Not everyone liked the kid from Enfield right away. In fact, if he had to guess, most people couldn’t stand him. Big odds are something that Classified (AKA Luke Boyd) has been facing almost all his musical life, all the way back to his first Halifax performance.
It was 1995, one of the most fertile times in Halifax hip-hop. Then 18 years old, Boyd stepped onstage at the popular Haltown Meltdown open-mic night at Café Ole as part of his former crew, the Keltic Rebels. In a 30-minute set, he threw down rhymes as hard as he did way back in high school talent shows at small-town Hants East Rural High in Milford.“We did that show and we killed it,” 27-year-old Boyd says now. “Our stuff might not have been that tight, but the crowd and vibe was good.”
But word got out that some local hip-hop artists didn’t like Classified’s style or rhymes. The news came from the same person who had given him the chance to perform the night before.
“The next day I went over to JoRun’s and he named so-and-so,” Boyd says, not wanting to name names. “Jo said was out back the whole time freaking, saying, ‘I hate this. People shouldn’t be feeling this.’”
“It made you frustrated,” he remembers. “You come in from Enfield and you’re trying to do your thing and people are hatin’ on you. But you know, if everyone was saying I was great, I might get cocky and become an asshole, you know what I mean? I took it and used it on the next record I did, because you’re always going to remember what people are saying about you.”
He remembers those taunts 10 years later like they were spoken yesterday. It’s hard to imagine, especially when one reads Classified’s decade-long list of achievements.He has worked with many east coast hip-hop artists; his last album Trial and Error sold a respectable 4,000 copies; several of his videos aired on MuchMusic, including his latest single “The Fifth Element”; his tracks have appeared on soundtracks for films and documentaries; and he has sold his music to well known hip-hop and rhythm and blues artists such as Maestro Fresh Wes and 112. Most importantly, he just released his tenth (and best) album in as many years, Boy-Cott-In the Industry.
Boyd answers the door to his Oxford Street area apartment in baggy jeans, a baggy grey shirt and a black baseball cap. His appearance is youthful and his demeanour is easy-going and mature. He leads the way through the clean, hardwood floor apartment he shares with his fiancée to a small study that serves as his studio. The far wall is lined with records stacked three deep. Another wall is lined with posters of shows he’s played with big names, such as Busta Rhymes and Ludacris.
Two things make this no ordinary study. The first is his expensive computer attached to several high-tech pieces of equipment, including a huge Triton keyboard and a drum-pad sampler. The second is a tiny closet that serves as his sound booth. The closet door is lined with an eggshell mattress that acts as homemade sound insulation. A bungee cord keeps the door closed.
This is where Boyd conducts his business. Here he recorded his latest effort—a testament of his personal life and his struggles to make a career out of the music he loves. Boy-Cott-In the Industry bursts with clever lyrics, live instrumentation and unique Motown, ’70s funk, brass and string samples. Listening to his record, it begins to make sense why some east coast hip-hop kids aren’t so quick to call it their own. Classified’s music sounds like it belongs on the west coast of the US, heavily indebted to the beats of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. It’s not dark, dirty and high-brow like a lot of locally made hip-hop. The music is bouncy, direct and pop-driven. It’s irresistibly catchy.
Boyd began rapping with a group of friends in high school and moved to Halifax after graduation to pursue a career in hip-hop, holding down odd jobs at Sobeys and in computer support while he made music. He paid his dues freestyling at local open mics where he met Halifax hip-hop legend JoRun (AKA Joe Serra), who eventually worked on Classified’s first album Times Up and showed him the production ropes. JoRun became a mentor for Boyd, in spite of the naysayers.
“I’ve always supported the people who took it serious,” says Serra). “He takes what he does serious. He had a lot of people hating on him at the beginning but I knew that once he started going somewhere those same people would be biting their tongue later.”Now known for his production skills, Boyd makes most of his living selling beats over the internet. The sales usually go to rappers in Toronto and Vancouver who check out the samples he has for sale on his beat page, then e-mail him, requesting particular tracks. A beat can go for anywhere from $100 to $1,000, depending on the artist.
“If I didn’t have the internet, I probably wouldn’t have a career,” he says, laughing. “That’s probably how anyone outside of Nova Scotia has heard of me.”
He also supplements his income by producing material for local hip-hop artists. On top of his own albums, Boyd has worked on albums for Spesh-K, Jay Bizzy and J-Bru (AKA Jason Bruce), fitting as many as seven people in his two-person sized closet to record a vocal track. It’s his production skills that have gained him notoriety.
“He’s a crate digger,” says Bruce. “He doesn’t hear a sample on the radio and goes home and samples it. He’s digging for stuff that you’ll never hear—he’s really original with his beats.”
Yet the constant struggle to make ends meet has been gnawing at Boyd for a long time, and he admits that sometimes it gets the best of him. His parents weren’t exactly pleased with the announcement that he planned to follow his hip-hop dream instead of going to college. Although they are encouraging now that they know he can support himself, the doubts caused by job insecurity still sometimes rear their head when he needs to sell a beat to make his share of rent. And particularly with his upcoming marriage.
“I’m not really stressing over it,” Boyd says. “But to make another album, this one has to make some steps compared to the last one. It’s getting to that point where it’s almost like it’s time to grow up for a minute and do something for real.”
Boyd says he would consider getting into music for commercials or other broadcast work if he can’t up the career ante with this record. Still, it’s the struggle to establish himself that drove him to make Boy-Cott-In the Industry his most cohesive and artistically interesting album yet. “No Mistakes” recalls the right and wrong roads he’s traveled, given as advice to young MCs, “It’s Just My Opinion” downplays the Classified haters and “The Final Time” takes shots at the sometimes repetitive media.
Things look good for Boyd to make an impact with Boy-Cott-In the Industry. On March 29, he opens for controversial former G-Unit member (and 50 Cent protege) The Game whose debut album hit number one on the Billboard chart. Then he takes off on an east coast tour this spring and a national tour in the summer. He’s feels this album can sell 10,000 copies, but will settle for half that, a figure that will make him eligible for a Factor grant to cover the expenses of another record.
“There was never a time where I was like, I’m done doing this,” Boyd says. “I figure I’ll always mess around, whether it’s writing beats or making rhymes. It’s something I put a lot into, so why stop now?”