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Classified's delivery honed in the trenches

Apr 15, 2011, 2:25 PM

It says a great deal about Canada, about our much-debated national identity, when even our rappers express self-doubt.

And if that’s the case, perhaps East Coast musician Classified is making a further case to be considered the quintessentially Canuck hip-hop artist.

First there was the artist's lovingly rendered 2009 single Oh, Canada, from his Juno-nominated major label debut Self-Explanatory, which came complete with reference to our "amateurish" film and

TV industries, and includes the line, "It's the Great White North, home of the funniest actors/The brunt of the joke, with an abundance of laughter."

Now, Classified lets his true red and white shine through even further with the intro to his new album Handshakes and Middle Fingers, which has the artist questioning his skills and whether or not he has a worthy followup album in him.

Clearly Canadian? "I think so. I think that's a reason why people are paying attention to my stuff-coming from a small, East Coast town, Nova Scotia, Canada," says the MC, born Luke Boyd.

"We all have self-doubt... and insecurities and when people hear us talk about that, people can relate to that and it makes the music a lot more real. And I think people can relate to that and appreciate it.

"(Most rappers) want to be that superstar and larger-than-life and hard-as-hell and no one-can-hurtme type thing. That's how hiphop's been since the days I came up, it's always been a very macho, braggadocious thing. It still has that aspect but nowadays people want to hear that realness and... bringing that personal feeling to the music."

Classified's personality comes out strong on his Handshakes, another hit-filled hip-hop album that showcases a delivery that’s been honed over two decades in the trenches, and an ear for melody that summons the songs into the mainstream. That holds true from the disc's first single That Ain't Classy, which is built from wonderful electro grooves and features a pretty gorgeous chorus, to the album's closer The Hangover, filled with innumerable hooks and memorable moments.

And speaking of that final track, well, here once again, Classified proudly flies his beaver pelt by including a guest appearance by someone you wouldn't associate with the nation's hip-hop scene -Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy.

"That's real Canadian, yeah," he says and laughs.

The pair first met in 2006 in Halifax, during the truly regional music industry event, the Juno Cup, the exhibition hockey game during Juno Week which features the country’s puck-loving hoser patrol. Classified says he’d joked about collaborating with Cuddy at subsequent Cups, and then finally followed up, by calling the veteran country rocker out of the blue.

"I'm sure he's not a big hip-hop listener but he was really supportive, he was really cool like that - I got Jim Cuddy," Classified says, before noting that it was never meant as a marketing gimmick and the result is far from a novelty song. "It's one of my favourites on the album, too."

And as for the rest of the musical community, more specifically the hip-hop community, Classified has been warmly embraced by them of late, even being asked to open the recent CBC sponsored Hip Hop Summit concert with his version of Oh, Canada.

Classified calls the experience "intense", noting that he was one of the few younger stars in a group of more established and recognized acts such as Rascalz, Choclair and Maestro -his heroes and influences over the years.

"It was more of an honour," he says. "I don't know if I earned that spot that they had me at because I felt like those songs were all classic songs from '89 to '98... and, like I said, these were all guys I grew up watching and I was like, 'I want to do what they're doing'."

And now comes the true test for Classified, the one thing that no matter how red and white one bleeds is secretly desired by most that are north of the 49th parallel-American acceptance.

So far, so good, as the album has just dropped in the U.S., and already MTV has begun to embrace That Ain't Classy, with a recent spinning on one of the more prominent shows sending his Twitterverse into overdrive.