Vancouver’s Most Awesome: Moka Only!

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He’s been a part of our hiphop scene from its infancy, throwin’ down countless freestyle battles around town and graf writing to helping blow it up to its highest levels, going platinum and coppin’ Junos. Moka Only MCs, sings, produces and he’s been called the West coast’s most prolific and more. The dude has put out over 45 albums as a solo artist, in collaboration projects and, of course, with Swollen Members. Below is a real nice slice of Vancouver as well as some colorful tales from the old school to nowadays. Not to be missed are a load of pics scanned out of Moka’s own personal photo album by Moka himself. Big ups Moka, and thanks!

What makes Vancouver so awesome?

Vancouver makes Vancouver awesome. Everything from the physical, natural layout of the city and surrounding environs right down to the people that populate it. The city pulses with vitality yet retains it’s laidback Westcoast charm. Perfect!

Most awesome new thing about Vancouver?

I think the most awesome new Vancoo thing is the Canada line train. I’ve been hopin’ for an airport train for years. Damn, I’ve been savin’ loot since that opened. What’s a couple bucks and coins compared to a 35 dollar taxi ride? Word.

Most awesome older thing about Vancouver?

Most awesome old thing might have to be the infamous yet overlooked Vancouver “noon-horn” that plays the first four notes of ‘Oh Canada’ midday, every day since the late 60’s. I set my watches by it.

What influence has Vancouver had on your music?

Vancoo has had everything to do with influencing my music. A lot of my stuff feels like either rain or sunset beach in the summer…or somewhere in between. Also the industrial heart of the city has been a motivator too. Something about working late night and knowing that goods and products are moving in and moving out, things being built, trains rolling, muffins being baked, forklifts forking in the night. It’s all part of the rhythm… or something.

I’ve heard you recorded one song with sampling some sounds from the ferry trips (between Vancouver & Victoria). If so, what song was this and how did this come about? Any other unique samples from the Vancouver soundscape?

Haha, yes…I remember that song. Its called ‘Familiarize Yourself.’ That song was on my album Flood that came out in 2000. I used a handheld cassette recorder to grab that clip. See, the city and coast always finds its way into my material. People outside of my listening core might not know this but years ago I dubbed Vancouver Island “The Longmile”…but that’s another story. We’ll focus on Vancouver. Oh and one more thing, I have used that Vancouver noonhorn and the 9 o’clock gun in beats I’ve made as well as various train horns from here.

Do you have fav spot in the city to write rhymes, etc?

Hmm… not sure if I want to reveal EXACT locations but in the past I’ve been fond of writing outdoors at places like West Vancouver near the water and New Westminster along the Fraser. Both those places make my ink squirt. (pen ink)

Who exactly is Ron Contour?

Ron Contour? That’s my first cousin. We are very close. We even bear a striking resemblance. I’ve been hookin’ him up with beats and studio time since the late 90’s. He took a break for awhile but now he’s on FIRE! Go Ronnie Con! His material and rhymes are from some other dimension or era, I swear. What a nut. Good guy. Fake moustache… (no idea why). His brand new album SAFFRON with producer Factor just came out in stores worldwide.

Tell us more about the new album, Saffron…

Well Saffron is Ron and Factors project. I stepped back and hooked them up to work together also to allow Ron to spread his wings and work over beats besides mine. I think they make a great team for this album. Factor likes sampling folk music and it really brought out a different and more moody side of Ron Contour. Plus the label Fake Four hooked Ron up with some dental plan or something so he is ecstatic about that.

It is said that Ron Contour enjoys some of the finer things in life like food, women and vintage clothing. Where is Ron’s fav spot to cop the noted? Do these differ from Moka Only’s fav spots?

About Ron enjoying these so called ‘finer things’…I’m not sure what he means exactly because he pretty much likes most of the things I do. There’s a few differences, tho. I mean you can find Ron at any Church’s Chicken location whereas me, I’m not into that at all, really. Ron doesn’t record shop as much as I do even tho I taught him how to dig for records and make beats and all that. He has yet to get known in the beat game. As for his clothing shopping he might be found at Wildlife Thrift or Vintage Value or sniffing around Upper Main Street…that’s when he is in town. He’s currently living in Bremerton, Washington but Vancouver will always be his home. He is here most weekends. Yeah, I guess it’s safe to say that we do differ as for our Vancouver tastes. I will have to hook him up with you guys for a direct interview.

How about favourite spot in the city to shop for new (or old) music?

My personal fave places to check for music in the city are Redcat, Neptoon, Zulu and a jazz record place on Main that I cant remember the name of right now. I still check out HMV time to time but it seems they are more into selling movies these days. I support the underdog.

What are some of your fondest memories from the old hiphop scene in Vancouver back in the day?

As far as memories of older times in the hiphop scene in the city there are many. We (my crew) used to throw bbq/open mic jams at this high school basketball court back in the day. Those jams became folklore and we had many guests from out of town show up to hang and rap such as Aceyalone, Dilated Peoples and others. Another thing was the friendly rivalry between crews. There were many interesting rap battles. Perhaps my fondest memory was all the late nights we would spend up at the Krispy Biscuit which was a hiphop mix show on CFRO community radio with DJ Kilo Cee and MC Ease. Timeless…lots of on-air freestyling and the dopest guests and content. Plus all the hiphop club nights back then really supported underground music and culture. What an era the nineties were for that sort of thing!

Jammin with Prevail in ’94

Moka and Swollen held down the west coast for many years. Can you describe some of the best times you had together?

When I moved to Vancouver it was the beginning of the 90’s and also hiphop’s so-called “golden era”. Everything felt like absolute magic here. The possibilities. Me and Prevail were originally from Victoria so we were pretty wide eyes when we came over here. We were able to get our foot in the scene pretty quickly since our specialty was freestyle/off the top of the head rapping. We were known for that. It led us to so many house parties and impromtu rap ciphers on the street. A lot of crew meetings at Joyce Skytrain Station. When we first met up with Madchild and started Swollen it was a pivotal and fun time too. I remember the night when I came up with that name, drunk and hanging at Denny’s on Burrard. I still did my own music during my entire tenure with Swollen. Dang, was some good times ya know? All that rapping and even graffiti writing we were all into.

Goin Platinum in ’02

Is there any single show that you performed in Vancouver that stands out over the years?

One show that stands out to me was me opening for the Alkoholics or somebody and I was so amped onstage that I stripped down to my boxers. Right when I was finishing my set I was walking toward the side of the stage when Take-5, the graffiti writer, yanked my boxers down in front of the crowd. I was so amped I didn’t even give a hoot. Exposure. Lol.

I’ve always been a fan of your rap/sing hybrid style, how did that come to be? And what’s the diff between rappin and singin?

Mmmm…the rap/sing hybrid…haven’t done too much of blending the two in verses for many years, but occasionally I still might throw some melody into hooks. I’m not sure exactly how it came to be. In grade school I always used to sing and perform for my classmates…I was always doin’ a bit of ‘in the shower’ singin’. Dang…from day one I guess it was always there. Both rapping and singing have particular techniques. To ME rapping is about making it seem like I’m conversing with you, only with styles and rhythmic changes thrown in. When I sing it’s more to do with mood and vibes. Half the time I wont even sing actual words, just textures, but with both cadence is EVERYthing. Ive always studied instrumental jazz music…all the greats and that helped me shape a swing or a pocket in my my style. Someday I may do a whole singing project, only with crusty, ritty jazz beats. Or maybe I wont sing OR even rap at all one day. My main thing is beatmaking and producing…so who knows. I just keep going, that’s the most important thing. They sleep, I grind.

What makes Vinyl Ritchie another of Vancouver’s Most Awesome? (stay tuned for Vancouver’s Most Awesome: Vinyl Ritchie coming soon!)

Haha…oh snap. Scott is SOOO Vancouver. Love that cat. Back in the day we did so many gigs and production together. He was always just down for whatever and was proud of staying sharp in his field, both him and Kilocee. Me and Scott played everywhere from Whistler to Vic, Van…he had those jazz sensibilities so we worked very well together, plus we did many shows with a band as opposed to the standard two turntables and a mic type of biz. The dude is a Van O.G. Period.

Who’s your favourite music act out of Vancouver right now? Who should we be watching out for?

Hmmm… I will mention a couple. I really dig the groups No Kids, Love and Electrik, TheStarCaptains, Chin Injeti, and I love Tegan and Sara. Yeah, that’s to name a few but look, I’m not gonna mention hiphop acts cus I’m bound to forget people and I’ll never hear the end of it. There is lots of hiphop talent that I want to mention but anybody who follows me will already know who I’m talking about plus there are people I work with. I don’t listen to tons of hiphop. I love all kinds of stuff so I’ll just mention those bands and musicians for now. I prolly will get heat for forgetting some of those too. Haha.

Is Moka Only still the West Coast’s Most Profilic?

Haha… darn, I don’t want to sound like Mr. Egoblaster but I think I’m the world’s most prolific now. At least that’s my aim. I think I’ve released over 45 albums now over the years and it’s just getting even more productive. I am very grateful that I can keep going!

How awesome would a Moka Only vs Nardwuar collaborative effort be? Who would do the verse and who would do the hook?

Haha… with Nardwaur? Bet! Make it happen. That’ll be hilarity… might even be MORE awesome to hook him up with Ron Contour! Vancoovy-coo wouldn’t be the same without tha Nardwaur. He’s a musicologist… like me! I think we would both do hook and verse parts. Split it up. I’m game. Where you at, you human serviette you?

Ron Contour – Glad

“Glad” by Ron Contour from Fake Four on Vimeo.

“In the Daisy Age” – ’90

Moka, Prevail – ’92

With Madchild – ’03

Homemade Posters with Jeff Spec – ’98

With Son Doobie – date unknown

Moka – ’02