energy from others.

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