Hikin’ trail

After more than a decade in the local hip-hop game, renaissance man Classified—producer, beatmaker, MC—finally bursts out of his bedroom and into the nation’s consciousness. by Johnston Farrow

photos Kelly Clark

It’s official. Classified is the biggest artist in east coast hip-hop. Hell, he might be one of the biggest acts on the east coast, period—up there with Matt Mays, Buck 65 and Joel Plaskett. In terms of reach and exposure, the 28-year-old man also known as Luke Boyd is now one of the most visible artists from the region. Not that you’d really know from having hot dogs with him on the back porch at his suburban home in Enfield.

There’s something different about Boyd. His trademark ball cap remains tilted to its sideways angle and a baggy shirt is still his look. Only the difference goes much deeper. Over the course of two interviews, one while barbequing on his backyard porch in Enfield on the verge of the release of his latest album, Hitch Hikin’ Music, and another after the subsequent national tour, the change is recognizable as he recollects the time since the release of his last record, Boy-Cott-In The Industry.

He personally felt it while touring that record last year. With more videos on MuchMusic—a total of eight for his last two albums, plus one for his new CD with another on the way—more people started coming to his shows, more strangers knew his name. He started having public encounters with fans as far away as Alberta, some who merely wanted to thank him for making music they could relate to, some who wanted more.

“I was in Elmsdale the other day and these kids were following me around the mall,” the 28-year-old rapper/producer says. “I saw them out of the corner of my eye and I was like, I’m being paranoid or something. But then one of them was waiting for me when I came out and he was like, ‘Man, are you Classified?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He started shaking and was like, ‘Aw shit, could I have your autograph? Sign my hat!’”

Others felt the change when Boy-Cott won the East Coast Music Award for best hip-hop album. Or when he received the Juno nomination for the same category, an award many thought he would collect in front of hometown fans, though he lost out to another critically acclaimed hip-hop artist, K’naan. This weekend, he’s up for six awards at Nova Scotia Music Week in Liverpool, including Songwriter and Entertainer of the Year, along with the given Hip-Hop nod.

For a lot of people, the moment came on that hot, steamy Toronto summer day last June when Boyd collected the MuchMusic Video Award for best hip-hop video for the Boy-Cott single “No Mistakes.”

“My parents, my girlfriend and I were in the living room watching it and TI was presenting,” says Mike Boyd, Luke’s brother and guest on several of his records. “He said his name and it was like, ‘Oh!’ We weren’t expecting it. We were just happy to hear the name for the nomination, but then they said his name. It was pretty crazy.”

It gets even crazier when Boyd says Boy-Cott sold 10,000 units, practically a best- seller in Canada compared to the sales of other national hip-hop acts. That he did it in the basement of his Enfield home on a budget of $20,000 and the support of an independent label is more impressive when some artists signed to majors spend over $100,000 to make a record that eventually sells less.

The early success of Hitch Hikin’ Music is icing on the cake. In just four weeks, the album has sold over 4,000 units, an amount it took Boy-Cott half a year to sell. And one can’t turn on MuchMusic without seeing Classified and his east coast crew—Jay Bizzy, J-Bru and brother Mike. In the last few months he’s appeared on Much on Demand, hosted RapCity and Going Coastal. First single “Find Out” is all over the station, hitting heavy rotation, being played on Much MegaHits and even on the mainstream countdown show, sitting at 21 at press time, ahead of Snow Patrol, Fergie, Beyoncé and even Jay-Z. After over a decade of making beats and writing rhymes, self-producing 11 albums, Classified is at a level that very few east coast artists, hip-hop or otherwise, have reached. Like him or not, Luke Boyd is here.

Boyd maintains a faCade of calm as he takes his hot dogs off the grill. Enjoying a late-summer evening on his backyard porch at the Enfield home he shares with his wife, his demeanour belies the fact that Boyd feels even more pressure and expectations to do even better with Hitch Hikin’ Music. Although the weeks ahead will put him somewhat at ease, at the moment, he’s freaking out a little.

“I’m confident, but now that I know what I’m doing more than before, I find that I overanalyze my shit,” he says, chomping into a dog. “It’s like, the more you know, the more you second-guess yourself, which sucks now. Everything I make, I take it to about four people and I’ll ask them what they think. I’ll take their opinion to heart now whereas before I would say, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to finish it.’”

Not that he’s going to turn his back on what he’s achieved. In fact, he enjoys the fact that he’s become a noticeable face. When asked who the best producer is on the east coast, he doesn’t hesitate to choose himself in a show of mock bravado before giving props to the guys who got him to where he his today, such as JoRun Bombay.

There’s an air of satisfaction knowing he’s made a name for himself, especially after so many other people in the east coast hip-hop scene didn’t think much of him when he started out over 11 years ago. He might be worried about the new record, but there’s no wavering in his sense of accomplishment.

“I’d say it’s at an all-time high,” close friend and rapper Jason Bruce, AKA J-Bru, says about Boyd’s confidence. “There have been so many Classified bashers but he just doesn’t give a shit anymore. Before I knew it used to weigh on his mind a little bit, like ‘Why can’t I get this respect?’ But now he has the respect of the hip-hop community plus media outlets. It’s been a crazy progression.”

Whereas many local hip-hop artists and fans initially denounced Classified, there’s no denying his talent as a beatmaker and storyteller. He’s often asked to work on and/or appear on other artist’s records. In the last few months alone he’s worked on discs for local artists Spesh K, Ghettosocks, Jay Bizzy and J-Bru. He’s even developing a few artists, including R&B singer Jordan Croucher and Jack Johnson-sounding Chad Hatcher. Like a Kanye of Atlantic Canada, it’s no surprise that they both appear on his latest record.

“I love that shit,” Boyd says, laughing. “I like to be involved. I mean, my album’s out so I’m like, what the fuck am I going to do now? So I do these guest appearances that people asked me to do but couldn’t get to because I just didn’t have time.”

The early verdict on Hitch Hikin’ Music is there is little to fear for fans of Classified’s last two albums Trial and Error and Boy-Cott-In the Industry. Hitch Hikin’ Music is an extension of those two, expertly portraying what Boyd calls “commercial beats with underground lyrics.” Not to be outdone, this album expands his musical palette, incorporating not only the catchy, banging singles that have been a Classified calling card, but also a bigger reliance on more introspective lyrics and live instruments, including bass and acoustic guitars, drums and even flute.

The strength of the record remains the beats. Layered and complex, Boyd could leave the rapping off the album and it would still be an interesting piece of music, with hints of funk, soul, self-made sound effects and rhythms created on his basement studio computer with little more than his extensive record collection, a sampler and a Triton keyboard at his disposal.

Although guest stars such as the respected Maestro Fresh Wes and Tash from Tha Alkaholiks up the star factor, the track to hear on Hitch Hikin’ Music is its proposed second single, “All About U,” guest-starring the aforementioned Hatcher. It could be Classified’s big crossover hit, doing better than “Find Out.”

“It’s really different,” Boyd says about the track he recorded with Hatcher. “This one was originally a track I was going to record for him with just him and his guitar, singing. I was loving it, just the vibe to it. After he left, I made a beat out of the guitar and then laid down the drums and wrote a couple of verses.”

Boyd plans to take his time promoting Hitch Hikin’ Music as long as he can, but near the end of our second interview, he expresses his need to getting back to what he knows, making beats for another record, rather than promoting himself as nationally known music star. The sky is the limit for Classified, but for someone who has been in the game for years with only himself to rely on, success is taken with a grain of salt.

“I’m more looking at it as how far is this going to go?” he says. “I don’t want to reflect too much because it just seems like I still have a long way to go. I’ll wait ’til I get to number one on the countdown and then I’ll be like, this is cool.”

Classified is nominated for six Nova Scotia Music Awards, to be handed out on Sunday, November 12, in Liverpool.

This is johnston farrow’s third story on Classified, his second for this publication. He now feels he knows his way around Enfield. He is a contributing writer for The Coast.

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