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Since local rap duo District 36 dropped their ‘Fresh Prince Project‘ last week on May 1st (as a free download), I’ve been playing a little game to challenge my friends who are into hip-hop (more specifically, to challenge preconceptions about Vancouver hip-hop). The game consists of playing them the first single off the mixtape ‘Maxin and Relaxin’ and telling them that it was put out by some new underground rap crew from ‘X’ big American city. After they listen and the head nods start, we usually talk a bit about how they’ve got those new school ‘cool kids beats locked down,’ or that they are ‘killing that east coast 90s flow’ (or an equivalent played out statement likening them to one of raps great successors). Then the fun starts for me and I come clean, telling them that District 36 actually hails from Surrey.
Yup, that’s right, good old Surrey. That purportedly abhorrent place ‘Vancouverites’ love to hate on is pumping out sounds that rub shoulders with some of raps most classic lyricists and popular beatsmiths. I’m not even exaggerating here, the Fresh Prince Project is an extremely polished concept album that has appeal across hip-hop’s spectrum from backpackers to club kids, and will definitely bump hard in your headphones all the way from Waterfront to King George Station.
Spanning nearly 3 Years from concept to completion, the mixtape represents the groups’ first real release together, and their efforts should garner lots of attention in coming months. The Fresh Prince motif manifests itself throughout the album directly in samples, punchlines and less overtly in themes, all without coming across as corny. We caught up with District 36 to get to know the crew a little and talk about the tape. It is available as a free download online on their bandcamp, and the release party is tomorrow night at InterUrban Gallery (1 East Hastings) featuring a slew of our favourite DJs (our pals the Freshest!), lots of rapping, and a fresh prince themed art show curated by Ephin apparel.
So Who are you guys, where did the name come from?
S: The name district 36 came from Surrey. We’re from Surrey and that’s a school district out there. We had a lot of trouble picking names, we had all these weird corny ass names and then he just said one day he just said what about district 36 and we just said yea thats dope lets rock with that
G: We met at footlocker in 2005. I was going to college an he just graduated highschool. He looked like some kind of spanish mix kind of kid, looked like he had a bit of swag, so I just asked him if he
rapped and he did. So we just rapped to eachother and from that we just kind of developed a friendship.
So you first linked up at a job. What was going on in your respective scenes back when you first met up? Rapping / making music or what?
G: Well in 2001 I released an album through Low Pressure with my former rap group Ink Operated. We kind of grew apart so I was just trying to find my way, making a lot of beats and just writing raps, enjoying myself until I ran into Seth and from there I started taking it more seriously again.
S: I remember when we met up I didn’t really take it seriously. I remember on my first day at work he asked me ‘do you rap?’, and I was kind of shy, I was like ‘nah nah, well kind of’ so I spit something, and he was like ‘ya its dope’
What was the scene like back then? Was it being fostered by anyone in particular or was everyone kind of doing their own thing?
G: There wasn’t like a movement, because to do anything you had to come to Vancouver, to the city. So we met everybody in the city, and it didn’t really matter what neighbourhood you were from. if you could rap you could rap.
So where were the jumpoff points at the time where you would link with people?
G: I remember Kyle Kraft used to have a night, called complex at Sonar. Thats where everybody met, and everybody used to rap outside and stuff. When our album came out we did a big show there and it popped off really well.
So, what were some first projects or collaborations that you guys did together?
G: As district 36, 2 years ago we released this thing called ‘Paper Cuts‘, a 4 song EP kind of thing just to get out there. We had been making music for so long, but had never really released anything.
S: We’re perfectionists, so we usually sit on it too long, and we were just like ‘yo we gotta put something out’ so we put that out, and then took another 2 year break. We’d been working on an album called ‘2 40s and a Stoop’ which is just like a collection of songs that we’ve been working on for a while. But its taken so long that we were like ‘we have to come out with something’. Thats how we decided to do the fresh prince project. We already had the concept in mind, we were like lets just do it real quick and bang it out in a couple weeks. But then as we started working on it, it became something bigger.
So tell us about the concept behind the mixtape.
S: So we’re huge fresh prince fans, we always wanted to do the mixtape themed around the fresh prince. But It was kinda corny though, because other rappers have done stuff based on shows. We wanted to do something more specific than just based on the show in general, and then it just hit me one day. The first episode is my favourite episode, the fish out of water concept is cool, it’s serious at some points, it’s funny at other points and there is a lot of hip-hop stuff incorporated in that episode. And we were like, we could just do a whole project themed around just this. We started developing it and realized we had a bunch of songs already that fit in with it really well, and that’s sorta how that kinda came about.
G: It seems corny as f*ck, but the fresh prince never left you, you grew up watching that and a lot of things like the slang you use, how you walk talk how you dress. Has a lot to do with how will smith carried himself.
What was your creative process on this album? Tell us a bit about the production of this project.
G: This idea is really old. The idea is like 3 years old, so we started running with it because we had like 5 songs already there. A lot were just older concepts we had to revamp. But as far as the newer songs on it, we just watched the episode and when we thought it could lead to a good song we just went from there and wrote it around there both production-wise and lyrics-wise.
S: Production wise, its pretty much half and half. We make our own beats, so sometimes he’ll start it and I’ll finish it or vice versa. Or one of us will just make it and its’ dope as is. Its pretty much half and half with the beats. Our homie Joe Leano did some additional production like keys and stuff on some tracks, and also C-infamous (from Chronico Music group in Richmond, where the album was recorded) on a track.
Featured, we have our homies Spott and Ess who are just crazy rappers. Kid sends me verses every other day and he’s a beast, he just writes all the time. And our friend G.R. who is this kid from Surrey. He’s lyrically crazy too, its really just our close homies coming together.
What were your musical influences on this project?
G: I don’t think we can just choose certain artists or anything. I think we can go with eras maybe but really it was just the feeling of the skits and songs. Every skit leads into the song on the fresh prince project, so its hard to draw from anything else besides the feeling of skit that brings it in. We have a song called ‘Fresh‘ where will Smith says something about being fresh and we sampled dougie Fresh and Slick Rick. We dont necessarily rap like them, but we have that swag that Slick Rick has on that song. Its hard not to when Dougie Fresh is beat boxing.
S: Of course, we’re definitely big fans of that Golden Era New York hip-hop.
G: I don’t really think about that as influence cuz thats just me. Thats what I grew up listening to and thats the only thing I know how to do very well so you know, thats me.
S: We’re always gonna have a part of that influence in our music, but we try to mix it in with the newer 808 knockin sounds and keep it Fresh.
Who are some of your favourite rappers right now and what Kind of Artists would you work with in the future? Who would be some dream collabs with Producers or Artists?
G: Who my are my favourite and who I want to work with are two totally different questions. My favourite rappers are Jay-z and Nas, but the thing is I wouldn’t necessarily want to do a song with Jay-Z and Nas because they’re on a different level than I am financially, life wise, age. Like I dont know if the topic would really work. But the new kids coming up I would love to do a song with Dom Kennedy, Pac Div cuz they’re more on our level. They’re more of our peers than Jay-z or Nas are our peers.
S: Honestly, I’m down to work with anybody who I think is dope. Like, I’d do a song with Justin Bieber man. (G: ya, he Bieb’d up) He’s a Canadian kid doing his thing, I dont hate on him he’s dope. I really like J Cole right now.
G: But like, in terms of producers. Man producers are different than the rapper part of it. I’d work with all the old producers, I love Premo, Just Blaze, Kanye, Rza, Havoc. I’d work with all those dudes, because there’s no gap in the subject matter. They just make the beat, n you rap over it.
S: New dudes I really like are Cool and Dre, as well as chuck english as well from the Cool Kids, he’s really dope.
So what are your plans for the future and your next move?
G: We’re trying to really focus on this and push it out as hard as we can. We’re not trying to treat it like release then skate and move onto the next project. We really feel like this is something that can propel us somewhere else instead of just putting out music and moving on right away. We really want to get a lot of mileage out of this, and milk it for all it’s worth.
We have a show May 9th called the Fresh Prince Party, which is an art show / performance / live show. Ephin is doing the art show part of it, they’re getting together the artists. With the art, all of it / every piece is based on Fresh Prince of Bel Air. At the show we’re gonna perform, Spot and Ess and GR who are on the album are gonna perform. DJs coming through we’ll have Sailor Jerry, The Freshest and Icy touch coming through.
S: Also in terms of what we’re trying to do in the future. Of course we want to do shows, and venture out to other cities to get heard out there. After the release party we have a show opening for Mobb Deep at Garf’s in Whistler coming up soon on May 18th.
So we’re trying to do some shows yup, but mainly we want to put out a lot of visuals cuz videos are important these days. People click on videos and they dont really check for songs as much. But if you have a video with it too tho, Its like, they’ll definitely check for that. It’s so easy to put together a good looking video that looks very high quality. Like, the Maxin and Relaxin video I think looks really good. And we just worked with our friend Kevin on that who killed it. We knocked it out in one day and he did an amazing job. For the amount of work that we did and the amount of love we’re receiving it was totally worth it.
So, lastly: Why Vancouver?
G: Vancouver is dope and not dope because it doesn’t have it’s own identity. Vancouver’s never developed a sound that anybody could call their own. Which is kinda good and kinda bad, because it sets the stage for us to call it our own and claim a unique sound, but at the same time we just sound like new york dudes (laughs).
S: Thats what I love about Vancouver, is that a lot of people kinda hate on Vancouver because nobody has really made a huge come up musically (in hip-hop) since Swollen and Rascalz did their thing because nobody has really taken it to that major Drake level or whatever. Some people get mad because they feel like there is not as much opportunity but I feel like that makes it the perfect city to make a come up in.