Reading Classified's Self Explanatory

The hip-hop artist may have a major record deal but Classified keeps it humble for his hometown show.

Luke Boyd feels like a regular guy, though some things in his life have changed. While his picture's being taken for this article, a surly man in a black leather jacket watches. During the interview, the man sits in the room, silently reading a paper.

Daniel Robichaud is Sony's regional promotion manager for the Atlantic provinces. Since Boyd, also known as the hip-hop artist Classified, signed to the record company in November, Robichaud's job is to organize publicity for and promote the rapper's new album, Self Explanatory.

This treatment is a change for Boyd, the 31-year-old who grew up in Enfield, a small town between Halifax and Truro. Classified's been making hip-hop demos since he was 16 and mailing them to record companies trying to get some attention.

Before signing to Sony, Classified wasn't doing badly for himself. His last two albums, Boy-Cott-In The Industry (2005) and Hitch Hikin' Music (2006), were Juno nominated, and won ECMAs. Last year, he opened for Nas in Halifax and is fresh off his first European tour, opening for Detroit's D-12 and Royce Da 5'9 in March.

Classified's a leader of the independent Canadian hip-hop scene. In 2003, he started Halflife Records, recording and producing his own as well as other local artists' music on his home-based label.

So is Class the pun of his own joke, moving from boycotting to being caught in the industry?

"I haven't lost anything, and that's my whole thing," says the rapper, wearing a baggy black hoodie and bright red ball cap. "A lot of my boys said I can't sign to a major, but I still own all my own publishing and I make more money in albums than doing this independently. It all made sense."

He wrote, recorded and produced Self Explanatory in his Enfield home studio. Boyd paid for his own mixing and mastering to ensure full control over the sound. Sony takes care of everything else, from setting up interviews to making sure CDs are in stores and footing the promotional bill.

"I hate dealing with the business side," says Boyd. "That there's people and money behind me takes weight off my shoulders. Now I can chill and do my music thing."

The album has 22 tracks, six of which are a Choose Your Own Adventure theme---skip ahead to certain songs depending on whether "you'd like to go to the city" or "for a quick ride on the old bicycle."

As with other Classified albums, tracks are littered with guest appearances ranging from artists like his brother Mike (Mic) Boyd and Joel Plaskett, to hip-hop heavyweights like Choclair and Royce Da 5'9.

Classified's beats are musically dynamic, layering drum and bass lines with interesting guitar riffs and catchy hooks. His rhymes centre around everyday activities like smoking too much pot or hanging at a club. On track 2, "Get Out The Way," he rhymes, "Shit I ain't nothin' astoundin'/From the underground so of course I stay grounded" over a bongo drum line and Spanish-sounding guitar.

"I do the exact same shit," he says of his life post-record deal. "I haven't done anything different since I was 26. I do music nine-to-five like a normal job, have supper, go hang out with the boys and just chill."

Classified has genuine excitement about his success without a trace of pompousness. He still lives in Enfield, where he's moving to a bigger house with his wife Kim and their seven-month-old daughter, Taylor Sophia. Since the end of April he's been playing shows on his 27-stop all-Canadian tour, which includes small towns such as Lethbridge, Alberta, and Cobalt, Ontario. He says if things don't work out with Sony, he'll put the next one out on his own.

Robichaud puts down his paper when the conversation turns to how much human-power Sony puts into backing the rapper. Boyd casually estimates 10 to 20 people.

"It's not like 10 people behind you now," Robichaud is quick to point out. "It's everyone from the president, to the people in the warehouse who pack those boxes and ship the CDs. It's the whole company."

"It was me and one guy before," says Boyd, smiling. "That's the big difference."

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