Self-made is an understatement for Canadian recording artist Classified. Far from a novice to the recording and Hip Hop industry, Classified is back for album number 14. Yes, album number 14…that’s a big deal. Since his arrival to the scene in 1995 with, Time’s Up Kid, he has not stopped from dropping an album every year.
April 12th will record another milestone for Classified and his journey through the lyrics and bars. Handshakes and Middle Fingers is an album that delivers high quality Hip Hop and nothing short of it. On this album he has exclusive features with Brother Ali in “Maybe It’s Just Me,” Joe Budden in “Unusual,” and highlights fellow Canadian musicians, White Mic and Boyd Mic on “They Don’t Know.”
The single, “That Ain’t Classy” is a thrilling track that sets the stage for straight up criticism of the not so classy “self-centered weirdoes” in the game. Filled with straightforward and fearless lyrics, Classified proves again, why he is that dude lyrically and production wise. In “Step It Up” he gives listeners a crash course on putting in work and getting in the music industry. The whole album provides a very melodic and chill ass ambiance.
Catching up with Classified, we get some insights on the creation of the album, his current label situation, and he even talks about being the groundbreaker of Hip Hop on his side of Canada.
HipHopDX: Congratulations on the latest upcoming release Handshakes and Middle Fingers. Why such a title?
Classified: That question comes up a lot. But for me, as I was working on the album I felt that the reoccurring theme was balance. Just like the ups and downs, the good and the bad. As I was writing, I just kept going back to that theme, and I didn’t want to call the album “Balance,” because there have been a lot of albums called balance. So I was thinking about the “gift and the curse” and “the Ying and the Yang,” but those are things you’ve heard before. Then one day I was thinking, “Handshakes and Middle Fingers—two opposites,” and it kinda works. The way the industry works, and in life in general, there are a lot of handshakes and middle fingers. A lot of people have that mind frame of, “if you’re not with me, you’re against me.” So if you’re not giving me a handshake, a lot of the times it’s a middle finger saying “Fuck you,” or you get the hand shake and the middle finger behind your back. It worked in a lot of ways. But it truly goes back to the balance theme.
DX: On 2009’s Self Explanatory, it sounded like an adventure story, but in this album you don’t give us that and you come more straightforward. When you started this album what was going through your mind? What were you going to do differently?
Classified: Yeah, like on the last album I did the “choose your own adventure story,” and it was one of the most popular things about the album. A lot of people really thought it was a cool concept. On the album before that, I had a track called “Beating It,” where I was rapping about making a beat—as I was making the beat I’m rapping about it. I always want to have cool concepts on my albums, so when I sat down to make this album, I thought, “Alright that choose your own adventure shit was crazy last time, what am I gonna do on this one?” I just kept going over my head and didn’t want to do push something different just because. So for this album, I just really wanted to sit down make like 15 really good tracks. No crazy left concept, left field shit, just straight up really good music and at the same time step it up lyrically. I think I did that compared to my last record. Musically, I had a lot more freedom to bring in horn players, some small orchestras, a couple of string players, and just really try to make it a more music-based album. I really wanted instrumentals to stand out right when I was rhyming or singing on them to where you can listen to the instrumentals and say, “Shit this is some good music.” Whether it’s Hip Hop or whatever you’re into, but that it’s just some really good music.
Then even more on the lyrical side of it, just a lot has happened to me in the last two years, with the success of the last album. I’m finally touring outside of Canada and getting to see the world. And personally, I have two baby girls. It’s changed my outlook and my thought process in general. So I’m talking a lot about that too here.
DX: Wow, I knew you had a daughter, I didn’t realize you had two now!
Classified: Yeah, we just had another one about eight months ago, so the family is growing.
DX: You were signed to Sony before, but what happened with that situation? You are now signed to Decon Records. Where do you think this will take you? What are your expectations?
Classified: I’m still signed to Sony, but the way it works or the way my deal works, is that I signed to Sony Worldwide, but where I have built a name for myself in Canada. They took the release in Canada, so Sony released it on their major in Canada. But in other territories, if Sony doesn’t want to release it there, we can talk to other labels that may be more interested and excited about putting it out. Decon jumped on board, and I am big fan of what they’ve been doing the last few years. I was excited and thought it was a better move than doing the Sony thing in the States. It was more of an underground vibe and more hands on thing. With Decon, we’re really building the buzz together and it makes a difference when you have them excited and wanting to push your shit out.
DX: But let me take it back for a moment. A couple of years ago, signing to a major label was not the most important thing to you, but it has been a tool to get your music out to more audiences. How has it been for you since you signed to a major versus before? How have they changed, and would you go back to being completely independent?
Classified: I would totally, but it’s still a very independent mind frame. Like five years ago, I had the record Boy-Cott In the Industry, and at the same time I was saying, “Fuck the major labels” in the normal way that everyone does. But I know what this takes. I run my little Half Life Records, which is my independent label, but I know I don’t have the manpower to push a project to really take it to the next level. The deal with Sony, it just made sense. It was such a good deal for me—I am making more money per record, and I have full control. I make my own albums in my own studio, so there is no A&R sending me beats. I produce all of my stuff, so it was like “Here’s your contract…Cool, let’s do it.” I didn’t have to pay for anything. When I was independent, I was paying for everything—any marketing, manufacturing, anything. At the end of the day, it was paid by me. Now I do what I want. I pick out my singles. They just want the finished album. It isn’t that different from being independent. We’re still setting up our own tours, singles, and videos, but we have them to help push so it makes a difference.
DX: I was looking at some interviews of you, and fellow journalists have credited you for creating a music scene. When you started Half Life Records and released your first full length LP, Time’s Up, Kid in 1995, did you consider that you were a groundbreaker? Did you think you would be at this point in your career? Where does Classified go from here?
Classified: There is a guy from Halifax, Joe Run, who’s been around since the late ‘80s. He’s worked with everyone, and that’s who I give credit to for our scene. I guess I took our scene and made it more national. It feels great when people say that, but I have to say there are these other guys too and helped put me on too. When I put out that tape, it was an independent cassette and a way for me to prove to the scene that I could hang and do what they were doing. There were a lot of dope emcees coming out of here in the mid-‘90s, but it never got out to the masses. In the future, I want to tour outside of Canada, the US, Australia, and the UK. But I want to start working in the production chair more serious and work with more artists…fly them out to Canada. I want to build up Half Life Records.
DX: This is album number 14 for you. That’s huge for a recording artist, and you’re very passionate about Hip Hop…
Classified: My first three albums were cassettes, then we got into CDs, then we got our first distribution. I wouldn’t wait for a label, so I put it out myself. Fourteen albums later and we’re still going strong.