Kicksta Music Group: Scotia In The House
The return of the regional music scene, complete with home-grown labels, a sound both similar to and different from what is happening in the music world, and a roster of local talent, is one of hip hop culture's greatest contributions. In the 60's and 70's, the classic era of black music in its many forms, there was the Motown sound, the Sound of Philly, Chicago, and Memphis soul. In rap, there is the West Coast G-funk, the Dirty South, and, of course, the birthplace of rap, New York. While they recognize and listen to each other, there are differences in sound, beats, and vocal delivery. Most of all there is hood pride. Think "California Love" by Tupac, featuring Ice Cube, and "South Bronx" by the immortal BDP. Now, from Nova Scotia comes the Kicksta Music Group.
You're thinking, "Nova Scotia? Like, Canada, north of... Maine? A hip hop scene?" That's what I thought, too. And adding to the intrigue is that they have an office in Miami, Florida because one of the business partners lives there. You're thinking "A base in one of the coldest spots on the planet and another in one of the warmest?" Me too. But in this age of globalization and the shrinking planet, why not?
The bottom line is that the artists on the label's recent release, a compilation called Scotia Mix, Vol. 1, are strong. Whether it is hardcore rap - Teardrop, Papa Grand, The Game Spitaz, Young Squad, The Empire - or hip hop soul from Kicksta's queen bee Dimples, Duby, and label co-leader, prime mover, and clutch performer Jamie Sparks, these artists, to quote Public Enemy, "bring the noise." We asked Mr. Sparks and his battery mate Randy W. Powell to give us the 411 on how they got started, where they're headed and the ScoTown-Miami connection.
[Kirby] How did you come to decide to form your own company?
Jamie Sparks Out of necessity. Not being able to find a label to release my music, it was a natural progression.
[Kirby] You have a Kicksta Music Group in Miami Florida. Why an office there? What is your connection with Miami?
Jamie Sparks The founder of Kicksta, Randy Powell is from Miami. Having him there and me in Canada allows us to be able to take advantage of all opportunities north or south of the border.
[Kirby] Mr. Powell, what business are you in besides the music business?
Roger Powell I work in the maritime industry.
[Kirby] How did you all get together, especially considering your geographic difference?
Roger Powell I met Jamie Sparks, at a friend's house while I was vacationing in Halifax, Canada.
[Kirby] Mr. Powell, et. al., what led to your decision to form a music company between one man from Miami and two from Canada?
Roger Powell When I met Jamie, I noticed that we both shared the same passion for creating music. However, Jamie was thinking about doing a remix for the song "Fun Tonight" that was receiving commercial radio airplay in Toronto, Canada. So we went in the studio, and collaborated and came up with a hot reggae remix for that song. During that session, I met Chris Iannetti, a young talented recording engineer that was known to be one of the best recording and mixing engineers in Canada. Together we had a good working relationship and I wanted to do more work with these guys so we talked it over, and made it happen.
[Kirby] Was it the personal chemistry of the three of you that lead to the Kicksta formation, or was there something about the talent base or individual talent in Miami and Nova Scotia?
Roger Powell Yes, it was absolutely the creative chemistry that lead us to forming a music production, record label and music publishing company. I guess we all clicked because we share the same zodiac sign. Gemini.
[Kirby] What is it that defines the Nova Scotia hip hop sound?
Jamie Sparks The unique Nova Scotian experience. We have our own individual joy & pain which fuels the struggle to survive and move forward.
[Kirby] What is the situation for black people, particularly youth, in Nova Scotia?
Jamie Sparks The situation could be better. Not a lot to do to keep the youth busy, so a lot of them end up in trouble. Especially with the music; not an abundance of r&b/hip hop musical outlets.
One part of the nature of rap music and hip hop culture is that it captures street level militance and allegiance to the block as the tribal home. But instead of roaming his 'hood with weapons like a soldier, Papa Grand is the national ambassador of Scotia Love and king of block party. On the hometown anthem "Scotown Stomp," he rocks it for the 'hood with old school rhyme style and today's pimpin' flow: "ScoTown is where my team's at /How long is gonna take for y'all to recognize / I rep the east side with my ScoTown pride / grip the mic spit the gift and grab the prize . . . ScoTown stomp to the left lean back / ScoTown stomp to the right lean back/ Double clap/ It's ScoTown we about to throwdown like Motown."
Young Squad is hardcore gangsta rap minus the silly gun play and violent fantasy. On "The Movement," they remind us that rap had at one time a street militance and was about being young and black and dealing with the cops. Another crew, The Game Spitaz, rhyme over a G-Funk-meets-Jay Z-groove, complete with a wily keyboard hook. Like the Young Squad, they bring back another forgotten side of rap, dance and party music (50 Cent's "In Da Club" is too dark in tone and missing the all important fun). "One - ladies throw your hands in the air / Two - get loose if it's pimpin up in here / Ladies say Oh when you're backin' up slow, fellas say yeah if you like to take control / Three - clap your hands if the beat is tight / Four - ladies show your fellas how to do it right / hit 'em on the dance floor break 'em off something so when they get home they can't complain about nothin'."
Papa Grand proves to be the rapper with the most depth and potential amongst the Kicksta group. His "Forgetful Minds," flavored nicely with a soulful female vocal chorus and plaintive acoustic guitar, is the ScoTown version of Grand Master Flash's "The Message" and the many Boogie Down Productions songs that deal with politics and history, especially on the hip hop classic "By All Means Necessary." But Papa comes at it from the street level, with rhymes about locked down friends, police harassment, and the need for knowledge of self. This depth and the types of subjects and attitudes expressed on the Scotia Mix, Vol. 1 remind one of more classic black music.
[Kirby] What type of music was played in your home when you were growing up?
Jamie Sparks Gospel and R&B. The first music to really get my attention was the music from the band my older brothers had. It was an R&B band. They were fascinating to watch. They became my main musical influence too. Their band really had an impact. I wanted to be just like them. They could play anything and make it sound just like the recording, if not better.
[Kirby] When did you first realize that music was to be your main focus?
Jamie Sparks After I realized how much I couldn't stand my day job at the time (laughter). Nothing seemed to keep my interest like music.
Sparks' experience in getting hooked on music from a live source shows in the organic sounding groove of Scotia Mix, Vol. 1; values which favor some swang (or swing) in their grooves, even in the hard core beats. His roots in 80's and 90's R&B shows up in full force on his cuts on this compilation. "Gonna Get Down" and his 'collobo', that is vocal chorus hooks on Big Brotha's party rap anthem "Chill" which nods its head to Bobby Brown's various groups and Black Street. The beat has that vintage bounce, not too heavy, not to light electro but with that human touch of swing. The verses and the vocal hooks are all there, but with an old school rapper's rhythm and flow, and melodies that could stand up to Usher and R. Kelly pound for pound.
"You Are" has an old school Stevie Wonder sound, especially in the intricate flow of the melody. Jamie Sparks lets the rappers rap and Duby and Dimples do their R&B thing, but when it's time to step up to the plate, he let's 'em know who is the top talent at Kicksta. And believe me that the bar is set quite high by the songs on this mix tape CD.
[Kirby] About ten years ago, there was talk of Halifax being the next Seattle, in terms of having a music scene attractive to labels, etc. How has the music scene in Nova Scotia been the last few years and what is it like now?
Jamie Sparks Since then, the scene has grown. The city is bigger, more things going on? Yes. Seattle? Not really. Labels should still be attracted to the talent here because there is a lot of it. The problem is, I think we need some experienced business professionals to show us how to take it beyond just the talent. All of the artists are from the Halifax area (Halifax, Dartmouth, Cherry Brook, North Preston, East Preston). Some of them are new to the biz, and some are veterans. Their love of the art form and their desire to succeed was why we signed them.
[Kirby] What is the Kicksta vision? Is it to just have a music company or do you see yourselves going the way of Wu-Tang, Jay-Z and Damon Dash and branding a product line that includes fashion, soundtracks, film production, etc.?
Jamie Sparks Our vision is to focus on producing and developing new talent. Also, we want to continue licensing our catalog for film and TV. We are currently preparing marketing strategies for the release of Jamie Sparks' new album, due out late February 2007 and entitled 'It's the Music'.