From Ghana to Toronto
By Cheryl Thompson
Spek Won is perhaps one of Toronto’s best kept secrets. Well, he’s not really a secret anymore. Representing his native Ghana and the city of Toronto, where he now calls home, Spek’s lyrics are intelligent, his flow is infectious, and somehow he manages to mix humour with message.
SoulMatters got in touch with Spek recently to talk hip-hop, and to get a feel for the man behind the music.
SoulMatters: Tell me a bit about how you got into hip-hop? As a fan, who introduced you to the music, and as an artist, who inspired to do become one?
Spek Won: I was put on to hip-hop at an extremely young age. I always had older siblings and cousins playing old hip-hop records around me since the age of about 6 years old, and I started to develop an interest in writing poetry and rhyming words together at age 9. My rap style had always been inspired by the legends (Rakim, Nas, Wu-tang, etc), but it wasn't until I seen guys like Ghetto Concept representing on such a high level that I actually began to believe that it was possible for a kid from Etobicoke, Toronto to make it in hip-hop worldwide. My earliest memories of actually being involved in the "industry", are me tracking vocals in the studio for guys like Ghetto Concept and Kid Kut. These guys were like heroes to me growing up in the west end, so it's only natural that I would have jumped at the chance to work in the same environments as them.
SMM: You were raised in Toronto but have Ghanian roots, so I'm curious to know how you use that in your music?
SW: Hip-hop is all about taking what the generations before you were doing, and translating it to the new generation in a fresher fashion. Whenever I pick up a pen to write down lyrics, I'm always thinking of Africa, and how I can translate what goes on in our world over there with what's happening in North America. It's to a point where anyone that really pays attention to what I say can tell I'm African right away.
SMM: I stumbled across the video "HipLife" on youtube, that's how I found you, it's an amazing video, tell me a bit about the concept behind it?
SW: Well I came across some footage of director Peter Hatch's old work, and I was impressed. He was more creative than technical, and when you don't have a big budget to work with, creativity is the best way to substitute. So we met up, I showed him my ideas, he gave me his input, and in the end I let him run with it. The only thing I had to provide was the ideas for location, and the dope ass cameo appearances from all my industry colleagues.
SMM: Any plans for a full-length release soon?
SW: Most definitely. I've got an album I'm working on right now called MG&R (Machine Guns & Roses). I wont speak on the subject matter too much, but I will say I've got production from some of the dopest producers in the city.
SMM: Who do you work with, I know the hip-hop community in Toronto is expanding everyday compared to even 10 years ago so there are a lot of cats out there to be inspired by and vice versa, wondering who that is for you?
SW: I like what the producers are doing in the city. The sounds that I'm hearing in the city are what inspire me. In terms of working with people, I don't do that often. I have a bad habit of being selfish with the creativity that goes into making a song, and if it doesn't turn out the way that I want it to then I wont do it. I really have to trust another artist's creativity to work with them.
SMM: When you travel and people ask you about "Canadian hip-hop" what do you say about it? Is there such a thing, or is it a matter of you representing your location as a Torontonian more than anything else?
SW: I don't think there's such a thing as "Canadian Hip Hop". We live in Canada, and we make hip-hop music, and until the industry in Canada decides to start funding hip-hop projects properly, there will never be Canadian hip-hop. We've got so much talent on the urban scene here, but the investors don't get it. We're being nominated and winning Grammys, we're selling out worldwide, and performing for World Cup 2010, yet still they don't see the potential, but it's all good because we're proving that we can do it without them.
SMM: Have you had the chance to tour across Canada yet? If so, what can you say about the varous scenes? If not, is there a city you're excited play?
SW: I haven't toured across Canada yet, but I've been through a few provinces. I'd love to do a show out in Nova Scotia. There's just so much black history there, I think it'd be a dope ass experience.
SMM: Who in hip-hop do you listen to now?
SW: Right now I'm listening to a lot of R&B actually, sadly hip-hop ain't doing it for me at the moment.
SMM: Finally, the website is called SoulMatters so I always like to ask people, what does having soul mean to you?
SW: It means not following trends, it means not compromising, it means freedom and revolution. Peace.