BrassMunk bang it for the bikes 

Who: BrassMunk

Where: Gravity Festival main stage, base of Whistler gondola

When: Saturday, July 19, 8:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Every once in a while a new musical outfit comes along that breaks new ground and connects with people beyond its core audience.

The extreme sports scene has generally been acquainted with punk rock and metal. But now thanks to an energetic and expressive urban music scene, hip hop acts are finding themselves out of the concrete cities that shaped them and into the mountain bike parks and skate parks that welcome them.

BrassMunk are a good case in point. The Toronto-based rap crew, comprised of producer Agile and emcee's May One 9, S-Roc, and Clip, is a band that matters. Not just to the people who live and die by the hip hop scene and its culture, but to those who find it inspiring, uplifting and the perfect soundtrack for their adventurous sports and hobbies.

For the past three years BrassMunk has been launching an aural assault on the music marketplace starting with the neck-snapping single "One, 2" – an ode to rap's storied microphone check mantra, and it's reggae-tinged B-side "Stop, Look, Listen".

After scene-stealing guest appearances on Canada's most credible underground and overground DJ compilations, it wasn’t until BrassMunk released its 2001 Juno-nominated, guitar-fuelled headbanger "Live Ordeal" that everybody started talking about their progressive, live-wire hip hop sound.

BrassMunk is now on a journey to new school rap greatness with impressive sales and accompanying accolades for their debut EP Dark Sunrise.

The group found themselves on the influential Urb Magazine’s "Next 100" list (at Number 45) and were the first rappers ever to be awarded the Galaxie Rising Stars award. They received an award for Best Independent Urban recording for the track "Get Right" during Canadian Music Week and were nominated for three Juno awards this year. BrassMunk were up for best album, best single and best music video in the hip hop/rap category.

If it wasn’t for those pesky and popular Swollen Members, industry watchers say those gongs would have been in the bag for BrassMunk.

We caught up with emcee May One 9 in his hometown of Scarborough, for a lowdown on this tight unit.

Pique: Do you like the fact your music is enjoyed by people traditionally outside the urban music scene?

May 1-9: Definitely. We hang out with all types of people and so our music is going to reflect that. We have an appeal I think to mountain bikers and skaters and people in general who like to push their limits because they’re forward thinking like us. You know, independent and abnormal people, I guess, to the general society, so it doesn’t surprise me they like our stuff. It’s cool.

Pique: How does it feel to be recognized with so many industry nods after so many years of hard work underground?

M 1-9: It feels good. I mean it shows it’s not just the fans who see we’re doing something positive and progressive – the critics do too. I mean (the awards) are not what we do music for but it’s a part of getting results so we enjoy it.

Pique: BrassMunk often talk about making sure there’s plenty of quality hip hop out there. What’s the difference between bad and good hip hop?

M1-9: Bad hip hop is formulaic. Nothing original. Carbon copies. You see, a lot of people are more into making a commercial hit and making money than they are about making something inspiring. To us that compromises what the original intent of hip hop music is all about. Those people are not being true to themselves which is what hip hop and rap is all about. We don’t want to be a run of the mill or average Joe group, which means we might not sell millions of records now but we hope it will give us longevity.

Pique: BrassMunk has got a lot of respect for its fluidity. You seem to weave effortlessly in and out of each other’s lines. That takes a lot of acts years to perfect. What’s the secret?

M 1-9: We were all friends for years who came together out of a love for music and rhymes. So we know each other so well now and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how to deal with them.

Agile makes the beats and he’s definitely the producer in the group, sometimes constructing the order of the rhymes like who raps first, who’s second, who can be a guest vocalist and whatnot. Myself, I’m a low vocalist who brings a lot of energy to our live performances. Clip has a really strong, loud voice and is really rugged with his lyrics. And S-Roc, he’s more the songwriter for the group creating a lot of the choruses for us and he brings a lot of the soul to the group. That’s one of the key things about BrassMunk, everyone plays their position and it comes together in a way that works.

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