By Keith Sharp
Enfield Nova Scotia’s Luke Boyd (better known as Classified) was biting at the bit to release his new record, Greatful (Universal) into a current R&B/Rap scene currently dominated by the likes of Drake, The Weeknd and Justin Bieber but even he allows there’s a domestic sensibility about his new opus that is directed squarely at his Canadian fans.
Yes there’s star power evident in contributions from the likes of Snoop Dogg, DJ Premier, David Myles and Ria Mae and Classified does touch on social issues like police violence, domestic struggles ,corrupt politics and unemployment on hard hitting tracks like “Noah’s Arc”. But there’s also a humorous side to Classified’s rap arsenal, talking about his fashion sense (or lack of) in “Hoody And A Ball Cap”, his family experiences “Having Kids Is Easy”, surviving a Canadian winter “Never Stop The Snow” and there’s a heart-tugging feel to “It’s Hard To Understand” where he describes the positive impact he generated in visiting Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital and the difference he made in just chatting with the youngsters, signing autographs and posing for photos.
About to launch a 26-date national tour which kicks of February 6th in Wolfville Nova Scotia, takes him to Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre February 13th, out to Vancouver for a date at the Commodore Ballroom, Feb 27th and then back to Montreal Metropolis March 12th before ending the tour at the Halifax Marquee Ballroom March 18th, Classified would love to achieve similar International recognition generated by the likes of Drake and Weeknd but only on his own terms.
“Americans have always been protective of their own hip-hop scene, their attitude is “We invented hip-hop so everything else is corny. But to see them open up to Drake and The Weeknd and listen to Canadian rappers is very exciting,” notes Classified, on the phone from his Nova Scotia home base before heading out to launch his tour.
With Drake and Weeknd now household names in Canada and with Kardinal Offishall and k-OS also releasing popular records late last year, Classified is enthusiastic about the growth of hip hop in this country. “I’ve seen it happen for awhile, this is now my 16th record and in all that time I’ve been recording (he released his first record “Time’s Up Kid in 1995), I have witnessed the scene growing steadily in Canada, Even in the days of artist like The Rascalz, Maestro Fresh, Kardinal and k-OS, I have always felt Canadians are open to Canadian Hip Hop, it’s been like that for awhile now.
But while the likes of Weeknd, Drake and Justin Bieber continue to develop an international profile, Classified has no illusions about where he stands in the scheme of things or his commitment to cultivating a domestic profile.
“Hey, I’m a kid from Enfield Nova Scotia, this area produces more hockey players than it does rap artists. People want to hear music about New York, Los Angeles or even Toronto, but Enfield Nova Scotia, not so much,” he laughs. “What makes my music relatable, what you get from me is the real live stuff. Coming from Nova Scotia, I think I have a bit of a unique take on things. I want my music to connect with people, whether it’s visiting kids at Toronto Sick Kids Hospital or getting emails from people saying “I was down in the dumps when I heard one of your songs and it really helped me. Messages like that inspired me to try to connect with people.
Understanding his Maritime roots, Classified has no time for poseurs or trying to be a fashion plate. In his song “Filthy”, he decries rappers who are all show and no substance while with “Hoody And A Ballcap” he takes a self depreciating look at his own lack of fashion sense.
“About 10 years ago, when I first came out, if you found out someone was posing, that would be it, career over, rap music was all about sincerity and authenticity. Being a poseur didn’t fly in the hip hop world,” Classified explained. “These days, people just don’t care. Some hip-hop has become like some Saturday Night Live or Mad TV skit, it’s almost cartoonish, it’s the part of the current scene which really annoys me.
Same with fashion sense, Classified is aware that being fashionable is a major part of the current hip hop scene, with every major artist seeming to have their own style and line of fashion wear – but not him! “So long as I feel comfortable, I am not interested in the latest fashions,” allowed Classified. “I make music, that’s what I do, I don’t worry about what I look like.”
Being Maritime based may have limitations in luring major rap stars on to his records, but Classified scored a coup in attracting Snoop Dogg to guest on one track “No Pressure”. “I already had the track finished but it’s always been my wish to record with Snoop Dogg and when I found out he was going to be in Halifax to work with The Trailer Park Boys, we put the word out and we got him. To have him rap over a sample from a Cape Breton artist (Dave Sampson) was amazing. To bring Snoop into the world of Dave Sampson, to have a famous rapper performing on a Cape Breton folk song is a real achievement. It’s great when people say “I didn’t see that coming!”
“When you consider that Greatful is Classified’s 16th album and that he didn’t achieve a commercial breakthrough until he released “Oh Canada” and “Inner Ninja” off his self titled 2013 release, it can be said that he has exhibited an amazing amount of intestinal fortitude in hanging tough over the years, yet Classified has never lost interest or been discouraged.
“I didn’t have any intentions of being a full time rapper early on. I made cassettes when I was at school but my parents always preached to me to have a plan B if plan a didn’t work out. So I went to college for a year, got a job, got laid off and then used my social insurance for a year to work on my music. Then when my unemployment ran out, plan B became plan A,” he related.
Classified learned is craft gradually, mainly releasing self-distributed indie releases, building a following as the Canadian rap scene took shape, before finally breaking into the mainstream market with Sony in 2013.
“The Olympics were happening so “Oh Canada” took off and then “Inner Ninja” hit and became “the song of 2013” selling over 500,000 singles and earning Classified a Juno Award for top rap single. “It is the biggest single of my career, it allowed me to connect with people who were hearing me for the first time.”
Although that song earned Classified credibility within Canada’s mainstream music industry, he is thankful of that song’s success but is under no illusion that he has reached the Drake or even Weekend credibility level just yet.
“I probably have a constant fan base of something like 25,000 hard core fans who have bought my last four or five albums and will continue to buy my records ,” he allowed. “Maybe the success of Inner Ninja boosted those sales to 45,000 units but I don’t believe those new fans are waiting in line for my new album.”
Not that Classified would object if Greatful produced a new chart topper but in recording his new record he didn’t want to trade in on his past success. “I am not conscientiously trying to repeat any of my past success, if another “Inner Ninja” took off, bonus, but the key thing is that I create music that my hard core fans can appreciate.”
For more information on Classified and his tour dates, please link to www.classifiedofficial.com
By Keith Sharp