Interview conducted by Hugo Lunny
Hailing originally from Ottawa, the Canada wide/Seattle seasoned producer REL!G!ON is gearing up to release his first compilation, “Revelationz” on URBNET records on January 26th.
MVRemix took some time to discuss the compilation, his influences, the Olympics and more…
MVRemix: For those that are now hearing about you for the first time, tell us about yourself.
REL!G!ON: My name is REL!G!ON and I’m a hip hop producer. I live in Vancouver, Canada and I’ve got an album coming out called Revelationz I. It’s a compilation and it’s being released through URBNET Records.
MVRemix: Do you find that living in Vancouver you’ve got more options with music in comparison to where you’re originally from in Ottawa?
REL!G!ON: I don’t know if I’d say that I have more options, I mean I could produce tracks if I lived in the Yukon Territories. Most of the artists I work with I meet over the internet so really I could be anywhere. They definitely have great recording and engineering studios in Vancouver, that’s something Ottawa seems to be lacking. Wherever I live I hustle and try to get as much from the city as I can. I went from Ottawa to Toronto after high school to create more opportunities for myself and my team. In 2003, I moved to Vancouver to do the same thing.
MVRemix: Why did you choose the moniker Rel!g!on and why the choice to replace the i’s with exclamation marks?
REL!G!ON: I’ve made wack beats… tons of them over the years and there’s nothing more depressing than knowing you yourself made a wack beat. So I treat the art of beat making as though it’s a religion. I work hard at it, I practice daily in my studio which is like my church. I open up to ever flowing creativity and I make music. When I start making music from my head I’ve lost touch with the soul, so I quit for the day. Music is my religion. The exclamations are there because know one would ever be able to find me on the internet. It’s branding.
MVRemix: What was the first beat that you can remember made an impact on you? The one which stopped and stunned you, making you think – “I want to do that.”
REL!G!ON: My best friend in Ottawa, we went to high school together and we used to drive around the city listening to a lot of rap on cassettes. We’d spend hours dissecting what we liked about the beat, all the sounds, the shit in the background that was hardly audible. I remember when I bought Mecca and the Soul Brother. I bought it because I saw the video to “They Reminisce Over You” on Rap City and lost my mind. We played that song for hours, days and weeks. It was that horn sample, and the bass line complimented it beautifully and the drums were crackalicious. Shortly after that I realized I had to stop fucking around trying to make beats on my Casio Sk 1 toy keyboard and start figuring out what this whole production thing was about. I made my first beats on an ASR 10 that me and this other dude got through a bizarre insurance scam
MVRemix: I’ve read that your original influences were Marley Marl and DJ Premier. Is there anyone currently making beats that inspires you today?
REL!G!ON: Marco Polo. I’ve listened to Double Barrel over and over. I like that he makes music for the underground regardless of current trends. If it was up to me we’d be hearing Double Barrel on mainstream radio all day.
Also Madlib, Ohno, Jake One, Alchemist. When I DJ that’s the stuff I’m playing. People really appreciate it and feel it.
MVRemix: What’s your preferred equipment to produce on?
REL!G!ON: My preferred piece of equipment is Reason 4.0 with Record. Yeah I’m a software guy…blah blah blah… I have an Akai MPC 2000Xl and I used to be one of those guys that swore I’d never use software. For a while I was hell bent on finding another ASR 10, but I’m telling you Reason 4.0 is the main tool I use. I also have a Dave Smith Poly Evolver, An old Crumar T2 Organ, Pro Tools, my Ibanez electric, two tech 12’s and other secret gadgets. I like to keep it fairly simple though.
MVRemix: The album cover features a masked man, was there any significance to this choice?
REL!G!ON: The idea is pretty simple. A lot times I feel like your typical bedroom producer in the sense that I’m an introvert who makes his beats, and like I said before a lot of my networking and promotion is done over the internet so I was starting to feel like an invisible man to the people I’m working with. I’m on project three with Ny Oil… we still haven’t even met in person, just phone calls and internet! So when you flip the CD over on the back cover the mask is off. I feel like it’s time for people to get to know me.
MVRemix: How did the compilation “Revelationz” come about?
REL!G!ON: I just mentioned Ny Oil. I was already working with Ny Oil and I told him that I was thinking of doing a mixtape and I wanted to know if there were any MC’s he thought I should work with. He linked me up with Donny Goines, Jasiri X, Shyheim, and Lah Tere (Rebel Diaz). When I heard their tracks I was really feeling them and I said to my business partner Rodney Davidson “screw a mix tape lets keep going and do an album”. At which point I contacted Moka Only to do the “Lucid” track. I met Moka over the internet through MySpace. He asked me to send him the beat. I was at his studio recording that same night. I go to a lot of live events in Vancouver, usually by myself to check out talent and I saw E.d.g.e. perform so I got him to do the other verse on “Lucid”. Planet Asia, I met at the Vanquish Beat Battle, the next day we were recording “Pyramids”. Then Jenson Vaughan who I knew before called me and wondered why weren’t doing a track for the album. I sent him the beat for “Turn Me Up” and he got New York MC Theory on the track and knocked it out. I met DJ DVOne at the Red Bull Big Tune Beat Battle in Seattle. He hooked me up with J Pinder for the “Evening News” track.
As far as the beats, I go to Seattle for inspiration so a lot of the rough versions for the beats were made there on my laptop then I’d polish them at my home studio. The sound of the album was really inspired by Seattle one of my favourite cities in the world.
I got a lot of help and support from my friends and family over the year it took to make Revelationz I and I am thankful for that.
MVRemix: Are there any interesting stories about the songs – experiences that happened in the studio or with regards to getting one of the songs made?
REL!G!ON: I think getting the opportunity to hang with Planet Asia for a day and to record “Pyramids” at my home studio was pretty crazy for me. I’ve always been a big fan of his work and to be able to work with him was kind of surreal. It was like one minute we were chatting at The Vanquish Beat Battle, the next day I’m meeting him at his hotel, then we go for sushi, I play him the beat for “Pyramids” in my car, next thing he’s on my couch writing. He’s a pro in the booth and I learned a lot just watching him do his thing.
MVRemix: How many songs in total were recorded for the compilation? I know when we spoke before you mentioned that you were very much about making great songs, favouring quality over quantity, were you able to uphold that here?
REL!G!ON: Twenty songs were recorded over the course of a year and we put 16 on the album and I never take short cuts just to rush and put an album out so I’d say we most definitely delivered 16 solid songs. I’m very happy with the album.
MVRemix: Have fun with this one, a la “Fight Club” – “If you could fight any celebrity, who would you fight”?
REL!G!ON: Tito Santana, I’m a huge wrestling fan and I always thought he was a bitch. I didn’t like his character.
MVRemix: Would you win?
REL!G!ON: I would beat the shit out of him in a real fight.
MVRemix: Thus far Canada has rarely been able to compete on a larger scale in Hip Hop music without some American affiliation. Why do you believe that Canadians don’t pick up on their own talent until after the US gives the co-sign?
REL!G!ON: It comes down to marketing and promotion. Take a guy like Drake. I had know idea who he was until he got signed in the U.S. Now I flip open a hip hop magazine… Drake, I turn on the TV… Drake… I turn on the radio… Drake. I don’t think it’s so much that Canadians don’t pick up on the talent, they just don’t know they exist. And the Canadian music industry doesn’t seem to have a lot of interest in Canadian hip hop talent I think mostly due to the fact of how tiny our little market is up here so naturally the audience picks up on it when they hear about it. And they hear about it when it explodes down south.
Also something that annoys the hell out of me is when I talk to Canadian rappers and they sound Canadian but as soon as they step in the booth this fake American accent comes out of nowhere and to me it sounds really corny. I think it’s hard for anyone to take any artist seriously that’s not being themselves. So I guess when an MC makes it in the U.S. it’s that co-sign that makes people feel that Canadian artist is legit now.
MVRemix: I know that you also have your hands in the film industry, do you have anything we should be looking forward to in that department?
REL!G!ON: I recently worked as a producer on a U.S. movie called “Confined” that my brother from another mother Andrew Erin directed. Other than that in a few projects in development. Rodney and I produced the video for “Lucid” feat Moka Only and E.d.g.e. that will be on Much Music very soon. You got a good movie script?
MVRemix: When the Olympics begin in Vancouver, what will you be up to?
REL!G!ON: I’ll be dj’ing at a spot on Granville St called The Edge Social Lounge. The night is called “Check Your Head” and I’ll be playing underground hip hop, soul/funk, and a lot of 90’s hip hop.
MVRemix: Any last words?
REL!G!ON: Canadian rappers find your real voice, no more fake accents. It’s great to be alive. George St. Pierre is a bad motha www.religionbeats.com