State of the Union 

Vancouver-based hip hop collective, Sweatshop Union, heads out on the road again with material from their latest album, Water Street

click to enlarge Sweatshop Boys Members of the hip hop collective, Sweatshop Union, are rolling back into Whistler this week.
  • Sweatshop Boys Members of the hip hop collective, Sweatshop Union, are rolling back into Whistler this week.

Who: Sweatshop Union w/DJ Metal and Animal Nation
When: Thursday, Feb. 5, 9 p.m.
Where: Moe Joe's
Admission: $10 in advance at Moe Joe's, Evolution, Showcase and Glacier Shop

Meet the members of the Union (Sweatshop Union, that is); Kyprios, Marmalade, Itchy Ron, Metty, Mos Eisley, Dusty Melo and Conscience.

You've probably heard of them before, this Canadian hip hop collective has garnered a lot of attention over the years for their incredibly high-energy shows, coupled with seriously conscious lyrics.

But the Union, the collective of like-minded musicians, which boasts a total of seven artists, came together out of pure necessity, really.

Kyprios first encountered Metty and Moses at an underground hip hop night. After he did a spoken-word piece about being Canadian and living in Lynn Valley, Metty and Moses, who were also from that neighbourhood, came up to him after the show to introduce themselves.

"Everyone wanted to record, and because... it was so much more expensive to get into a studio and get a CD manufactured, what we did was pool our money, our resources, came up with a name, and put some songs together," Kyprios explained.

So in 2000, three groups - Dirty Circus, Creative Minds, and Innocent Bystanders - teamed up with Kyprios to create an independent album, which featured a range of their music. The project was very well received, and soon, the collective took on a life of its own.

"We all liked the record and we were all proud of the record," he explained. "...We got videos and then after we got videos, people wanted to see us live, and then you start doing shows together."

It wasn't long before they caught the eye of Mad Child, one of the members of Swollen Members. They were signed to Underworld, a subsidiary label of Battle Axe Records.

"We were the underground of the underground," Kyprios deadpanned.

Underworld re-released their independent album as Local 604 and encouraged them to keep touring and making music. The group's efforts created a heightened sense of awareness and raised their profile, solidifying the Union as an established local hip hop collective.

The group just recently returned from gigs in Idaho and Montana, with Kyprios and the rest of the crew happily stretching their legs out after the 14-hour drive before heading out on the road again. In fact, they're heading to Whistler this week as part of their most recent headlining tour.

While the individual members of the group are still hard at work with their solo musical endeavours, the Union takes top priority.

"I think that its downtime," Kyprios reflected. "If we're not touring, if we're not working on a Sweatshop Union record, then our time can be placed working on our own stuff."

The entire process has been something of a learning process, and despite the fact that the group has been together for almost nine years they're still maturing and pushing to keep their sound innovative and fresh for their fans.

"I think that we've all come to the conclusion that putting a record out every two years just isn't enough," Kyprios said. "What's generally been happening is people would be recording three or four songs those two years, and then performing them for the next two years, and we just found its counterproductive to licensing and even doing shows."

So they're all stepping up their game, spending more time crafting new music and in the studio to keep things interesting.

Their renewed focus is due, in part, to a recent tour they did with the group The Living Legends, another West Coast hip hop collective.

"It was a really big eye opener when we were looking over at their merch booth and I think they had 40 CDs and we had like five, and what they have been able to do is brand the individual members and groups... so when they come together, its special for the fans to have everybody on stage at the same time," he said.

On the next record, they plan to take a more collaborative approach, integrating some crossover on each of the tracks.

For Kyprios, the creative process has also evolved over the years.

"I used to be very dependent on a beat - someone would have to have a beat and I would write in and around that melodically and lyrically," he explained.

But now, he approaches it from the opposite direction, developing a melody or musical idea, then cultivating lyrics around that.

"That being said, I'm the only guy in the group who doesn't make beats, so I'm always listening to see what they have," he said.

While they all have different approaches and styles, when it comes to lyrical content, none of the members of the Union are afraid to delve into the deep end. They touch on everything from war and poverty to racism.

"Part of the reason that we were attracted to hip hop was the songs and the music from artists that were more than what the average and norm and the stereotypical shit was," Kyprios explained. He added that their hip hop is devoid of references to "bitches," "hos" and the normal, mainstream rap content.

"The word 'rap' is from two people just sitting down and rapping, like, 'lets just talk,' and what we talk about musically is the shit that we talk about in the car that we're thinking about, the things that are going on around us."

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