Canada's current hip-hop landscaped is dominated by a Toronto-centric, Drake-propelled sound. Before that era came the backpack rappers. On the West coast, groups like Swollen Members and even earlier predecessors like Rascalz are familiar names. Those boom bap vibes still live on through affiliations like Stompdown Killaz, Battleaxe Warriors, and guys like Def3, real name Danny Fernandez. He spends his time between Vancouver and Regina, where he originally made his name as a rapper. These days, he's probably best known for his graffiti work, which has gained him national press coverage.
I caught up with Def3, who has a new project with Denver-based producer Late Night Radio (Alex Medellin). The collaboration is a remix of five songs off Def3's WILDLIF3 album from 2014, originally produced by Factor Chandelier. Listen to an exclusive stream of WILDLIF3 (Late Night Radio Remixes) here.
In Saskatchewan, Def3's name is synonymous with the local rap scene. Many consider him one of the founders of a modern regional sound. He called me from Vancouver with LNR on the line from Denver to talk about the new project, how they connected, and Def3's history within west coast hip-hop. Read the interview below.
Noisey: Tell me about the WILDLIF3 remix album.
Late Night Radio (Alex Medellin): I've produced everything from hip-hop mixtapes and stuff, and I've always been looking for an emcee to work with. I got introduced to Def3. We met out at Shambhala and did a little tour. The easiest next step before doing an original project was to remix some songs, and next thing you know we had five songs. Next step will be a full-length album [called Small World].
What was it like to revisit your work, Def3?
Def3 (Danny Fernandez): It was really cool. You get so used to hearing and performing something. When I met Alex, I thought his music was really dope. Hearing each song come back so different but also so good—I love the originals. Sometimes [remixes] don't match up, but these ones do. Performing them is fun too. It's a good introduction to our sound for the new album.
You both seem to have a similar taste in your work. You're both traditionalists that focus on djing and lyrics—writing bars. Would you say that's true?
Def3: By traditional, you mean a nostalgic sound, kinda?
Yeah, you guys seem to play to the core hip-hop elements.
Def3: For me, the traditional hip-hop [culture] has been such an important part of my life. My music definitely reflects everything I do. It's cool how Alex produces because he still does sample a lot of vinyl and creates in that classical format.
LNR: Yeah, I'm more of a traditionalist or purist or whatever you'd call it. Hip-hop is an outlet for me. I tour and play big electronic festivals and stuff and it's a poppin' scene, but I tend to stay pure in my work. I make what I listen to: late-90s boom bap. That's what hits me in the heart.
I'm way more familiar with Def3's work being on the West coast in Canada. How did you get into hip-hop, Late Night?
LNR: I'm kind of a late bloomer. I didn't even play my first show until I was 25. Better late than never I guess.
Def3, you've been around forever.
Def3: [laughs] Yeah, Alex's success came quicker.
When you started working in hip-hop out here there wasn't much. How has the scene changed?
Def3: I've definitely seen it change in the past ten years as an artist making music and as a listener hearing it in the last 15 or 20. When I started, it was pretty much just Swollen Members and Rascalz that I liked. I was introduced to prairie hip-hop through the Winnipeg scene, which was the most poppin'. That might be a weird thing for people to think of in Canada.
Is this before the Winnipeg's Most era?
Def3: Way before them. This is the Peanuts & Corn Records guys like mcenroe, Pip Skid and a group called Frek Sho I was a really big fan of. They ended up putting out my first record from 2003 on their label. I started working with those guys and it was my introduction to the traditional, backpack hip-hop. It was more about bars and raw beats than what it became today. That sound has evolved a lot in Canada. I could go on for a long time about that.
In Saskatchewan alone, there's a younger generation making all kinds of different kinds of hip-hop. There are still guys making a traditional sound. In Canada, before Drake, the backpack sound is really what excelled and what people cared about. I think Drake made newer styles look more authentic. Alex, I'm curious as to what drew you to Def3's style.
LNR: Today in the land of bullshit and mumble rap and all that, there's nothing I can relate to. Whenever I heard Def3—a 30-year-old snowboarder who loves hip-hop—I related to what he says. One of the first things he said to me—his mom is a writer—and he said if it doesn't look good on paper, then it doesn't matter. It's easy to say stupid words in a catchy cadence but it doesn't matter.
Def3, you've always been an active graffiti artist. That's really taken off in the last little while. How did that happen?
Def3: I've been interested in graffiti culture ever since I moved to North America basically. I put it aside for music until I was 21. I was living in Alberta for a few years doing it for a bit and moved back to Regina and started meeting a lot of friends who were into it. We started painting more and snowballed from there, spreading by word of mouth. In the past three years, it got crazy. People find me and hire me to do stuff. A couple things I've done have got media attention. It's perfect for me being a rapper and having downtime to still create art. I mix the two together and do portraits of hip-hop artists and stuff.
You fit in with the west coast rappers who also do graffiti. That's a thing out here.
Def3: Sure. You have guys like Snak the Ripper and his crew—guys I go paint with. It's a part of the culture, maybe not as big as before. But maybe up until 20 years ago, every rapper was a graffiti artist.
Whoa, you paint with the Stompdown Killa guys?
Def3: That's pretty much the only guys I paint with when I'm out here [in BC]. I paint with Naks, Snak, and Keep6. Naks is kinda like my partner. We paint a lot of murals and stuff.
Must be something in the water on the west coast. Are you going to take Alex on any bombing missions?
Def3: [laughs] If he wants to come.
LNR: I don't think I was blessed with that water growing up.
Photos courtesy of Owen Woytowich.
Devin Pacholik mostly writes west side stories. Follow him on Twitter.