Before the current decade even began, The Antiheroes had not yet been formed. Not even the thought of the group coming to fruition to combine the talents of Sha Princeton and Flex had taken place just four years ago. Yet, since the beginning of the decade the group has already managed to release two albums, work with fellow ascending Canadian talents as D-Sisive and Rich Kidd, and open for Joey Bada$$ at Toronto’s NXNE in June.
In sitting down to talk with one half of the Modern Day Riot group, Flex, we discussed how the group came together, the chemistry between him and Sha Princeton, the ascendancy of Rich Kidd, performing at NXNE, and Canadian hip-hop… amongst other things.
Raz Mataz Magazine (RMM): Hey, how’s it going?
Flex: Good, just chilling. Actually working on some new stuff right now.
RMM: Oh true, like what?
Flex: Just some stuff for my solo project.
RMM: Oh, you’re doing a solo project?
Flex: Yeah, we both are. We both have been working in the background while we’ve been doing our thing [as a group]. It’s just different sounds.
RMM: Is this your first solo projects for both of you?
Flex: Yeah. You can find a couple things floating around from older stuff that may want to be heard, may not want to be heard. . . If you can find it, then by all means. But I’m not going to put it out there.
RMM: Why are you guys deciding to do solo projects now after releasing your album just a couple of months ago?
Flex: Just for the simple fact of how disposable music actually is now-a-days. It’s just, people need something at all times, and that’s why we’ve kind of just dropped all these visuals out right now to kind of walk you in to what we’re doing next. That’s probably just going to be a couple of solos.
Working with a group you kind of give and take on what you want to do, what you want to present as a whole. He listens to a lot of different stuff than what I listen to; my solo stuff isn’t going to sound anything like his, and his solo stuff isn’t going to sound anything like mine. You’ve got to compromise when you’re in a duo, so you’ve got to find that common ground.
RMM: So you just like the freedom and autonomy of doing a solo project, being able to do your own thing?
Flex: Yeah, you can kind of just breathe. . . He doesn’t necessarily like everything I like and I don’t necessarily like everything he likes music-wise, what we listen to, [and that’s] kind of why we’re doing that.
RMM: What are the differences between your two styles? How would you characterize your own?
Flex: On the Antiheroes stuff, we have a very vintage sound, like a modernized vintage sound. . . Which is, like, that is all me, that’s totally me, I grew up on a lot of the straight boom-bap hip-hop stuff from older cousins. . .
RMM: KRS-One kind of thing?
Flex: The thing with KRS is, my older cousin put me on to his earlier work like Boogie Down Productions. Obviously, I came on to it really late because that was really old, but as far as my style solo-wise now, my project is going to be a lot more. . . I listen to so much stuff, not saying this is going to be the exact style, but stuff like trap to boom-bap, some mainstream stuff, so you’re going to kind of get a mix of everything that I like, but staying true to what I do. I’m not going to make it for the sake of making it, it has to be true to what I do. It’ll be very organic from what I pull from all of those genres.
[For Sha], Sha’s a really straight hip-hop head while I listen to a lot of stuff outside of hip-hop like rock. I like a lot of U.K. bands, a lot of U.K. grime stuff. My stuff’s going to be pretty weird, but it’s going to be a cohesive project. [Sha] grew up on the Wu-Tang, just straight hip-hop stuff and he’s really into doing very true to what he wants to do. It’s good for everybody, it gives them a taste of everything.
RMM: Would you maybe say you’re more experimental between the two of you?
Flex: I don’t know. I think the project that I’m doing [right now] is very experimental. I’ve also kind of been doing something unofficially. One of my guys is in a band, and it’s kind of like a Rage Against the Machine type thing that we’re doing. We’re not trying to push that as my solo or anything. . . but he wants to do a collaboration, maybe a five-song EP that you might hear pop up. . . It’s very down that [Rage Against the Machine] kind of lane. Kind of metal grooves with hip-hop, so that should be interesting and I’m looking forward to doing that.
Flex: Yeah man, and Sha’s stuff , I’ve got a record that I’m supposed to be doing with him, it’s very concept driven, so he’s going that route to see what he can do with that. . . It’s all falling under the Antiheroes name; it’s a product of what we’re doing.
Flex: Yeah. The Antiheroes was never anything that was pre-planned, it was just a matter of [mutual interest in each other’s work], and it was honestly just a couple of tracks we were doing, and it just turned into “Hey, do you want to just do an album?” Now we’re two albums deep.
RMM: How long have you guys known each other? How long have you been the Antiheroes?
Flex: I think just the end of 2009, early 2010, really not even that long, probably three years now. Two albums in three years, we just clicked, and you can tell we have that chemistry there. Sometimes it just happens, and sometimes you can tell it was meant to happen, there’s really no forcing it. You don’t see too many duos now, aside from us in Toronto. . . The Smash Brovaz that are down with Rich Kidd. . . We actually worked with Junia-T, he produced a couple of records, he actually produced that ‘Blow Up’ record with D-Sisive that the videos out for now.
RMM: Wow, three years. I saw you guys at NXNE, and you guys had, like you said, that chemistry, and it was really evident on stage, I assumed you guys knew each other much longer than that.
Flex: Yeah, I can’t really explain it. I’ve worked with other people before and it just doesn’t [work]. Just even in the studio trying to get something done with someone, it just doesn’t always work like that. It’s hard to come across something like that now. You have to kind of appreciate the fact that you have something like that and not take it for granted.
RMM: Why do you think it just seems to click between you two? Why do you think you guys have that instant chemistry?
Flex: I’d have to say first that we both actually take time with our lyrics; we actually try to say something. Some of the best records that we wrote. . . some of them came faster than you would think. It’s funny because most of the more conceptual songs were written the quickest. But that’s how we’ve worked, it’s really easy to bounce ideas off somebody who can take an idea and kind of throw it into words, like I can, and like he can. So I think that’s just how we clicked; we’re very similar in the fact that we’re really good at taking an idea and just throwing it out there for everyone to take in properly. We’ve had times where we’ve had to cut some records because we thought they were a little too hard to digest. I thought ‘Blow Up’ might not have done what it was supposed to do, I thought some people might not get it, but apparently everyone did because it seems to be a lot of people’s favourite record off of the album. . . It’s very hard to write, [but] it’s very easy on the ears. It’s not my favourite on the album but I like it.
RMM: What is your favourite?
Flex: I like ‘Cloud 9.’
RMM: Yeah, same.
Flex: I just like the vibe of it, it’s very fun, and the horns are very in your face. The producer that made that is MMac, he’s pretty much made 80 percent out of everything we’ve done.
RMM: [The horns] kind of gave it that triumphant feel. . .
Flex: Yeah, exactly, and I figured that was the best, aside from the intro, the best way to start the project. It kind of gave it a different vibe; I think the first album was a little darker than this one, which is kind of what we were trying to do differently on this one. Big shout out to MMac, he’s an amazing producer.
RMM: Is he going to continue to produce most of your songs in the future?
Flex: Yeah, actually he’s done quite a bit of my solo project as well.
RMM: What about his beats do you like?
Flex: Versatility, the fact that I can call him and say “I have this idea”, or “Can you flip this sample, this is what I’m thinking.” He can turn around and give me a barebones track two hours later, and it’s amazing. He’ll just come out and say “This is a rough”, and then I’ll say “This is amazing.” I can throw anything at him, anything we’re thinking he can just do it, and he’ll just put it into music which is really rare. We consider him part of the Antiheroes just as much as us.
RMM: You guys played at NXNE [a couple of months ago]. How did you guys find that?
Flex: It was good. It was different because last year we had a lot of problems with the police shutting down the showcase we were on. . . They thought someone on the bill was involved in gang activity, we still have no idea who that was. . . It was kind of dumb. We did get to do a couple of performances that they kind of put us on. Some people knew we were doing it and came, some people didn’t because it was very spur of the moment. This year we knew. We were going in with a nice buzz as well, a lot of people know who we are now as opposed to last year. . . We’ve hit MuchMusic now, we have visuals, worked with some of the elite of Canada, so people came out to see us this time. Now we have a bigger catalogue to pick and choose from so it felt really good this year to just shut it down, and I think we did it.
RMM: Rich Kidd was there too, and you guys had [collaborated] with him on Modern Day Riot for ‘Cloud 9,’ he did an interview with Hip Hop Dx and opened for Talib Kweli [at the Unity Fest]. How high do you think he can go, and why do you think he has been ascending so much lately?
Flex: I don’t think he’s even close to where he’s going to be because it’s not even just about his talent [it’s his versatility]. He can produce and rap, both amazingly, and if you’re a record label or an A&R, he’s self-sufficient. . . He can produce his own beats, he writes his own stuff. It’s also his attitude, his live performance is pretty much the best you’ll find in Toronto I’d say, and it’s too bad that other artists can’t come out more and admit that some artists have a better performance than they do. [Rich Kidd] deserves it, he’s a good dude, he’s very humble, he’s got an aura, you hang out with him and he’s just a good person to hang out with, he’s just a good person. He gives back to Toronto, and if anyone deserves, it he deserves it, and I think pretty much 99 percent of Toronto is riding right behind him. No one’s more deserving in that spot.
RMM: So do you think he can hit that spotlight like Drake and Kardinall Offishal have?
Flex: Yeah, in a different lane. . . He’s on his come-up, he’s got records with people in the U.S., he’s got a lot of good connections out there, and I think that now he’s starting to really get that reach with Hip Hop DX [for example], it’s opening a whole door to something else because a lot of people in the U.S. only follow what’s going on in the U.S. Now he’s kind of touching the American market, I can’t see why he won’t completely dominate out there as well.
RMM: Where do you think your ceiling is, as both an individual rapper and a member of the Antiheroes?
Flex: I don’t know. With the Antiheroes stuff, we’re fairly new. I’ve noticed drastically how much we’ve grown in the past year. We’re getting on blogs that don’t typically look at any new artists: Tito Boys, Kevin Nottingham, blogs that I’ve been reading since I’ve been into hip-hop, and I know a lot of artists that have submitted work and can’t get on there, so the music is there, it’s just a matter of keep grinding, being more versatile and trying new things. But I don’t see limits, I think if you think with a limit, it’s pretty much your ceiling right there.
Solo-wise I can see myself tackling a broader audience, I’m really not opposed to doing any different types of music. . . It’s not like I’m trying to do it for the sake of doing it, I really feel anything I’m going to do and I’m not going to do anything I don’t really back, it’s just that I have a lot more influences [than rap]. I could do rock, I could do a little more experimental hip-hop, I could do underground and all that, and Sha’s the same. We’re both in it together as far as if he makes it, I make it [and vice versa]. I don’t really see limits on the Antiheroes, I don’t really see limits on my solo work, but if we’re doing different things solo wise, all we’re doing is opening the lane for more people to come back and enjoy the Antiheroes. Putting limits on anything you do is never going to get you anywhere.
RMM: You kind of have to have that thought that you’re going to get there no matter what.
Flex: Yeah, your thought process is what gives you the drive to get up and work on your music, because if you don’t have it, you’re not going to do anything, [you’re going to procrastinate and lose faith in your music], and nothing gets done.
RMM: I know you said the Antiheroes have only been around for a few years, so you guys have come up pretty quickly, but has there ever been a time where that train of thought has been challenged, where you’ve hit road blocks in your music career?
Flex: We’ve had times where someone’s hit a little patch of depression, dealing with relationships outside of music, sometimes it happens with us where we don’t talk for a week or so because we’re just dealing with other stuff and you just need to be alone. During Freedumb, he had a kid. I remember during ‘Become Alive’, we were recording that in a studio and his girlfriend was going into labour after he cut his verse, so he had to take off. In the song there’s a bridge, and I had to do that bridge by myself to finish the song to meet the deadline. That was kind of crazy because that slowed the album process down, understandably obviously, but things like that happen and life gets in the way. There were a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of long hours just to make up for stuff like that.
RMM: Why did you title your album Modern Day Riot?
Flex: We felt a lot of the songs were more militant sounding and they were kind of attacking the state of hip-hop and a lot of the things we were dealing with mentally. We felt like the songs were a riot towards the things we were dealing with, towards society, towards the music industry, towards our state of minds, even attacking our own selves. There’s a song on there where we’re talking about dying, ‘The 11th Hour’. The album was just a riot against modern times, what’s going on in the world at this time. . . the triumphant horns on ‘Cloud 9’, we felt it really had this kind of militant sound, so it’s what we rolled with.
RMM: A few months ago I did an interview with Philly Moves, and he talked about how Canada’s becoming more known for its Golden-era kind of hip-hop. Why do you think that is and why do you think it has become such an influence in Canadian hip-hop?
Flex: A lot of people will say that Canada emulates what they hear from other places, and I just think Toronto still has a deep love for that gritty sound. Even if the states are kind of moving on from it, I think it’s the atmosphere we have out here, we hold on to that. . . It’s a coincidence, I guess, we just have a love for it, it stuck around and it just hasn’t gone anywhere. I really don’t understand how it works like that at all. I guess producers are making it and rappers are following suit. . . It just makes no sense as to why it is, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing because there’s so much talent in Toronto, and we have people that can actually rap.
RMM: Unlike 2 Chainz. . . I still don’t know how he was nominated for a Grammy, it still drives me crazy.
Flex: Funny thing is, I listen to dudes like A$AP Rocky and I like stuff like that. The way I always explain it is, I don’t want to be educated constantly. Like if I’m going out to a club or a bar, I want to hear something where I don’t have to think, where I can just sit there. And that’s kind of what I was touching on earlier, that you’re going to get that lyrical stuff that’s going to be thrown over different types of backdrops and stuff that I like. But I get what you’re saying, artists like that, I feel like a Grammy is something that should go to a real writer, like I think somebody like Kendrick Lamar definitely deserves a Grammy. That would be my dream one day to get a Grammy, that I could maybe put a limit on and say that may not happen, but you never know.
RMM: Or even a Juno, which would be an accomplishment too.
Flex: Yeah, we’re definitely going to put Modern Day Riot in there next year for eligibility, see what we can do.
RMM: Do you have any release dates for your upcoming projects?
Flex: It’s closer than you think, but we’re not going to be like those rappers who put out a release date, and then it just doesn’t happen, and that’s annoying. You’ll definitely something by the end of next year, top of year though, for sure. You’ll probably get both solos by then. The Smash Mouth Mentality, which is our crew has a mix tape [released July 29th.] You can find a new Antiheroes track on there, a couple of solo tracks from me, a couple of solo tracks from Sha, and it’s going to be dope.