Moka Only, a former member of one of Canada’s most successful hip-hop groups the Swollen Members was at Concordia last week to showcase material from his latest solo record titled The Desired Effect. I had a chance to sit down with him before his sound check earlier that day to talk about his career as well as hip-hop in general. Here’s how it unfolded:
The Concordian: Why were you interested in coming to Concordia today?
Moka: I was asked (laughs). It’s as simple as that and I never turn down an opportunity to rock.
The Concordian: How important is it for you to connect with fans that are a little older, fans that are my age, let’s say?
Moka: That’s where my audience is, especially this time of year when people are getting back to school, this is the most important time to get out there and rock. I just want to be a part of it. I want to be people’s soundtrack, I don’t want to miss out on that. I was here two weeks ago and I’m back already and I might even come back at the end of the month.
With Quebec, as an outsider, I have to do double the work here in order to get radio play or video play or just an audience at a club. It’s always been like that. Quebec’s real cool about supporting their own and I don’t see that in other provinces or even in other states for that matter. I don’t see the solidarity that I see here. As an outsider I have to come in and try to make an extra splash in order to be taken seriously.
The Concordian: Is the language an issue at all?
Moka: No! I can go anywhere in the world, I can go to Japan, Germany or wherever. Quebec obviously supports French music first and foremost, I don’t have any problem with that, and I think that’s cool. Every culture should support their own stuff. To me that’s expected, that’s a good thing but at the same time just knowing that there’s other stuff out there that can add to the flavor. I’m a big Stereolab fan and the bulk of the stuff that Laetitia from Stereolab is saying is in French, that doesn’t stop me from going to her concerts.
The Concordian: Your latest solo album came out in August, have people compared that to the work you have done with the Swollen Members? What do you think of the fact that people try to compare both of those things?
Moka: There hasn’t been that much comparison, what I did with Swollen wasn’t too off the mark from what I am doing now. Now I think I’m just opening people up to my actual character and personality more. In Swollen I was a little bit more standoffish.
The Concordian: Are you presenting a new side of yourself?
Moka: Not new, it’s always existed. They had a chance to see it because I’d still put out solo albums when I was with Swollen but the emphasis was on the group so I couldn’t promote the solo stuff the same way that I did the group. Maybe it’s more re-introducing people to what I was already doing before. Also, before it was on a much smaller and more underground scale. I have the opportunity now to get it out to more people.
The Concordian: What did you want to do differently on your new record? Was there anything you wanted to explore?
Moka: This wasn’t even intentional, I had a whole other record ready to go. At the last minute, I just changed my mind and said I’d rather do more of a compilation, so I just went through my vaults of the past three or four years and pulled out what I thought fit together the best. The songs that I wanted to showcase were more the singing stuff because I hadn’t really done that before. All the other albums I had were predominantly rapping and I wanted to showcase my beat making. For some reason, singing over beats makes the beats stand out more along with the melody, as opposed to talking or rapping going on with the melody. It made the beats a little more the focal point and that’s important because I am trying to get my production chops in. I like making beats more than anything else, that’s my first love really.
The Concordian: I know you produced the album, what is it about producing that you love?
Moka: Because I can say a lot of stuff without literally talking. When people hear instrumental music they can choose their own theme to it. When I listen to jazz, not the vocal stuff, just instrumental stuff, whatever mood I’m in it seems to cater to it. I can draw my own conclusion from the music. There’s nobody telling me what the song’s about, and that’s what I like about beat making: it can be that way too. I want to do more instrumental type albums.
The Concordian: This record sounds a bit poppier and more melodic…
Moka: It’s more melodic but I definitely wouldn’t say pop. At first when I started doing interviews for this record I agreed with that but then I realized the only pop moment is the lead single. When you listen to the rest of the album or even that single, there’s nothing else out on the market that sounds like that. It’s not typical pop. I like it to be pop-ular but I don’t want to change it in order just to get plays. I tell you straight up, I’ll survive just fine even if I never had any video play or airplay, that’s how strong the underground is and that’s something that I believe in. I’m very pleased with the record.
The Concordian: How does it make you feel to be on Much On Demand and getting video play, is that something you like?
Moka: Yah it’s great. It just means more ears and the Much Music people have always been supportive. I’ve never had any problems whatsoever so it’s great!
The Concordian: What do you think of the people who say “Well now you have a video on Much Music, you’re selling out, you are not underground anymore,”? Has that happened?
Moka: I suppose it happens a little bit. I think they need to rethink their way of looking at it. The same people who say that are the people that steal my shit of the internet. They are just bitter or they are mad because they can’t do it themselves. They are usually younger people who have an opinion that was given to them; I don’t believe they even believe themselves. If you’re my fan wouldn’t you want my stuff to get out a little more or maybe people would just like to keep it to themselves, but that’s not fair to me.
The Concordian: Do you think there’s a good hip-hop presence in Canada right now? Do you think it’s well represented?
Moka: I haven’t been paying attention; I’m really in my own world because I don’t really listen to that much hip-hop anyways. There’s so much music in the world, why limit yourself. I’ll always be a hip-hop-er that’s my roots. And the hip-hop I do choose to listen to, it’s stuff that is not on the radio.
The Concordian: Do you have a mission?
Moka: Nah, just keep making music. Well, I guess my mission is to showcase more alternative stuff and try to turn more people onto that. I guess my mission is just to prove that there is definitely more… Hip-hop is turning into a minstral show. What you see on the radio or the TV has got a real derogative feel to it these days. Not everybody’s to blame, I don’t even think it’s the artists to blame except for the fact that they might not have a spine and bend over backwards to try and please their masters; their label people. It’s kind of sick. I take real offence to it. In North America, it’s like they want the black man to be a menace, to be menacing and to be uneducated, that’s not how black people are. We are into everything.
The Concordian: So that’s what you’re trying to show?
Moka: I am not trying to take a real political stance; these are just from every day man points of view. I don’t want people to forget things like that. That’s really valid to me. It wasn’t always like that. Hip-hop used to have more flavors than Baskin Robbins at the same time. You could listen to N.W.A. and at the same time listen to PM Dawn or Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff, Jungle Brothers, there’s so many flavors. Now the flavor is G-Unit. Cool for them, that’s one angle of hip-hop ,but when that becomes the only palatable thing on the market for the masses, that’s when we have a problem. Then you have North America eating it up and thinking that’s only what black men are about. I don’t see white people doing that.
The Concordian: You are not scared to share your opinion?
Moka: I’m not scared to share my opinion and I am not trying to bring anybody down but I just want to awaken people a little bit. If you feel like talking about every day stuff, go ahead, don’t be scared, there’s more to life than a club. Dance clubs are only open to 2 a.m., what happens after the club? You can’t have sex for 24 hours a day, that doesn’t work either. You can’t drink all the time. Nike Airforce One’s only go so far too. You’re going to end up taking those shoes off at some point during the day. You are going to do laundry, you are going to quarrel with your lover. You are going to have house payments or car payments you might miss, you might get shit reprocessed. There are a million things to talk about that regular people go through. Now there is a place for fantasy though too. I do it. Most of my stuff is autobiographical, but there’s a place for fiction too . It’s about balance. I just turn on the radio and hear cheap-ass beats and cheap talk and it just doesn’t change. It’s unfair!
With rock music, it seems like there’s so much more variety, that’s why I like listening to rock music, I get excited when I hear bands like The Mars Volta and Bloc Party or Arcade Fire. There’s so much variety of rock music on the radio and on TV but with hip-hop we’re reduced to these materialistic debauching creatures.
The Concordian: It’s a bad representation?
Moka: It is!
The Concordian: I’m sure you’ve been asked this before because it’s the title of your latest record, but what is your “desired effect”?
Moka: I didn’t mean much by the title, I don’t know what I meant, and it just sounded like a good title. Everybody is going to have his or her own take on it. It is what is says, the desired effect I guess to have people be happy with the music.
The Concordian: What kind of mark would you want to leave on the music industry?
Moka: That I’m not one-dimensional, that’s it. That I have talents in other areas and that I’m an approachable person and that I’m a regular guy.