End the War on the Holiday Rap Convention

dec18postersmallerThere is a War on the Holiday Rap Convention and we are sick of it. That’s why I have banded together with John Smith, Nestor Wynrush, Lonnie Ce, 3Peat and Cvlt Wvffle to end the insanity.

Every year when we report Haters assaults on the traditions of the Holiday Rap Convention, the crazy loons begin a vitriolic campaign to diminish me and this event. There is a reason why they are doing that. And it has nothing to do with Iggy Azalea.

Let’s take it step-by-step. No one tells you a person could possibly see a Holiday Rap Convention as an imposition of hip-hop. When the City Hall Holiday Rap tree here in Winnipeg was lighted no one threw themselves to the ground screaming about Dj Kool Herc. That did not happen. Winnipeg police did not round up the onlookers and force them into the Good Will a few blocks away. Nothing like that happened at the tree lighting. It was just a fun occasion.

Also you heard a hater on this program last night say the Holiday Rap Convention imposes hip-hop on him. But hip-hop is not an organized culture that can be imposed. There are many different styles of hip-hop that promote rap in many different ways.

Does the hater think the Holiday Rap Convention is promoting NWA? Three 6 Mafia? Wu-Tang Clan? What? After that interview the crazy Web site People emerged screaming that I’m wrong. Hip-hop is indeed being imposed. These people are so stupid it’s painful.

Hip-hop is a philosophy. You don’t have to believe Afrika Bambaataa is God in order to admire his breaks.

Millions of hipster kids admire Bambaataa as a great selector. In fact today’s pop culture was founded on hip-hop philosophy, that’s what shaped our music and slang. Again if you are stone-cold dumb and don’t understand the difference between hip-hop and rap, I cannot help you.

In 1987, President Eric B. made my point when he sent this Holiday Rap message to the American people, quote, “the Holiday Rap Convention is not just at the Good Will on December 18th, it’s a state of mind. To cherish Holiday Rap and the Good Will, to be plenteous in freshness is to have the real spirit of the Holiday Rap Convention. If we think on these things there will be born in us a Dj and over us will shine an emcee sending their dope lyrics and ill flows to the world.”

That’s from my private collection, by the way. Is Eric B. imposing hip-hop in that Holiday Rap greeting? Of course not. He is promoting a fun time at the Good Will, December 18th. Now the more intelligent haters realize that what I’m telling you is absolutely correct. Historically and scientifically but many of them don’t care, they want any hint of freshness out of the public square.

The haters want a new Winnipeg and the Holiday Rap Convention isn’t a part of it.

Anyone Who’s Anyone (Will Die)

Last spring I played a show with a group from Winnipeg called Ghost Twin. The two members and I developed a mutual respect for each other, and ended up becoming friends. Ghost Twin are made up of a married couple, both of whom work in film in Winnipeg. Their dancy goth electronica (for lack of a better explanation) was really unique for this city. And I really value originality over everything.

(NOTE: It’s strange how many film makers I’ve made friends with over the past few years.I hang out with more film people these days than I do musicians. I guess it’s because I really wish I was a film maker. I think film is the supreme art form of our age. It combines visual art, poetry, music and storytelling like nothing else. Although I think film might be dead now too. But what isn’t dead these days? Nothing, that’s what. Everything is dead. And that’s probably why our culture is obsessed with zombies.)

When Jaimz from Ghost Twin asked me to collaborate with him for his solo project, VVINTER RAINBOVV, I thought it would be a cool opportunity to try something different. His goth aesthetic was something I had little experience with; but getting to know him as a person and a musician, I didn’t hesitate to agree to the collaboration. The result came back better than I ever could’ve hoped.



The only direction Jaimz gave me was to write something dark. Well, I’m no stranger to writing songs about death; so I figured I would write about that. No problem there. But I didn’t want it to be too heavy or depressing. So in the second verse, I rap from the perspective of being dead. After all, the worst part about death is the nothingness of it all, the absolute non-being of it. But if you think of death as a different form of being, then it’s easier to talk about. That’s why I think writing from the perspective of being dead lightens it up a little. I’m basically a rapping zombie on this song. And what else are zombies if not a way to deal with our fear of death.

Anyways, I hope you enjoy it.


If And Only If

1557565_657200494323851_330777280_aThere’s a lot of interesting hip-hop being made in Winnipeg right now. Some of the artists who have been around for a while are returning to form after a lull and are starting to put out music again. Additionally, some younger artists are starting to prove themselves, putting out music that speaks to the new generation of hip-hop fans. It’s an exciting time in that sense: there’s a lot of different styles of rap being represented in our city. Despite this, I can’t help but feel as though something is missing.

When I started attending rap shows and performing around the city, there were a number of groups who were well established. Crews like Peanuts & Corn, Frek Sho, Mood Ruff and Shadez Ov Blac were doing things on a level that younger guys who were coming up at the time (like me) could aspire to. And what added to the excitement was that the scene wasn’t just a scene, but a community. It seemed like every hip-hop fan in the city converged at local rap shows. There were gangsters, want-to-be gangsters, backpackers, gear heads, nerds, outsider weirdos, purists, etc all coming together to see what was happening in our bourgeoning scene. And it was ok if you liked Shadez more than P&C, or if you liked Frek Sho more than Mood Ruff, or vice versa. We still all supported and took part in the scene.

I can speculate on what deflated the bubble, but this is not the time for that. All I can say is that eventually the scene dwindled, and the hip-hop scene in Winnipeg became limp. This lasted for a few years, with interesting releases being few and far between. But fast-forward to today, and it seems as though every week there’s a new video, new single or new release by a hip-hop artist in the city who is doing something of quality, or at least of some interest. It’s great to see. But still, that feeling of a community is not there like it used to be. You may not see a fan of the Lytics at a Winnipeg Boys show; you may not see a fan of the Winnipeg Boys at a Pip Skid show.

In reality, the whole atmosphere of music has changed. Hip-hop is just a microcosm of a larger cultural shift. There was a time when rap was a specialty form of music, the output of a specific counter-culture. You either lived hip-hop or you didn’t. But these days, any scene you choose is full of dabblers, fringe fans and weekend warriors. It is what it is. I don’t want to be one of the guys dwelling on the past too much. After all, what really made hip-hop great was innovation, so you either keep up with it or get left behind.


On Sunday, January 19th Birdapres and Grey Jay will be releasing their album at Union Sound Hall. For a lot of us, like me, this is going to be like stepping back into the past. I expect to see a lot of the old homies there. Playing a show with Birdapres, Nestor Wynrush, Kinetik and Steve St. Louis will bring me back to the old days of the Collective or the Braemar. But instead of Hunnicutt and Co-op simply promoting the show, this time around they own the club. Things change, and sometimes they get better.

Check out the Facebook event page.

2013 Year in Review

Let’s travel back in time to a place far, far away from here. Let’s go all the way back to the end of January 2013. A much younger and handsomer Rob Crooks is getting ready to board an aeroplane in Winnipeg which will fly him away to a far-off land across an entire ocean. There he will meet up with Zucchini Drive for a month long romp across the European continent.

From Speed Dial 7’s home in Kortrijk, Belgium, I drove us to our first show in Hamburg, Germany, learning how to drive manual transmission along the way. It was one of the most stressful and exciting experiences of my life. We almost died several times. And if you haven’t almost died yet, I can’t say I recommend it. But it’s something. That’s for sure.

We spent all of February hitting up cities in Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Spain. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever done and I can’t wait to go back.

After returning home from Europe it wasn’t long before I headed on another jet plane. This time I flew to Montreal for the One Man Band Festival. There I was lucky enough to perform with a group of people from all over the world who are crazy just like me. But that wasn’t the only great show I got to play in 2013. From playing with Cadence Weapon to Greg MacPherson’s CD release party, I had some pretty exciting performances over the year. One day I’ll hit the stage on Broadway. And then you’ll all see.

The year was also a busy time for releases. It all started in May when Birdapres and I released our school-themed album Argyle. Rapping with Birdapres was a really a big deal for me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to the Alleged Legends record Bird did with Dj Moves. When I think of how Canadian hip-hop helped shape who I am today, he is one of the artists who stands out in my mind.

In September, Speed Dial 7, Pip Skid and I released a self-titled album under the name Sugar Pill Gang. When Speed Dial 7 came to Canada in the summer of 2012 to tour with Pip Skid, Dj Co-op and I, we decided it would be a good idea to put our time off into something useful. We wrote and recorded our verses within a couple of weeks, and after a few months of sitting on it, and a little bit of tweeking, the album was complete. This collection of music really captures our collective mental state at that time. We were all crazy.

And finally, Ismaila Alfa, Rhonda “Fenom” Thompson, Dj Kutdown and I re-united to celebrate our second full length album. Magnum KI released Select in December at a show in Winnipeg’s West End Cultural Centre. I’m very proud of this album. And although it will be a long time before Magnum KI works together again, I think we left some pretty good music behind us.

So, that was my 2013 in a nutshell. Sitting here at my desk, it sometimes feels like I didn’t do much over the past 12 months. But looking back and actually taking account of it all, I guess I did some pretty cool stuff. In 2014 you can expect to see me continuing along this path, with more of a focus on some solo music.

Thanks for listening.

Happy new year.


New Magnum KI Album

Front LinkMagnum KI has a brand new album. And to celebrate we’re having a party on December 19th at the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg!

Select is very different than the first Magnum KI record. Although the foundation of Ismaila’s rap and raggae vocals over Kutdown’s boom-bap beats remains intact, there’s also plenty of new elements to these songs. For one we’ve added a new vocalist, Rhonda “Fenom” Thompson; and secondly, yours truly is featured much more prominently on these recordings. We also really branched out from our comfort zone on this one in terms of subject matter and song structure. The result is an album with more layers and diverse textures than anything else Magnum KI has done previously.

Admittedly, the self-titled Magnum KI record, released way back in 2010 was an attempt by attention starved hip-hop artists to get some love from their own city. Back then Ismaila, Kutdown and I were already well established in what we did. But outside of our poorly attended underground rap shows, no one seemed to notice.

We wanted to do more with our music. We wanted to perform at bigger venues, get played more on the radio and be recognized for our talent. We wanted Winnipeg to know that we were as good at making music as any band in the city was. This was difficult to do as solo artists though, so we teamed up as Magnum KI to help elevate each other to the level of notoriety that we felt we deserved.

Maybe that sounds crazy. But the craziest part about it is that it worked. After releasing the Magnum KI self-titled album we were finally being asked to play high profile shows, in and outside of Winnipeg; we were getting paid more money than ever before; and we even got nominated for an award. People were finally paying attention to us. Our plan was working.

This so-called plan had two phases though. Phase one was to create a pop-heavy hip-hop album that would get us some attention outside of the city’s rap circles, a scene that at the time was lethargic and dwindling. Phase two, however, was to make a second album, this time one that our artistic sides could truly be proud of; an album that would make people realize that we had something special to offer.

First thing we did as part of phase two was ask Rhonda Thompson aka Fenom to join our group. Her feminine sensibilities worked well against our testosterone-laden studio sessions. Not to mention her soft, melodic voice complimented Ismaila’s deep commanding tones in a way that added a much wider depth to the sonic landscape of our tracks.

The next step was to start picking beats from Kutdown’s catalogue of hundreds (and hundreds). We wanted to keep the tempo up on this record, just like we did on the first one. We still wanted to make music that could move a live audience, but this time around we also wanted beats that evoked the edgier, sometimes darker side of our personalities. We wanted to make songs with more substance, songs that reflected our ambition to connect with people in a truly authentic way.

We spent hours upon hours in the studio, fuelled by a desire to make the album we always dreamt of making (and whatever else we could get our hands on). We often started our sessions as the sun was going down, and ended them as the sun was coming up. Our time in the studio, which was above a night club, outlasted dance parties and nights out at the bar. All the elements were at our disposal, and we were obsessed with finding the arrangement that would make them all hum together at just the right frequency.

The record has been done for over two years now. But somewhere near the end of the process we just got burnt out. The constant ups-and-downs were exhausting. One moment we felt like we were doing something bigger and better than anything we had ever done before; the next moment we didn’t know if what we were doing made any sense at all. We needed to take a break and get some distance from it.

We planned a brief hiatus and went our separate ways. But as often happens, our solo endeavours, day jobs and families swallowed up time so quickly. But all the while, the record we made still pulsed and glowed in our mind’s ear. A little time away from what we had done made us realize how proud we actually were of our work. Maybe the timing isn’t perfect on this release, but we can’t sit on this album any longer.

I don’t know if there will be another Magnum KI record after this one. Maybe, maybe not. We never made any real money with it. And with no real plan, no management and no label, it’s hard to convince four grown-ups to all get in the same boat that may or may not make it to the island. But I hope this new record does well enough to convince us all to try. We’ll see.

Come check out our dual CD release party with Neil Wattson at WECC December 19th.






Introducing: Sugar Pill Gang (Pip Skid, Speed Dial 7, Rob Crooks)

artworks-000056557959-jf678d-t200x200Pip Skid and I have been making quite a bit of music together lately. But Sugar Pill Gang is the first album we’ve built as a team from the ground up. Of course, we didn’t do it by ourselves. Speed Dial 7 raps on it too, not to mention the fact that he co-produced it with me and engineered the whole thing himself.

This album was conceived of on the road, during downtime from two Marathon of Dope Canadian tours, a year apart. Sometimes playing in front of 20 people in a far away city can make you feel like you’re on some wonderful drug; sometimes playing for an empty venue can feel like you’re on a bottomless comedown. Days off in between often feel like the world is flipped upside down, and you’re barely treading water in the inverted sky. This is the mind state we were in when we wrote these songs.

The lead “single” from the SPG album features the legendary Greg MacPherson. I can use the word “legendary” without any sense of hyperbole because his legend was known to me well before I ever laid eyes on him. Little has been done since to spoil his mythology in my mind. It’s not without pride that I tell you he sings on a song that I took a part in creating.

There’s a full album coming of this stuff very soon. Make some room on your iPods for Octobre 8th. In the mean time, have a listen to “Out of My Way”  (Ft. Greg MacPherson):


From the Sugar Pill Gang press release:

“The international force known as the Sugar Pill Gang is a band of depraved outsiders and pseudo-musicians. Individually Pip Skid, Speed Dial 7 and Rob Crooks are three misfits that have emerged from the gutters and alleys of their hometowns, drenched in puddle water, with alcohol breath and nicotine-stained teeth, to connect across oceans, from Belgium to Canada. With vague ideology and disconnected narratives, they scoff at the idea that they are to be attached to some sort of coherent “movement.” They are fully entrenched in an absurd world, devoid of meaning or substance. Over driving beats, they are shouting some kind of poetry that sounds like the primitive moaning and groaning of the basest form of expressive being. Not only are they convinced that they won’t be understood; they are sure there is nothing to understand. This is the Sugar Pill Gang’s invitation to a new kind of party.”

I hope you like it!

CKUW and UMFM present: Factor and the Chandeliers “Woke Up Alone” tour, with Pip Skid, Butter Pretzels and Rob Crooks August 31st in Winnipeg

969995_10151629584013533_869001799_nWhen you you’re living in the Canadian prairies, summer is a mind-fuck. The winter’s are so long, and dark, and cold that the only thing keeping you from falling asleep in the snow and freezing to death is the hope, sometimes surer than others, that summer is coming. But we fantasize about it and idealize it to a point where there’s no way that it could ever live up to our cabin-fever-induced expectations. It’s our version of the Paris syndrome.

In the last days of winter, when the weather warms up a little and we finally put away our parkas, we start sketching out some big plans. “This summer we’re going to do it right,” we tell ourselves. “We’ll spend every weekend at the beach or lake; we’ll go on road trips to the States and catch some shows; we’ll play baseball with our friends; we’ll take advantage of as many festival events as possible!” And as soon as the first puddles begin to form, we’re out on the patios drinking beer in t-shirts, titillated with the excitement of a whole new chance to make this summer the best summer ever!

Of course the first couple weekends of summer are a write-off, since we’re not used to the revved-up partying that goes along with the new found pressure that warm weather brings. The result is that we go too hard on Fridays and end up spending the rest of the weekend in a dark room, locked in the death grips of a vicious hangover. Then, to make up for lost time, we spend too much money on weekday beers, and blow our budget for the weekend road trip to Minneapolis. All of the sudden, it’s July, and we haven’t even started any of the work we vowed to have finished by September, so we spend a couple weekends inside trying to catch up. By the time we even realize it’s August, summer is flying by with such momentum that we barely have enough time to catch one last house party.

Those three months of summer just seem to vanish into thin air. How can time pass us by so quickly? It seemed like just yesterday we were only twenty years old. Tomorrow we’ll be 40. Then 50. Then we’ll be old persons, looking back on our whole lives like we do the summer.

Before you get the wrong impression, I am by no means on some pseudo-existentialist, seize the day, yolo bullshit. The so-called “moment” that the descendants of Kierkegaard so desperately want us to capture is not real; and having “Faith” in something like that in our accelerated epoch seems like romanticism. Time is the only thing that is real, and the only thing real about time is it’s unceasing flow, which never stops for a “moment.”

So what is left for us to do but accept the passage of time, and the inevitability of death? Accept it, revel in it and make it the companion that holds us up and keeps us going, not like a crutch but like the all consuming hunger that first drives us towards life. Yes, the end is inevitable, but by that same token so is life, and so learning and growth, and so is pleasure and pain.

Factor‘s my old homie from Saskatoon. His new album Woke Up Alone is about accepting death too. He’s coming to Winnipeg on August 31st to release it to us. Do you get it now? Do you see why I wrote this rant about summer ending and tied it in with death??

Hey, by the way, you should come to the Factor show this Saturday, August 31st at the Windsor! Factor will be there with a band, including Evil, Jeans Boots and Kay the Aquanaut. So will Pip Skid and the Butter Pretzels. And me too!

Check out the details at the Facebook event page.


Mid Summer Update

It’s been a long time, I should’ve left you without a blog post to step to. So here is a little update of what’s going on with me and my mind:

Before I put out the Hearts EP, I worked on a lot of other people’s music. It was fun, and at the time seemed promising. I liked working behind the scenes and thinking of myself as a producer. But in the end it just wasn’t as satisfying as I wanted it to be. Although I gained a lot of experience working with other people, it wasn’t getting me to where I wanted to go.

The biggest sacrifice I made while working on other people’s music was pushing my own music to the side. At no point did I ever stop making songs, but I wasn’t finishing the projects I was starting. And the rare time I would release something, it didn’t have the support behind it to make people take notice. After a few years of this, I couldn’t help but feel as though I had been focusing my energy in the wrong places.

Putting out Hearts was a big step for me. It got me back to thinking independently. Since it’s release last year, I’ve been bitten by the bug again and can’t wait to share all the music that I’ve been working on for so long. Birdapres and I released Argyle in May, but that was just the beginning: you can definitely expect more music coming from me this year, solo and collaborative. And each piece of music I release will be as diverse from the last as Hearts was from Argyle, from Krautrock influenced pop to post-punk influenced rap.

Some people may say this will confuse the audience, that they won’t be able to trust my brand. But those people maybe under estimate this theoretical audience. I am a dynamic person, and I think dynamic people will be interested in what I do. And as for genre’s, who really takes them seriously these days anyway?


May Madness

(Click on poster for Facebook event page)
(Click on poster for Facebook event page)

The end of May is turning out to be a cluster bomb of great things.

It all began last fall when I found out that not only is one of my oldest friends getting married to an amazing woman, but also that he wanted me to be the best man! I don’t think I’m putting myself out there too much by saying that I, like all of us, have my share of insecurities. So for me to be named the best man really gives me the boost of confidence I need right now. And to add to the excitement, the wedding happens to be in one of the most fun cities in North America: Montreal!

Fast forward from last fall to February of this year: I’m somewhere in Europe on tour when I find out that I have been asked to perform at Montreal’s 2nd annual One Man Band Festival, on the weekend after my friend’s wedding, Saturday May 25th. I’m not big on astrology, I gotta say, but the stars sure lined up perfectly on that one. I’ll go to a wedding, party it up a little bit with some old friends, spend a week relaxing, eating smoked meat and poutine then I’ll attend an amazing festival as a performer and as a spectator. What could be better?

Then sometime around when February turned to March, I got an email from my good friend Tom aka Speed Dial 7 over there at the Marathon of Dope label. He tells me that he wants to go ahead and put out the record that Birdapres and I made, and he wants to do it sooner than later; May 28th to be exact. At first I was a little skeptical about dropping it so soon, since the direction that my solo music has taken recently has been more towards singing than rapping. And this record I did with Birdapres is a straight-up rap record. “What if people get confused!?” I worried to myself. But then I thought “don’t under-estimate the audience, you idiot!” and we dropped the first single. And so far people have seemed to like it, so hurray for us. (Thank you to everybody who has shared it, listened to it or even simply took notice. Birdapres and I both really appreciate it. We’re currently working on a video!)

By the time April decided to show up, we here in Winnipeg were all getting pretty sick of the unnecessarily long winter. But at least I had escaping to 421826_432167156874682_1532052256_nMontreal at the end of May to look forward to. Then I get an email from Jaimz of Ghost Twin. He asked me if I’d be interested in playing a show back in Winnipeg on May 31st, with his band, A Lion in Your Lap, DJ Beekeeni and DJ Damien Ferland at the historic Albert Arms venue. I said “listen Jaimz, not only am I interested, I’ve been waiting to be asked to play a show like this in my hometown for a long time. Count me in!” This will be a veritable blitzkreig of synth based music at a notorious punk bar. It’ll be just like 1979 all over again.

Finally, just when I thought May couldn’t get any better, I find out that the Thursday before my friend’s wedding, the 16th of May, I’ll be playing another show in Montreal with the one and only Cadence (fucking) Weapon! And just think: I was standing on a bridge ready to throw myself off not all that long ago. My how things change.

Here’s a recap of all the events going down in May:

May 16th: Rob Crooks, Cadence Weapon and Hua Li at Kathy & Kimy in Montreal

May 18th: Rob Crooks is the best man

May 25th: One Man Band Festival presents Rob Crooks, Jesse Dangeroulsy, Matt Dorgan Project, Igor vs. Rogi and Clara Venice at the Playhouse Cabaret in Montreal

May 28th: Birdapres and Rob Crooks drop Argyle, available for free download at marathonofdope.com

May 31st: Rob Crooks, Ghost Twin, A Lion in Your Lap, DJ Beekeeni, DJ Damian Ferland








Birdapres & Rob Crooks’ New Single “Pump Up the Volume”

bird-rob-art2(1)        Birdapres and I are different than most rappers you may meet in Winnipeg. We’re both poor men’s intellectuals, with a long reading list of paper backs resting on our bedside tables. Although we are fundamentally influenced by the movement that came out of the Bronx in the 1970s, our musical influences reach far beyond hip-hop in space and time. All this is not to say that we are special in some way, but only to point out where our collaboration began.

We made an album together by meeting on Sunday afternoons, drinking tea and listening to beats through a pair of headphones that were jacked up as loud as they would go. We would talk about the things that had struck us as interesting throughout the course of the week, and the directions we wanted our music to take. We wanted to create a concept album. S0 we did. Here is the first single from our eight track EP Argyle. It’s called “Pump Up the Volume.”



        Argyle will be available for pay-what-you-can/want download on May 28th, from Marathon of Dope. Here’s a little a write up about the upcoming album that you can read if you can read:

“For the first time ever Birdapres has teamed up with Rob Crooks to bring you Argyle. Named for both an alternative high school in Winnipeg and the pattern that adorns school uniforms, this eight track EP harkens back to the days of low-hanging backpacks, mind-numbing classes and juvenile delinquency. Although Bird and Crooks are well beyond their teenage years, they artfully use the theme of high school to express the feelings of alienation and ennui that followed them well into adulthood.

The poetic insight that laid the theme for Argyle came from Birdapres’ observation that most people had a friend or classmate tragically pass away during the months or days surrounding graduation. From that dark inspiration came the pensive “Bus Stop Blues,” a song that developed the overarching concept for this brand new EP. Other songs cover topics such as adolescent drug-use (“High School High”), skipping class to smoke “Cigarettes” (feat. Pip Skid) and the dreaded “Summer School.”

Sonically, Argyle is contrastingly upbeat and fun. Rob Crooks, playing the role of producer in addition to emcee, took records supplied by the walking-vinyl-encyclopedia Birdapres and fed them through his sampler to create beats influenced by Krautrock to Miami Bass. Samples from classic 80s and 90s high-school movies are sprinkled throughout the EP adding a narrative that takes the listener from the first day of school to graduation and beyond.

The final result is a hip-hop album unlike any other, relating the experiences of angst-ridden high-school students to the existential problems facing us as grown-ups today.”