Interview by Jenkin Au and Alan Ng
Words by Cornelius Suen and Alan Ng
Photography by Jenkin Au
Location: Montreal[Show Text Only Version][Hide Text Only Version]
The artists formerly known as 4DZ are one of the best-kept secrets in Montreal’s music scene. Now going by the name Nation Ruckus, the alternative hip-hop maestros are reinvigorated and prepared to spread the ruckus throughout Quebec and Canada. Drawing influences from acts like Rage Against the Machine, Tupac Shakur, and Method Man, Nation Ruckus seeks to infuse intelligent and lyrical hip-hop with high energy beats and live instrumentation to create tunes that translate well into the high energy atmosphere of live shows. Never one to buckle under pressure, Nation Ruckus has had ample experience in performing for the public, with appearances at the Montreal Jazz Festival and an opening act for Big Boi anchoring their impressive resumes of live shows. With their newest initiative to feature up –and- coming local artists in their act with appearances in their music videos, live shows, and album tracks, it is clear that Nation Ruckus is working hard to spread the noise and appeal to everyone’s love of creative, ambitious, and adventurous tunes.
In this interview with justalilhype! Nation Ruckus touches on a number of different topics. They talk about their new album, Boombox Manifesto, their unique approach to beat making, the most important aspects of a live show, and the
difficulties of getting known as English artists in a francophone province With their live performance chops and their willingness to experiment with new influences and musical fusions, it is clear that Nation Ruckus has been kept in the dark for far too long. It can only be a matter of time before the ruckus reaches your doorstep and kicks down all of your musical inhibitions.
Can you introduce yourselves to our readers?
Milk-E: I am Milk-E Fresh. I am the rapper of the group.
DJ WiM: I am DJ WiM, I am a composer, guitar player and I work on the back vocals.
Quality: I am Quality. I am a composer, guitar player, and I work on the talk-box and contribute to the back vocals.
What is the origin of the group’s name?
Milk-E: We were calling ourselves the Nation Crew for a while and we still use it now from time to time. In creating music for our upcoming album, Boombox Manifesto, and brainstorming for our name, we decided to call ourselves Nation Ruckus. We like to cause a ruckus and we are always trying to make noise and get in your face. We decided to combine “nation” and “ruckus,” and that’s how our name was born.
Quality: The name evokes the image of a community making noise together. One of our main goals is to have our music be a platform for up and coming dancers, graffiti artists, DJs, and MCs to showcase their skills. We want to bring them up front in our videos and at our shows and expose their art to the world. Nation Ruckus is not just the three of us. We have a whole crew of people that we want to represent. It’s bigger than us.
Who came up with the name first?
DJ WiM: I think I did. We spent a lot of time choosing the new name. It was a major move for us.
You guys were previously known as 4DZ. What inspired the name change even after you have built a large fan base with the old name?
Milk-E: We’ve been playing music together for a long time. We made our mark with 4DZ. We played at the Montreal Jazz festival, played a lot of shows, and won a lot of urban contests. However, the sound of the crew changed somewhere along the line. 4DZ was more of a big band with more instrumentalists and things changed when some members left. We were still running as 4DZ when we started production on Boombox Manifesto but we decided we needed a different name to show where the group is now. The main composers stayed the same but our stuff wasn’t the same sound or concept we had before so we decided to change the name.
What makes Nation Ruckus Montreal’s best kept secret?
Milk-E: We have been around for a long time as 4DZ. One of the things that makes us different is that we have always tried to incorporate live instruments into everything that we do. We try to represent all types of music and not just straight hip hop. If we had to categorize our music we would call it alternative hip-hop. Our music has rock, pop, and electro influences. I think for us to bring those styles together into one cohesive sound is definitely a sign of maturity. Despite the fact that we have been on the scene for a long time we feel like a lot of people out here don’t even know us yet, much less across the country and across the globe.
You guys created the Ruckus Monkey, a character who is now the group’s official mascot. Tell us about him.
Quality: The Lockdown video exposed a lot of the up and coming artists who we want to showcase. There is a guy in the video, a dancer, named Mark Greene. He is wearing shades and a cap in the video and doing some great moves. I felt that he embodied everything Nation Ruckus was about. I took a snapshot, sent it to a graffti artist, and it became the Ruckus Monkey.
You guys refer to yourselves as a “Nation Crew.” What does this mean?
Milk-E: Basically, Nation Ruckus is the three of us. The nation crew is a concept. The nation crew is the whole team. When we play live we will always have a drummer, always have a bass player, and we might have a keyboardist or horns. The nation crew is our whole package, including the people who have been working with us for years.
As an alternative hip-hop group, you guys have a really fresh sound versus other groups that are predominantly sample based. What is your approach to beat making?
Milk-E: Quality’s approach to beat making is rooted in incorporating different strains of sound together. We will have synthesizers and samples like every other rap group out there but we will also add in guitars, strings, live drums, and live bass.
What types of instruments do you use within your music?
Milk-E: When we are recording the albums in the studio we need different studios from time to time to accommodate the different instruments we may be using on the track, like drums or brass, which require a huge studio. We want to bring that live instrumentation aspect into our music. We do our show live with three musicians but we incorporate other instruments into our act 75% of the time.
Quality: Yeah, we mix a bunch of different instruments. I use old school drums, old samples, straight loops, and old classic stuff that you have probably heard before. I also use electronic synthesizers and I use a lot of keyboards, but I try not to rely too heavily on samples. I do get inspired by samples a lot of the times though. Our beats are a great mix of everything and you need to listen to a lot of our tracks to get a good feel of our style really entails.
DJ WiM: Yeah, we draw a lot of inspiration from the 1980’s and the 1990’s.
You guys are really creative and original but have there been challenges to stay on par with the popular direction of music?
Milk-E: It’s a good question and it relates to the origins of the band. When Quality and I started the band, we played with a lot of musicians and did a whole lot of things. We dabbled in soul, punk, and classic hip-hop sounds. If you listen to our first EP, we were all over the place and just exploring what we could do. We even did some songs in French. When DJ WiM came into the picture, we sat down and discussed what our next move should be and what direction we wanted to go in, how to break into the music scene, and how to really make our mark. We decided to focus on the alternative aspect rather than soul or hip-hop. We are bringing back old school hip-hop but with a 2011 sound and influence. All three of us are on the same page and I really like what we are doing right now.
What is one of the most important aspects of a live show?
Milk-E: The theatrics of the live show are really important. The MC needs to move the crowd. And it’s not all about lyricism. The skits and how you interact with the crowd and how the musicians interact together all play a part in keeping the show interesting. We are like a b-boy crew in a sense when we take the stage. We look to blow people’s minds, keep the energy high, and get the place jumping.
When you are all performing live, it seems like Mike-E the center of attention. How is everyone else incorporated during live sets?
DJ WiM: I agree. When you are in the audience, Milk-E is the leader, no doubt. He is not the guitar player, he is the MC. He is taking his place and doing his part to keep the energy high. I am doing the same thing, and the drummer, the bassist, and everyone else is doing their job. The conductor is integral to the orchestra but the conductor cannot do it alone. It is the same with hip-hop. The MC is the front man but he just wouldn’t sound the same without his backing.
Quality: Milk-E is the front man and we just make sure that the background is working well for him.
Milk-E: We are all music lovers. When I go see a show, I want the lead singer to hold it down. I think I do that job properly as the MC. However, I also like the little things when I go to see a show. I will stare at the DJ and the drummer for minutes at a time, just to see them work. People do that generally. They want to go see the show and wonder what everyone up on stage is contributing. The three of us sound great but we like to add diversity and flavour to what we do and I think our audiences know how to appreciate this.
Tell us about your experience with performing with various types of crowds.
Milk-E: When we perform for a small crowd, we are good. When we perform for a bigger crowd, we are great. The bigger the crowd, the better the show will be. We played the Montreal Jazz Festival in front of ten thousand people and it was probably one of our best shows.
Quality: Opening for Big Boi was a great show too. People were really into our performance. When you do a show like that and people come up to tell you that they liked you better than the main artist, that’s when you know you did well.
Tell us about your next project.
Milk-E: It’s our first real album. It consists of us showing off our skills basically. That is a big part of hip-hop culture whether you are a b-boy, DJ, graffiti artist, or MC: you have to go and prove your skills before people will listen to what you have to say. I wouldn’t say that we are doing intellectual rap but it’s definitely intelligent rap.
What music do you listen to and how do you draw inspiration from other artists?
Milk-E: We all grew up listening to stuff like Rage Against the Machine, but I also listened to gangster rap. Personally, I always identified with artists like Rage Against the Machine and Tupac Shakur, people who had something to say, more than I identified to artists who just aimed to rock the house. We try to combine those two mentalities though. I am a huge fan of Method Man and all those cool acts. They didn’t have anything important to say but they could rock the mic. We try to find the blend between those two mentalities but we always try to keep our music intelligent. We don’t dumb it down no matter what we are talking about. Our song Funky Sneakers is a light track. It’s not talking about saving the world or anything but it’s done in an interesting fashion. It’s not dumbed down, it’s not an easy song to get into, but it’s really catchy when you do get into it.
Tell us about the thought process of creating a song.
Quality: It’s been crazy. I have so many ideas. I typically start with a bass line, and then I might throw in a drum kit or some guitar. I start from samples sometimes too. Other times I start from a song I heard. I can start my beats from anything.
DJ WiM: We are working on a conceptual album. All our tracks have to stay true to our concept. If not, we will not put it on the album. We try to keep the concept in our packaging, lyrics, and the live show as well. We want the album to come alive on stage. We are not going to change anything to make the album easier to play on stage because the concept will become lost. When you hear our music on the CD it should sound the same as the live rendition.
Milk-E: What’s interesting about our process is that we can start off from many things, such as a raw concept, or just one line or a hook. Oftentimes I will bring in a hook and we will try to play off that. We don’t have one strict way of making songs. When you hear the album you will feel that it all fits together but has a wide diversity of sound throughout its individual tracks as well.
Tell us a bit about the direction you are heading. In your earlier songs, you would also rap in French. What’s the concentration now?
Milk-E: We used to have that, but not so much now. We changed our direction concerning that. I still listen to music in French but we relate more to English music. We grew up listening to mostly that so at some point we had to make a choice to focus on one language. As far as the barrier goes, it has been a challenge to sing in English in Quebec. On another level, when we release elsewhere in Canada or across the globe, it’s definitely not going to be a problem. One of the reasons why it took us so long to make a name in this industry is because we didn’t understand that context fully. The whole industry here has heard us but they are not interested in releasing us in Quebec because of the language barrier. We do hip-hop and in English and the market is mostly francophone. We concentrate on producing here but we are aiming to release it across the globe.
What advice do you have for up and comers?
Milk-E: Despite working on your talent, the most important thing you can do is produce yourselves. Independent music is doing so well nowadays. Try to be business minded. If you are not going to do your own promotion you are going to have to take care of your own production at least. Start investing now. Buy gear and prepare to work for yourself in the future.
Quality: Learn your craft. Learn where your music came from and where it is going.
What is HYPE?
DJ WiM: HYPE for me is taking the energy we have on stage and transferring it into the crowd.
Milk-E: HYPE is youth resistance culture. Nation Ruckus is HYPE.