Canadian hip-hop’s biggest secret
By Cheryl Thompson
Magnum K.I. is a musical collective that is ready to take Canada, possibly even the world, by storm. A combination of two rappers and a DJ – like they used to do it – these guys are the real deal…for real. SoulMatters was lucky enough to get a chance to speak with Rob Crooks, one of the crew’s creative talents about their upcoming self-titled album, and hip-hop in general.
Representing both Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, this crew seems like an unlikely hip-hop powerhouse, but as anyone who knows anything about hip-hop knows, you got to rep where you come from, and no one does it better than Magnum K.I.
SoulMatters: For people who don’t know who you guys are, how would you describe your hip-hop to people?
Rob Crooks: We are products of the battle. Both Rob Crooks and Ismaila developed their skills early on as battle rappers and the same goes for DJ Kutdown as a battle DJ. But over the years we've matured into more well-rounded artists. Right now we feel like we want to push our music to the edge of what can be considered hip-hop. We use all the same techniques that they were using 20 years ago, but we're trying to use these techniques to express our own experiences in Canada today.
SMM: What does Magnum K.I. stand for?
RC: The name is a play off of Magnum P.I., of course, but we've changed the "P.I." to "K.I.," which stands for Kutdown and Ismaila, respectively. However, since we've officially added a third member to the group, we've joked around that "Magnum" now stands for Rob Crooks. You can interpret that as you see fit.
SMM: Representing two cities in Canada that people don’t automatically expect hip-hop to come out of must be a challenge, how do you silence those critics, or at least, represent where you come from?
RC: It is true, perhaps, that to the mainstream Winnipeg and Thunder Bay are not considered hip-hop cities. However, each member of Magnum K.I. is very thankful for the scene that they were nurtured by. Each of us came up in the hip-hop scene of our respective cities and we wouldn't want to do or say anything to slight those communities. In both Winnipeg and Thunder Bay there is a rich history of hip-hop, and we are here to carry on the tradition.
SMM: You’ve been described as being in the same vibe as early Jurassic 5. What is it about your crew that is in the same vein as J5?
RC: We have consciously taken our music in a new direction with the new Magnum K.I. album, and that direction is towards a sound that is, for lack of a better word, fun. We want our music to make you move on the dance floor, or to lift your spirits after a bad day. But we still maintain that gritty hip-hop feel at the same time. I suppose that is where the parallels between Magnum K.I. and J5 would lie.
SMM: I was reading your bio on Myspace, and I read that Michael teaches hip-hop production and turntablism throughout Thunder Bay, that is just great to see hip-hop in the community. What do you have to say to all those people who say that hip-hop is dead? How are youths in your community living hip-hop?
RC: Michael (aka DJ Kutdown) teaches DJing and hip-hop production to inner-city youths here in Winnipeg, and he has found the experience very rewarding. These experiences have proved the idea that "hip-hop is dead" is a dead concept itself. Every day Micheal sees the beneficial impact of hip-hop on the community and the kids within it. Hip-hop is the most universal language in use today, and in many cases, it is creating a dialogue between the alienated youth and a system that has let them slip away.
SMM: There are so many hip-hop groups in Canada doing big things, why do you think there’s a perception out there that the only ‘real’ hip-hop is coming out of Toronto? No hate of course, but I’m sure you know what I mean!
RC: With all the incredible hip-hop musicians from all across this country, in places like Vancouver, Saskatoon, Halifax, etc, it's easy to forget that there is still a perception somewhere out there that all good Canadian hip-hop comes from Toronto. It's true that a lot of great music comes out of Toronto, and there is a lot of opportunity to get shine there, since that is where the industry in Canada more-or-less resides. But, any hip-hop fan can tell you that great music comes from every nook and cranny of this country.
SMM: On a few tracks, like “Tired” there’s a clear political vibe. Are you a political group?
RC: I don't think that we would consider Magnum K.I. a political group, ourselves. But, we are of course three socially-conscious people. I believe that it's a necessary consequence of being from Winnipeg. Here there are a lot of big-city problems in a small-city space. So, you can't ignore the young girls standing on the street corner, or the homeless man huddled in the bus shack. It's so visible in our day-to-day lives that we can't help but let that awareness slip into the music.
SMM: Finally, what do you love about hip-hop?
RC: We love everything about hip-hop. We grew up on hip-hop and we will die with hip-hop in our hearts. We still see so much potential for this young art-form, and we are so excited to see where it goes. As long as hip-hop is living and breathing there will always be hope for something better in our lives.
Magnum K.I.’s debut album is out January 19, 2010. Check them out on Myspace @ www.myspace.com/magnumkimusic.