Masia One

September 27th, 2004

Masia One

Matt Grant treats the site with an interview with the Canadian talent about her album, Toronto, accents and lots lots more!

I was introduced to Masia by her manager, Jesse Ohtake of I think Canadian urban music is probably one of the ‘scenes’ that really interests me because of the sheer diversity and innovation coming out the country and also, if I am honest, because I have a dream of going to live there! Masia One is a typical example – a Singaporean gal blending hiphop, jazz, her home culture, experiences of life in Toronto and much more to produce a truly original sound… ‘Milk Truck Man’ is a dope tune and if you want an example of her work then go for this… anyway, with no further a do… step up Masia One…

Firstly, introduce yourself for all those who don’t yet know?

Masia One of The M1 Group and Local Genius Crew.

How would you describe the hiphop you produce? Imagine heads are reading the label on a can of Masia One soup, how would you sum up the ingredients and flavour?

Sweet and Sour Soup with lots of pepper. Sorry,haha… too literal right? The first album is very eclectic, almost like a demo to me, showcasing a range of styles. I’m now moving toward simplifying the flow and riding overtop live instrumentation.

Cool… so what material have you released to date and how can heads outside of Canada get their hands on it?

I’ve released my full length album Mississauga . Internationally, heads can pick it up right off the website The 12” for ‘Split Second Timing’ and remixes for ‘The Ocenariums’ by Mr. Murray and ‘Halfway Through the City’ by Strajah will be made available this summer.

What are you working on just now?

It’s summer in Toronto , so everyone breaks out of hibernation — a lot of shows for the summer. The formal projects I’m working on include The M1 Group mixtapes featuring many of the incredibly talented artists from Toronto as well as that I’ve begun putting together the next record – all live instrumentation with Ultra Magnus — a ten piece Afro Rock band…

You’re from Toronto right? What’s it like to live there as a hiphop fan and in general?

I was actually born in Singapore and grew up in Vancouver BC . However, I’ve spent the past little while in Toronto – apparently the “screw face” capital of the world. The Toronto hiphop fan is a funny thing: There is definitely a solid hiphop community that supports and helps each other grow — but as all places there is a lot of hate as well. I think Toronto is situated in an interesting spot — heavily influenced by the states with a lot of kids taking to everything they see their American counterpart do, and yet possessing much too much personality and identity to simply follow. The urban industry is still young in Toronto and heads are learning that it’s ok to like something and express openly that they like it, or to flex a different style and be uncompromising about it. You know how they say if you can make it in New York , than you can make it anywhere? I feel that way about Toronto . Hard pressed to make heads express their excitement and love for an artist — yet if you are successful at winning them over, you have a fan that knows your lyrics inside and out, and what your favourite meal is.

Who else is pushing forward good hiphop in Toronto just now? Is there anyone that you’d recommend UK heads to check for?

Where do I start? Triple O, i.james.jones, Rikoshay, Eternia, Specifics, Arabesque, NIFTY, Tara Chase, Slangston Hughes, ES Jay, Cryogenics, Reign, Saukrates, Theology 3, Transit (from London ON), IRS, D-Sisive, Nefarius, Mathematik, DJ Dopey (DMC CHAMP)…ok, I’ll stop there. The producers coming out of Toronto and surrounding areas are dangerous!

Here in the UK many hiphop heads see a divide between the London scene and the rest of the country. Often many artists move down London on the grounds it increases their chances of success — is this the case with a major city like Toronto ?

I’m sure it is the case with major cities that certain opportunities arise, especially on the business end of things. Living in Toronto also allows easy access to open mics, collaboration with other artists, and just a general understanding of hiphop being within a community where you know the cats selling their CD on the street, or pass by a piece and be like “Yeah Skam did that”…Of course the irony of the situation is that I named my record after Mississauga, a suburb by Toronto. Suburbs and smaller surrounding areas seem to breed incredible artists — maybe it’s the Canadian winters where people stay inside to create and have no choice but to find it within themselves to innovate but smaller areas by NO means produce music second to Toronto. The city I suppose is just the testing grounds.

And what about the whole linguistic divide in Canada between French and English? Has this resulted in two distinct hiphop scenes?

There are songs where cats rhyme in French, there is a lot of hiphop coming out of Montreal that is English…it’s all just hiphop maaaaaaan.

Here sometimes British acts find themselves being accused of copying American artists and simply mimicking their style of hiphop, to what extent have Canadian artists taken hiphop and made it their own?

Hahaha! I have to go on record saying: BET being made available in Canada is a curse to the Canadian Hiphop scene. In some instances I see the same kids that wouldn’t give solid Toronto artists the time of day, getting down to Dirty South music. Then you have to ask them…how do you think those artists got big in the first place? It’s all a number game: their local scene supported the hell out of them, bought the records, played their music, spread the word. Sometimes I feel like smacking kids in Harlem jersey’s shaking their skinny asses at the club. As my boy Triple would say, “Show me even ONE street in Toronto named after Harlem”. Another part of the problem is also the way the Canadian Urban industry has set things up, to REWARD groups that come out sounding the MOST like their American counterparts. Radio will tell you they dig your material but it doesn’t sound enough like what’s already in rotation so they can’t play it. Or you step into a label’s office and see the characters that make judgement calls on what music gets backing and you know that these people can only guess what “the kids like nowadays” and they can only guess by referencing the American counterparts. The industry is a trend follower rather than a trendsetter. I think with all things that are new, it is easiest to make reference to the most successful blueprint.The baby steps have been taken, Toronto Hiphop I now see as being in the awkward pre-pubescent stage — developing it’s own identity but still too unsure of herself to just be. Change is on the tip of every tongue right now though, so I’m looking forward.

How is the Canadian hiphop scene different to the US hiphop scene?

There is too much to say here. Let me just say this – on any given night I can hit an open mic in Toronto and see kids of every single culture and colour and it doesn’t matter — if you’re good you’re good, if you’re wack you’re wack. I think this also gives Canadian heads a better perspective that Hiphop is international.

And what about the UK , do you think our hiphop sound is different and do you think there is scope for Canadian and British hiphop artists to collaborate and perhaps learn from each other?

Most definitely. I think the more heads gain a global perspective – rather than scratching their nuts with yes men, bigging up their own crew in some basement somewhere – the more hiphop is given the potential to grow, change, and develop. If it’s about fame and getting your name up, then now it’s worldwide.

Would you be up for collaborating with UK artists and how might they go about doing this?

I would be up for collaborating with UK artists. I know that this cat Moonstar from Toronto that produces broken beat, and is doing phenomenal in the UK . I’m not sure how I’d go about doing this, usually I’d just study their scene and find the artists that stand out to me, or that I think I’d vibe with — and just get in contact. If you never ask, you’ll never know.

Buck65 and Abdominal are probably the most famous hiphop artist in the UK, do these very different artists reflect a diversity of sounds within the Canadian hiphop scene?

Sure…haha… That’s Toronto for you, so many people in this city don’t even know who Abs or Buck65 is but they’ve gained recognition halfway around the world. The sound is very diverse in Toronto — both those cats were just smart enough to push their music somewhere else, as well as at home. Hey Andy, that DJ Format video was fly!

What do you think internationally recognised emcees like Buck65 and Abdominal are doing for the Canadian hiphop scene?

I’m not sure — what are they doing for the perception of the Canadian hiphop scene in the UK ? I’d like to know.

Well it’s a good impression…. you’re our natural brethren… Is there any UK artists that you particularly like? I hear Ty is pretty popular over there….

I have to be honest, I don’t know what goes on with UK hiphop though. I know about some jungle cats and originators: Top Cat, Rebel Emcee, Tenor Fly, Ragga Twinz, Demolition Man, Frisky, Busy Bee — Big up DJ Kinetic – he(used to DJ for my live sets in Toronto, moved to the UK since! As for hiphop? DJ Format, Roots Manuva…please anyone reading this school me, I wanna learn! – also my manager digs TY.

Do you want to break the UK scene and how hard do you think it will be to do that as a hiphop artist not from the UK , and more importantly, not from the US ?

I think that I bring something that is not yet categorized in any mainstream — so I’m going to pretty much be a fish out of water at first no matter where I push my music. I do believe that the UK scene has a great understanding of innovative production and live sounds — so the new projects, with the live instrumentation should be well received.

You emigrated to Canada from Singapore when you were quite young right? What was it like making such a big move and how has that affected your outlook on life?

Sure…born in Singapore and living in different hemispheres helped me to understand where I’m from, and the bigger picture of people, cultures, differences, similarities…I’d like to think I’m a more open minded person as a result. Even the logo for my company The M1 Group, pays tribute to the Merlion — a prevalent symbol of Singapore .

From what I have read Canada has a substantial population of citizens who can trace their roots back to countries like China, Japan, Singapore etc To what extent has this ethnic and cultural group embraced hiphop and made it their own?

I heard the hiphop scene in Singapore and Malaysia is growing, especially, and ironically, with Graf. I’ve seen some nice pieces coming out of Singapore . I was recently in Japan and the experience blew my mind. Heads buy records and tapes in one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries, because for hiphop, they feel it wouldn’t be true to the sound otherwise. It’s always beauty in the details, and I find with other countries developing their own hiphop scene, often pick up gems from the culture that even the birthplace of hiphop sometimes forgets.

So what made you decide to embark on a career in hiphop? How did you get started?

I fell in love with hiphop culture when I was eight in Singapore upon stumbling on a bootleg Public Enemy tape. I dabbled in bgirling and graf when I was growing up in Vancouver — and moved to Toronto to study architecture at the University of Toronto . Always wrote rhymes, always! But I used to be too shy to kick them. Then some circumstances went down in my life, I lost my best friend for 14 years — and decided that I’d have to take a chance doing something I’ve always loved and not wait around and let things that I’d love to do pass me by. I hit a lot of open mics and shows to ensure that I got used to rocking for a crowd, worked six jobs and recorded my album Mississauga with the money. Once I had product in hand, I knew I had something to push until the next record. It can only get better from here on in…

How do your Singaporean roots influence your music?

My Singaporean mother tells me that no one wants to hear a Chinese girl rap so I work hard to one day prove her wrong. Haha!

And what about influences in general — from what I’ve heard of your music there seems to be some heavy soul and jazz influences on your output, is this true? What music forms or artists have particularly influenced you?

I love hiphop, but I also love Jazz – Miles, Coultrane, Tourtise – Rock, Punk Death From Above, Afro Beat – Fela, Ultra Magnus, Rock Steady – Studio One music — Jackie Mitoo…so much. I love music and art. Above all else, I named my record Mississauga NOT because I’ve ever lived there but in tribute to all the amazing artists from that suburb that have inspired me with their music and creative outlook on life.

Is the music you produce a purely solo effort or do you have a crew of people you work with?

The M1 Group is the umbrella of people I’m working with that ranges from production and live band to graphic design. I don’t believe anybody can make it in music alone…foundation is imperative. Yoroku Saki produced most of the record, with contributions from Little Clever and JFK - Death From Above, Femme Fatale as well.

So are you a full time musician or do you have to hold down a day job as well?

Full time musician and running The M1 Group – the business end of things. I return to my day job every time a new project has to get bigger funding.

Are you on a label at the minute?

I am my label: The M1 Group.

Ok… cool… well here in the UK the major labels don’t really support homegrown hiphop and this has lead to a DIY attitude with artists forming their own labels and taking charge of all the distribution and marketing themselves, is that the situation in Canada?

You described exactly what I did. Many other Canadian artists are doing this or are catching on to this. I think what sets those that make it apart from those that don’t is an acute sense of organization and persistence. Shoot, I don’t think I’ve slept in two weeks. Regardless, the grass roots level has more at their finger tips by means of connections and contacts than any A&R could dream of. That’s the trouble with money isn’t it?

Haha.. you said it….ok moving on….it mentions in the bio that you performed at an all-ladies hiphop night called “I still love H.E.R?, do you think this is a good thing to sort of separate women off from the rest of the scene or is it necessary at the moment to get heard?

All things in moderation. The show you mentioned was actually my first public appearance – aside from open mics. Sure it’s good to rock with the ladies as most jams are all male anyways. Whatever the weather…just represent properly – male or female. I think all female jams become somewhat annoying when it is consistently commodified as an oestrogen festival and all the ladies buy into what they should be talking about and start spewing spoken word about their wombs and how much they hate men the entire night.

Hahahaha…. So are you planning to come and tour the UK at any point?

Yes. I may have to work a few extra jobs to make that one happen. Hahaha.

And finally, what’s you view on Avril Lavigne, is she really Canada ’s answer to Brtiain’s Sex Pistols?

Good god no! But good for her, and all the best…she’ll only get better.

OK and on that note we’ll end this… thanks for hooking up and peace!

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