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Classified moves uncompromisingly against the grain—and it's working
words Rob Boffard/ images from ‘Day Doesn’t Die’Classified: The Day Doesn't Die
Bigger and better? Not in every case. In Canada, Beatnik found Classified, an emcee and producer creatively at ease with little outside pressure acting on him. And it sounds like it’s working.
Enfield, Nova Scotia is a textbook small town. A tiny dot on the map near the bigger city of Halifax, the town has a population of under 4000, and its most notable attractions are the winding Shubenacadie River and a hell of a lot of trees.
Luke Boyd lives here, fifteen minutes from the house he grew up in. Along with his wife and daughter, he’s made his home in a town where many of his family and friends still live. Every so often, Luke—a dirtbike enthusiast—will hop on his Kawasaki 750 Tyrex quad or his Suzuki RM250 bike, and go cruising the back roads around his home. “I usually use the Suzuki,” he says. “Two stroke. Nice and quick.”
And everyday, he’ll go to the little studio in his garage, boot up his computer, and make some seriously hardcore hip-hop music. Luke Boyd is Classified—a hero of the rugged Canadian hip-hop landscape. He’s never quite hit the levels that his countrymen Drake, Swollen Members and Kardinal Offishall have, but his steady dedication to his craft—both rapping and making beats—has paid off. And right now, he’s making the music of his life.
Take ‘That Ain’t Classy’, the lead single from his latest record Handshakes and Middle Fingers. It’s a monster, a track that grabs you and refuses to let go: a whirling tornado of buzzing synths, soaring strings and rumbling bass, matched with an insanely catchy hook and verses that showcase his powerful flow. It’s damn good hip-hop. It’s also the best piece of music to ever come out of Enfield.
“I’m still trying to get better, make more music, get it to more people,” says Classy. “I pressed up 500 copies of the first album, 1000 of the second, building. The last two albums have been really successful but at the same time I’m still trying to work on my flow, find better ways to make my beats and perfect my craft.”
In many ways, Classified is where every rapper on earth—or most of them, anyway—want to be. He is, as he says on album opener Ups and Downs, “making real cash flow off this shit.” And given the choice, most MCs wouldn’t go for the fast-living, mansion-buying life that Lil Wayne and 50 Cent live; if they could make a comfortable living without compromising their output, they’d do it in a heartbeat. Generalisation? Sure. But tell that Classified—fourteen projects deep, a legend in his home country, and living comfortably while getting paid to do something he loves.
“I’m 33 years old. I’m going to write from a 33-year-old perspective,” he says. “And I think hip-hop is growing up. I’m seeing people coming to my shows in their forties. The quicker we can realise that, the better and more rounded a culture we’ll have.”Classified: High Maintenance
But make no mistake: he might just be your average dirt-bik-ridin’ rapper, but he’s a big deal in Canada. He’s no Drake or Kardi, but he’s seen some serious success—including a massive hit with this song ‘Oh Canada’, which hit top 20 on the Canada Hot 100. Unfortunately, being so successful has its downsides: when Classified wanted to film a video for the patriotic single, he put out a call to get as many people to the shoot as possible. Unfortunately for him, some critics noted that there weren’t, in their eyes, enough black faces there.
“Message-board shit,” mutters Classy on being called racist. “I probably put more eyes on that topic than people actually knew. I’m a hip-hop fan, I go online and talk to people about it. It was just something someone brought up—I was like, what the fuck, are you serious? Stupid internet kids.
“I didn’t have people on the street coming up to me and calling me a racist, but I did have people coming up to me, going, what’s going on? We shot a video, I told everybody to come out. I’m not going to stop a video shoot because there’s not enough black people there. Too many white people! We need more black people! This is a rap video! People are people. Whoever comes out and supports, that’s love.”
There are challenges closer to home, too. He might not be facing your usual rap challenges—it comes with the mature territory—but when you make it a point to rap on and produce every single track on your album, it can often be difficult. As much as Classified enjoys the relaxed suburban existence (he lived in Halifax for a time before moving back), he does say that working alone can get a little lonely:
“It’s a gift and a curse. I’ve had some of my longest days in the studio by myself. I’ll sit in there and record it, produce it, engineer it. A lot of times that’s good, because I find that when you’re by yourself you can express yourself without being worried about what people in the studio think. It lets me focus on what I want to do. But it does get lonely and boring, being in the studio for a week at a time without seeing anybody.”
One of the things that he tackles on the new record is getting blunted. But—and brace yourself for a shock here—he’s talking about the bad side of it. To be fair, the song ‘High Maintenance’ does weigh up the pros and cons, but it’s certainly not something he shies away from.
“Weed impacts it quite a bit—good and bad,” he says. “Let me break it like this: I can’t write my lyrics high. It sends me left and right and I wake up the next morning and read what I wrote and it doesn’t make sense. But I can smoke something and zone out on a beat for three or four hours and play with one sample. When I’m not smoking and making a beat, I’ll chuck in a sample, play with it, ten minutes later I’m bored of it, move on. Smoking calms you down, makes you relax. Sometimes it makes me waste my time, but sometimes it makes me create some great stuff.”
Classified will be touring Europe soon. He is, he says, trying to negotiate a UK show. Here’s hoping he drives a bike onstage.Classified: Stay Cool