The hip-hop scene in Halifax has a storied history, and nerdcore rapper Ghettosocks is a major reason why. Originally from Ottawa, Darren Pyper moved to Halifax in 2001 where he’d steadily climb the (admittedly short) ladder of the underground Canadian hip-hop scene. Since then, he’s founded an indie label called Droppin Science Productions, and has established himself as one of the top underground rappers in Canada by touring regularly and releasing quality music consistently.
Ghettosocks chooses to not conform to the mainstream whenever possible. His trademark glasses show that he’s a character who can go against the grain of hip-hop's latest trend of leather, all-over prints, and zippers. The subject matter for his songs goes against the grain as well, often referring to food and obscure references, unlike typical cookie-cutter rap. The majority of his songs include hilarious punchlines, “Here’s a butter rap fatter than an alley gutter rat / Covered in whipped cream curled up on Sally Struthers’ lap.” – “Dreams of Hawaiian Sophie”
Ghettosocks’ has compiled an impressive music resume, opening for legendary rappers including: Nas, Africa Bambaataa, GZA and Kool Herc. He has rocked stages throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and Japan. He’s had the pleasure of collaborating with many talented artists such as: Classified, Sadat X, El Da Sensei and Rich Kidd among others. He was awarded the title of Halifax’s Best MC five consecutive years (2008-2012) in The Coast’s (Halifax’s local weekly paper) annual Reader’s Poll. In 2011, he received a Juno Award nomination for his album, “Treat of the Day,” in the category of Rap Recording of the Year.
He released his debut LP, “Get Some Friends,” in November of 2006. The album was an instant success, as it debuted at #1 on Chartattack and Earshot Canadian college radio charts for 2007. Since then, he has released two more albums, “Treat of the Day” and “For You Pretty Things,” and two mixtapes, “I Can Make Your Dog Famous” and “We’re Gonna Drink A Lot Of Wine This Year.” His most recent release was “For You Pretty Things” in November of 2013, which has received positive reviews from music sites. Featuring artists such as: Muneshine, El Da Sensei, pHoenix Pagliacci, Moka Only and more.
Ghettosocks is a part of numerous rap duos and groups. The largest group that he belongs to is the Backburner Collective, which is comprised of nerdcore artists. They released their debut album, “Heatwave,” in 2011.
Despite the fact that Ghettosocks has a style of his own, he has managed to build a fan base across Canada, the United States and other areas of the world. He chooses to make music on his own terms, rather than appeasing the masses.
We spoke to Ghettosocks when he was in Atlanta during his US tour about Canadian hip-hop, his history and how he fell into nerdcore rap.
Noisey: What’s the origin of your rap moniker Ghettosocks?
Ghettosocks: I moved to Halifax in 2001, and my friend had a radio show, and the show was called the Maple Mothership, and his name was the Jade Emperor. He basically, one day trying to clown on me, joking around called me Ghettosocks, based on the socks I was wearing at the time. And it was one of those names that stuck, it was out of my control. So that’s basically how I got it, I didn’t really have a rap name before that. That turned out to be my moniker.
At which age did you start to get serious about rapping?
Probably my early 20s. Not until my early 20s. I got into rapping for fun and stuff, probably in the mid, middle 90s. But didn’t take it seriously until I moved to Halifax.
How did you initially fall into the sub-genre of hip-hop known as nerdcore?
I think some people consider me in the nerdcore genre, or sub-genre if you will, because of my association with certain artists. That being, a lot of cats in the Backburner crew are considered nerdcore. By being associated with them, I’m kinda lumped into that category. Maybe the other reason is my appearance, the glasses might be perceived as nerdy to some. So maybe that contributes to it. I don’t know, it could also be the subject matter of some of the songs. They’re kind of unorthodox. So yeah, I guess there’s a bunch of factors potentially.
When you first began rapping, was your subject matter the same as it currently is, or was it different?
Basically I just write from experience, what I know, things that I find amusing or interesting, and I expand on that in between my music. I guess the subjects have changed, but the origins and where they come from, the concepts come from, haven’t changed. Since they’re all coming from experience. You know as you go on in life, you experience different things, so obviously you’re not going to be always touching on the same topics. Although, that being said, there are a few exceptions. Food is a big interest of mine. That’s something that I’ll come back to. Obviously the fads and the styles, I’m heavily influenced by 90s rap. They’re recurring themes and influences.
Your songwriting style has been described as “unorthodox”. Do you think it sets you apart from the rest of the hip-hop crowd?
Yeah definitely, I mean I get a lot of love from fans of all different types of different genres of music. I’ve been called underground, backpacker rap, nerdcore rap, old school, by various people. Played shows and gotten a lot of love from people that normally wouldn’t like, wouldn’t normally gravitate towards rap. So I think that I’m able to connect with a wider range of people, because of the songwriting. I hope that answers your question. Yeah I don’t know, I’m not really too stuck on what’s current, in terms of the current climate of rap music. The trends. I’ve still been able to remain relevant, I think, by the content and the style of writing.
Tell me about the significance of Public Rap Distribution to you.
Oh word. Well PRD was something that I started with a couple friends of mine in Halifax, when I moved there. It was kind of a freestyling exercise/collaborative orphanage, if you will, of artists, rappers. Basically local Halifax rappers would get together every Friday out front of the Spring Garden Public Library, and we’d just rap frees from 5pm til we couldn’t stand around anymore. In many cases it was too cold or too rainy, but we’d do it every week for a few years. And it was something to do to sharpen our skills and sort of build a sense of community in the hip-hop scene in Halifax. It was one of the ways where I sharpened my skills and I got to meet a lot of good people in the scene.
The title of Halifax’s Best MC was bestowed on you 5 years in a row (from 2008-2012) in The Coast’s (Halifax’s local weekly paper) annual Reader’s Poll. How gratifying was it to be awarded that title 5 consecutive years?
It was a tremendous feeling to be acknowledged like that. Especially, given the huge pool of talent that’s in Halifax, and has been in Halifax. It was a tremendous honour, and a very humbling experience. Just to be sorta listed with other great artists like Buck 65 or Classified, and Quake, and all these other cats that are doing their thing. It was a great experience, so big ups to The Coast and all The Coast readers for showing love.
Describe the hip-hop scene in Halifax.
Halifax has a very diverse hip-hop scene. You got a lot of different sub-genres converging and overlapping. Since there’s a lot of Universities, you know, kind of a University town. You got people coming from all types of different places. So they bring their interests and their styles, you get artists from Toronto or Vancouver, or the States or Europe. People gravitate to each other and you have different types of sounds, you have more commercial sounding rap, you have more underground rap, nerdcore, art rap. You have all different types of flavours. Lots of good stuff has always come out of Halifax, and there’s a lot continuing to come out. Like I mentioned, you have the legacy, Jorun Bombay is still holding it down. He’s pretty much, hands down, considered the godfather of Halifax hip-hop. You have Buck 65 again, Sixtoo, Hip Club Groove, DJ Moves, DJ Gordski, Skratch Bastid. The legacy of cats that have done things in the past is incredible, and they’ve all gone on to do great things. And then currently, you have a lot of current rappers and DJs and artists that are doing their thing, producers. Like I said, you got Quake, you got Cam Smith, you got Shevy Price, Weirdo Click. All different sounds, kinda like, doing their own thing. You got Ambition, DJ Uncle Fester, it’s poppin out there. Sort of R&B overlap, so shout outs to Ariana Nicole as well. It’s good, it’s good out there. It’s a really unique scene, there’s a lot of support. Not a lot of cats take themselves too seriously. Also, big ups to N.E.P and Ghettochild. There’s just so many different types of rappers and artists, that it just makes for a refreshing scene, I find personally.
Which hip-hop artists, past and present, have influenced your music the most?
I’d have to say, I’m a big fan, like in terms of rap, style. I’m a big fan of Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, you know, that New York, early 90s, late 80s sort of vibe, East Coast music. I’m a huge Gang Starr fan, so obviously I’m a big fan of DJ Premier and his production, in terms of music. That doesn’t really get much better, in terms of a producer who pushed the envelope and developed his style, and then came up with a signature sound. And it just really spoke to me, in terms of production. More contemporary, I’m a fan of Madlib and a lot of what Stones Throw did in the heyday, their heyday. Peanut Butter Wolf, Charizma, that whole time, that music. Also Rawkus Records, stuff that they were doing later in the 90s. Like Soundbombing 2 was a huge record for me, DJ Spinna is huge. I have, kind of a mishmash of influences, I guess you could say. I’m a fan of all types of music, and then I just bring that, along with my experiences, into my approach to making music.
How did the Backburner collective first begin, and who was the mastermind behind the idea for it?
I’m not actually sure who started it, per se. But I know that Uncle Fester, Fresh Kils were involved in the inception at some point, as well as Beatmason, Dexter Doolittle. Sorta like a collective of producers and DJs were kind of at the heart, I believe. From that they were working with a roster of emcees, such as Wordburglar, Jesse Dangerously, Johnny Hardcore, Ginzuintriplicate, Frank Deluxe as well. They’re all original members. And then as time went on they started building up more and more people into the crew. So then you have Thesis Sahib and More Or Les. And then you have the Toolshed (Psybo, Timbuktu, Chokeules) they were all involved, and it just sorta spiraled from there. I was kind of a late edition, as well as my man Ambition, to the crew. Jay Bizzy was also, I think, one of the OG emcees in there, just to backtrack a little bit. I came along later, it was after quite a bit of time that I was in Halifax til I was actually approached by the crew. I was friends with all those dudes, I kind of met them, just later. We just be in the same seen and just hang out all the time, and it kind of was a natural progression, crewed up with all those dudes.
Nerdcore rap defies most of the common stereotypes about hip-hop music. Do you view that as a positive?
Yeah totally. I think rap music in general defies a lot of musical conventions. Whether that be lyrical content, whether that be the approach to making music, the appropriation of samples, the delivery of the music, whether that be through drum machines, turntablism. So I think nerdcore falls in sync with that. It’s just sort of an echo of what rap already is. I think that given the current state of the way rap has been commercialized. I think people consider nerdcore, underground, or like backpacker rap to be subversive in comparison to what’s popular in the mainstream. It sort of deviates so drastically in a lot of cases. I think it’s a good thing to have music out there that zigs, while the other zags, so to speak. Yeah it’s refreshing. It’s also fun to hear music that people can relate to, on some weird level where it’s not just about, “Tryna do my thang, tryna get through the day. We gon make it”. There’s a lot of clichés in the mainstream. So to hear somebody like my man More Or Les kick a song that’s all about brunch, it’s refreshing. And I think people get down with it, because it’s so different and so relatable, lighthearted in a lot of ways. It’s not addressed normally, so it’s like a surprise for a lot of people, to be like, “Oh, yo this is something that I know about”, or, “I can’t believe these cats are making music about this and that, and the third.” Yeah I think that’s what’s partially appealing about it.
Has nerdcore rap made a tangible impact on the Canadian hip-hop industry, or is there still room for improvement?
Right now, the Canadian rap industry, in my view, by and large, it’s very much an independent scene. There’s not a lot of outlets, in terms of label support or independent labels that are doing things. Obviously nerdcore falls in line with that. Rap across the board is kind of a DIY, punk scene of the 80s, type thing. Where everybody’s kind of codependent, and we really rely on each other’s artists and we wear a lot of different hats as artists. Timbuktu, for instance, he recorded and mixed my record “FYPT.” I did the artwork for his new record, “How Huge.” My boy Evul, he and I run a co-op indie label, called Droppin Science. All the cats that are affiliated with us, we share our resources and pool our talents to help each other out, and move as a unit. There’s definitely room for improvement, but anything worth doing, put work into it, right? That’s kind of what the state of it is. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot happening in general in the Canadian rap scene, on a commercial level. You have a few success stories. Obviously Classified is doing very well, Shad is kicking ass, SonReal is getting a lot of love these days, and he’s doing big things, also Rich Kidd. And internationally too, with your Drakes and your Kardinals. These names that I mentioned, are on one hand. There’s not a lot of artists finding full-time success, out of music. It’s kind of the way I see it. Nerdcore rap falls in line with a lot of other raps that are indie, or DIY. Some people are carving out a niche, and making a decent go of it. It’s a labour of love.
Have you ever been approached by any major labels?
Yeah, I’ve been in talks with a couple. The structure, it just wasn’t appealing to me, the way that the breakdowns were. Major label or support, whether that be booking or management, they don’t really look at you until you don’t need them. You do all this stuff on your own, you build up your own name and you get your own buzz going. And then by the time your doing really well, standing on your own two feet, that’s when they show up? And then it’s like, “Well, I’m already doing this on my own now. Do I really need you to come in and do it for me, at a cost?” It hasn’t made sense for me yet. Maybe the right opportunity hasn’t presented itself. I’ve been fine doing everything on my own and through Droppin Science with the help of my man Evul. We have our crew, we’re sort of doing our own thing, like Lord of the Flies, tribes, sort of huddled together just doing our thing, and rockin on. It’s not something that I’m really too concerned with, right at this point.
Does Canadian hip-hop have an identity, or is it still struggling in that regard?
Us as Canadians struggle with our identity in rap. Some people do, some artists don’t. I feel like since American rap music is so prevalent and the template for a lot of people’s influences, some artists find it difficult to make their own style mesh with that style. With that sort of convention. There’s a lot of artists that do it very well. They have no problem waving the Canadian flag, so to speak, in the identity of their music. I use More Or Les as an example, again, and Wordburglar also. Those guys are awesome at bringing Canadiana into the music, and really repping for Canada. Classified also is outstanding at that and he’s obviously solidified his position in the Canadian music scene, because of the way that he reps. I think there’s a lot of artists out there that sort of struggle with it. Aside from the few exceptions that I mentioned, you got a lot of kids that look up to the American market, “Oh, I gotta be like this. I gotta sort of posture myself after these cats over here that are like successful.” So that’s why I think you have a lot of people emulating popular rappers. It doesn’t make sense in a lot of cases, cuz the lifestyles don’t match up. You have these millionaire rappers making music, or maybe not even millionaires. They’re portraying this lifestyle of cars and mansions. And then you have kids from rural Canada that are emulating that, and have absolutely no frame of reference to that. In that regard there is a bit of a struggle, correlating the Canadian identity in with the music. It’s not luxurious to push a Cavalier, rapping about Roll Up The Rim and stuff like that. When you could talk about poppin Clicquot. That’s just my comment, my opinion about that.
Ian McBride is the godfather of owning the Godfather Trilogy on DVD.