After winning a Toronto Independent Music Award (TIMA) for Best Rap in October, you’d think hip-hop duo Philly Moves would take some time to relax. Instead, the Ottawa-based boys went on tour, with a stop in Toronto for Canadian Music Week in March.
Emerson spoke with lyricist Tragic about the start of Philly Moves, their TIMA win, and Canada’s role in the hip-hop game.
Raz Mataz Magazine (RMM): How did Philly Moves first form?
Philly Moves (PM): Well, we’ve been friends since we were 14, and we always just kind of fucked around. He would make beats, and I would rap over them. We recorded some stuff at a very young age. . . The beats were pretty much him on the bass and the drums; it was super crude, but that was pretty much where we first started making music. As for Philly Moves as a team, it was born in, I think, 2009. We put our first album out in late 2009. It did really well on the college charts, and we booked a cross-Canada tour to follow that album up. That’s kind of how all of our momentum started, and we’ve just been kind of grooving since then.
RMM: So were you guys just screwing around, or were you consciously modelling duos like Eric B. and Rakim?
PM: When we became Philly Moves and we decided we were going for it, that was definitely our model, like producer and MC, but we wanted it to be a group thing. . . . We were Tragic and Rockwell for a little while, but then we did a live session video, and the song was called ‘Philly Moves’, and we just kind of liked how it had a ring to it, so we said fuck it, and we became Philly Moves as a collective. . . . It was just a straight business decision, we like how it had a ring to it, and we liked just the sound of it as the group name, instead of just Tragic and Rockwell from, like, a branding and marketing stand point. It wasn’t an artsy name choice, it was just kind of a business move, and we thought it had a nice ring to it.
RMM: What was it like for you guys to win the award for Best Rap at the Toronto Independent Music Awards?
PM: It was awesome. We had only been in Toronto for, like, six months at that point. . . . It was pretty shocking that we won at the Toronto music awards, you know what I mean? Literally, as soon as we moved to Toronto, we entered [into the music awards]. It’s held every two years, they got about 1,200 rap acts; this year they’ve got about 5 [nominees]; we were in some very stiff competition, obviously.
The last one they did in 2010 – Relic was nominated, and for this year, Blackboltt was nominated, and SVDP, a bunch of dope people, so it was awesome, and really good for us. Winning awards is always cool to have on your resume, but it instantly made people aware of who we were in the city. Everybody in the indie rap scene was kind of like, fuck, who are these guys, so it was good. It was better from an outlook in the scene perspective. I can’t say specifically, what the quantitative result is of us winning the award, or how many more shows we got out of it. It was just a good look in the scene here; it really put our name in people’s mouths.
RMM: It just gave you more opportunities to get your band’s name out there, and make your band more aware of who you are.
PM: Exactly. Instantly, we were that band. People were kind of looking to see who was going to win that. . . . We were so fucking busy and annoying, but I think a lot of people took it seriously, and that [award] definitely helped.
RMM: What are your inspirations for you as a rapper?
PM: When I was first listening to rap, it was a lot of De La Soul, Gang Starr, early Eminem played a big role, subconsciously, Classified. I don’t think I sound like a lot of these people, but these are all people who I’ve listened too. I’m sure I’ve absorbed subconsciously some of their style. Even Biggie. . . all the old school cats, like Thought Effects, Nas, all the Wu-Tang guys. Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers was the first album I ever bought. I was fucking eight years old when I bought the tape, so I’ve been ahead for a long time. I think I have my own sound, my own style, but I’m sure if you look through hip-hop, you can pick up on parts of my flow that sounds like other people.
RMM: As a Canadian rapper, do you feel rappers from Canada can get overlooked outside of the country?
PM: Oh yeah, certainly. It’s just like in any other country, whether it’s us, or German hip-hop. . . everybody wants to get recognized in the States, so not only are we competing with everyone in the States, but with everyone else in the world. . . After two to three years of touring, we recently started regularly going down to the Northeastern States, so that will help. We’ve been charting on American college radio, too, so that will definitely help get us known.
But, it’s an uphill battle. . . everything works in microcosms, so when we were in Ottawa, we kind of quickly rose up the ranks to be the biggest hip-hop group in Ottawa, maybe even the biggest band in Ottawa at the time, and then we moved to Toronto. We started from scratch, and we’re working our way back up in Toronto. So, we’re definitely not the biggest act in Toronto, but we’re definitely one of the busiest. I challenge you to ask anyone in the scene in Toronto to find out who hasn’t heard of Philly Moves already. . . . The model we use is working for us, and we just have to take everything in pieces. Who knows, maybe the next move is L.A., maybe it’s New York. . . and we’ll just gradually kind of conquer things that way.
RMM: Do you think Canadian rappers can have an influence on rap like those from the Western States in the ’90s, or Southern rappers from the early ’00s?
PM: I think Canada has definitely had an influence on the hip-hop movement in general, especially if you think about it right now. Canada is kind of known [for making] the golden-era kind of hip-hop. . . . When we tour anywhere [in Canada], it’s that boom-bap hip-hop, that golden-age shit, so people are doing it and becoming successful at it. You got people like Ghettosocks, Fresh Kills and all of those guys, and then you got guys out West. . . Swollen Members, all those guys, Canada is definitely influencing this new wave of boom-bap and golden-era hip-hop becoming popular again, for sure.
Even guys like Drake and the Weeknd, that style of music is almost becoming a Toronto sound. Minimalist, R&B-style beats, an atmospheric kind of sound that those guys do, that’s definitely a kind of style that people are mimicking all over the world.