ASK AN EMCEE: BIG BEN | By Kelta Coomber

Big Ben has $19 in library fines and a helluva new EP. Don’t miss his White Trash Introvert EP release show this November 20th at The Artery – unless you want to be a real parsnip (this message board told me that’s an insult word).

Who or what is a White Trash Introvert?

A cat who enjoys dirty gin martinis and likes to be alone. They don’t mind peeing outside as long as the cops don’t see. They like to build things and go on long walks. The White Trash Introvert is at once in love with and terrified of others.

Your album has a very funky and dance-friendly sound. It makes me want to sway in a good way. Did you want to create an album that people would want to move to?

Creating a dance record wasn’t my intent. But I do like to dance. And I like to inspire the same in others. If there’s one thing my tunes lack it’s dance breaks, prior to their most recent incarnations that is. So, to answer your question, I would like people to move. Shake their asses, or flex their brains, but move either way. I’d like to make a straight-ahead dance record some day soon.

White Trash Introvert contains a number of nods to classic hip-hop conventions – including a brief rap skit on ‘Penny, Won’t You?’ and the diss track ‘You’s A Whack MC’. You seem to be very aware of the conventions, and interested in playing around with them.

I have an interest in all of hip-hop’s conventions, be they those hailing from the West or the East coast, the Underground or the Mainstream. I wanted to insert nods to the tradition, winks too. As in ‘You’s A Whack MC’, wherein I certainly do indulge certain elements of a confrontational tradition. But the whole things deals in abstraction (which I understand is the mark of weak, whack and pretentious prose. Hopefully the same principles don’t hold true here). I’m not dissing any one individual but rather the suggestion that hip-hop can be understood in any one way, and the people who affirm that narrative. I always come back to an Andre 3000 lyric: “I met a critic, I made her shit her drawers. She said she thought hip hop was only drugs and alcohol. I said O hell No! But, then it’s that too. You can’t discriminate because you’ve read a book or two.” Whackness is really just a narrow understanding of a rich and diverse form. The stigma surrounding hip-hop can really be accredited to a handful of whack individuals.

You once mentioned that you consider yourself to be part of the weird rap community (alongside artists like Buck 65 and Why?), and one thing that marks weird rappers apart is that they ask compelling questions. What questions were bouncing around your brain as you made this album?

Must I rhyme? What role does pitch have in rapping? What words begin with M and C? How can I impress my peers while appearing to have no interest in impressing anyone? How can I make Buck 65 like my record? Questions yet to be addressed: can I rap in a way that entirely disguises my voice? Can I write and arrange for a big band? Can I rap in some truly bizarre time signatures? Can I mention Nietzsche while remaining unpretentious?!

What little square of hip hop history most fascinates you?

Probably the bit about early hip-hop in the Bronx, how it was totally a pacifist revolution that arose out of gang violence. It explains a lot. Early hip-hop is pissed off party music. It was unifying and it had the fire in it. It had everything to do with race. But it belongs to everyone, regardless of colour. I like that spirit of pacifism, of productive catharsis. I like to say that hip-hop saved my life. At the very least it calms me down.

What does a perfect live Big Ben show look like?

I spend most of the show telling the audience stories from my youth. I deliver my encore while crowd-surfing. I come to a personal revelation and weep on stage – no one minds. The audience is composed of old friends, new friends and cats I’ve never seen. They all know the words and dance without inhibition. I spit the sickest freestyle and everyone in the room releases a classic record. Years later, musical historians ask, “what happened?”

Fill in the blank: a ____ is ______ without a _____.

A city is thirsty without a river.

 Cover photo courtesy of Nico Laroche-Humby. 

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  • Corbin Fredrick Brocks

    What a cool cat.