Interview: Choclair

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No matter what part of Canada you are from it’s hard to not know the name Choclair. Born Kareem Blake, for years Choclair helped carry the torch for Canadian hip-hop music throughout the 90s. While seeing success both locally and internationally, Chiznock is still proudly hoisting hip-hop’s flag for the north. Rkulture had the opportunity to talk with Choc about a variety of topics. Check out R in-depth interview below.

What have you been up to as of late? You seem to be on the road a lot these days.

I’m good. I have been on the road a lot, I’ve just been gearing up some new releases “End Of The Road” feat. Bishop Brigante & Darryl Riley and also “All Night Long” with Karl Wolf, Classified and Solitair. I also have “Made (Move Mountains)” so just getting ready to release a slew of new music, get some food for your soul out there.       

How are you feeling about the material and energy coming out of Toronto right now?

It feels great. It’s good to see the number of artists coming out and getting their well deserved props. I remember when I first started there were only a hand full of artists that everyone would know, now there are so many people that the fans know and respect and they are leading the charge for the next generation of artist to come up and to look up to.

Why do you think so many people connected and supported you on your rise?

I think because I was just real in my music. I didn’t talk about what I didn’t know, I didn’t try and be someone I wasn’t, but I also showed respect to the art form of hip hop. Lyrics to me matter, your flow matters, no biting allowed, beats that pound. Just the things that we loved hip hop for, I was doing it because it was what influenced me. I think people showed respect to me for that because I was authentic with my love for hip hop, and whether I was peoples favorite artist or not they respected the fact that I wasn’t phony and that they may even like a song or two from me as well.

You put up some big numbers in terms of sales early on and have managed to remain relevant for about 2 decades. How were you able to do this?

Again, I think that it’s my authenticity and respect for the art. I make music that has an emotional connection regardless if it’s something for the dance floor or something to be in deep thought with. Music like that you don’t disregard after some time, it sticks with you. That’s why some people’s parents still listen to 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s rock, because it had an emotional connection with them way back then and they can always remember what that connection was when those songs first came out to when they hear it today. I constantly hear people tell me about my songs like “What it Takes”, “Flagrant”, “21 Years”, “Let’s Ride”, “Skyline” and a whole lot of others. The funny thing is that there is always a story that goes along with it (How they heard it, what they used to do when it came on…etc), so I believe that is why I’ve had the longevity I’ve had, and people ask me all the time to continue to put out more music so I just continue to do that.

What differences have you noticed most in hip hop today with the acceptance of Canadian emcees crossing over into the States and internationally?

I’ve noticed that hip hop is a lot more commercially accepted today. That’s a good thing because the likelihood of making a living off of hip hop is more prevalent, but also has some downsides because the real art of the emcee is being lost because people don’t hear it as often. Radio doesn’t play it as much, people just want that quick hit. The acceptance of Canadian emcees around the world and internationally is a great thing but its not new, we’ve always had our emcees accepted (not as much on a large scale as now) around the world because emcees in Canada have an abundance of talent. We have to remember Maestro was signed in the states and toured all around the world. Dream Warriors where large in the U.K. Michie Mee ran with Queen Latifah, Mc Lyte, Audio 2 and others. I think we hear about it more because we now have the internet and things can get out there easier but we’ve always had people represent nicely from Canada on a worldwide scale.

"Northern Touch" and "Let’s Ride" have been instilled within Toronto. The 2 songs always get a strong reception to this day. What was it like around that time among you guys bringing that attention to the city and did you think either were going to be timeless records talked about years later?

It was just a fun time in music for us. We didn’t say to ourselves “this is going to be the jam forever”, we just went out to make great music with the skills we learned and knew through growing up listening to hip hop. “Northern Touch” was just a fun “Posse” cut that me and Thrust did paper rock scissors to see who would go second or last, Kardinal was just rolling with me for the day and came to the studio with me and we came up with the hook together. It was stress free creating the track - it was just friends coming together to do it. With “Let’s Ride” it was somewhat similar with the exception that Kardinal did the beat and gave it to me and this time I went to the studio and I was rolling with Saukrates, that is why he is on at the beginning of the track. We did it for the love (of our city, and for hip hop). I believe that is something people can hear/feel in the track and they appreciate that as well as like what we made.   

Do you enjoy collaborating with other artists or do you prefer a more solo/personal approach when you’re in the studio?

I enjoy working with other artist, I’m a fan of the music so I get inspiration from watching others do it too. I think its great to share ideas and creative thoughts on music because we all have a different perspective even though we might love the same music, so collaboration in music is something I do enjoy.

Do you feel you’ve gotten the respect from your peers and fans for your contribution to the Canadian music scene?

I believe so. I think when people look back and see what has been done and accomplished they say…”oh yeah, Damn that’s a lot”. But we are moving in a fast paced society right now and when your going so fast everyday you don’t always see what’s around you or what you just missed, but when you get a chance to slow down for a second it all becomes perfectly clear.

What keeps you motivated everyday when you wake up to continue creating music?

What keeps me motivated is the people that come up to me when I’m out and say “we love your music”, or “one of your songs really got me through a hard time in my life, please put more music out, we need more Choclair music in the scene”. It’s very humbling to hear that and it makes you feel good and know that words do matter and that some people in their life really only have someones words to hold on to, and if some of my words are that, then I’m motivated and appreciative that I can do that for someone and I want to continue to make more positive movements. Hip Hop has changed my life, so I owe so much to it.

Why do you think Canadian emcees always struggled with finding their own identities and not being able to stand out without sounding like another artist from the States years prior?

I think it was just because we are so greatly influenced by american music. We are bombarded with hip hop from the states and depending on where in Canada you live, you are either getting more east coast (NY) Rap or west coast, down south, so when you’re making your music you can’t help but use some of your influences in your songs. But as we continue to get accepted world wide, and we start to realize that we are being accepted because of our distinctiveness, then we will see more people being themselves and not emulating other artist that they may look up to.

Are you a fan of the battle rap scene that seems to get bigger and bigger? KOTD has come a long way would you agree?

I am a fan, that’s how I got my start. I used to have to travel around Scarborough and battle other artist to make a name for myself, then I traveled around T.O, then while I would be doing some shows people would want to battle after the shows. So I appreciate the art of battle and I’m happy to see KOTD doing so well and creating a great market for people who do still love the skills in rap but prefer the battle scene more than making music for the radio. I give KOTD my support.

Do you feel hip hop is in a good space? Lyrics and competitive bars seem to be at the forefront again.

I think it’s in a good space, although I think it can expand to include more than just your hyper commercial music or have people only like battle rap lyrics because everything else is commercial to them. I believe that we can learn from all aspects of hip hop and shouldn’t shy away from either or, but embrace them both because it will only help to further the music.

Are you happy seeing what Drake has been able to do in terms of shinning a larger light on Toronto thus opening doors for so many new acts? 

I’m happy to see what he has done. We have come a long way from when it was only Maestro or when people from T.O didn’t even believe in artists from their own city to now having OVO Fest every year and people excited about it all the time. I would love to see some more Canadian Artists on the festival but overall its a great thing for the city and Drake is a great ambassador to help shine a light on T.O and Canadian artists.

Do you feel social media is a good or bad thing for hip-hop?

I think it’s a good thing because we can get music out there more frequently. The only thing is that not all the time is it the quality that is needed. But all in all, exposure of the music, culture, and scene is important as hip hop literally grows up and becomes mature in our lifetime.

What does the hip-hop kulture mean to you? 

The hip hop culture means a lot to me. That’s where I live my life and rules I abide by. Hip Hop is inclusive and demands respect, it allows for personal identity and expression. This is my same story, like KRS1 mentioned “Rap is something you do, hip hop is something you live”. I live hip hop everyday of my life.

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PPS.

also for those who don’t read the actual video descriptions I wish to note that a) I made a bad pun here about this being a  ‘rinterview’ and b) yes this basically got chosen for the hoodie Rin in the behind the scenes stuff!

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