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An Inspiring Chat with Classified

By Johnny Papan

Independent artistry is a movement that needs to exist. With so many performers getting sucked into the vacuum of corporate radio pop music with promises of fame and luxury, it can be hard for listeners to decipher the difference between many modern songs. This is a result of major labels pressuring or molding their new artists to sound like the flavour of the week.

However, as an independent artist, you call the shots. You have the power to create what you wish, how you wish and your success is a direct result of your own hustle. The myth that you need to be signed to a major label to reach mass appeal is starting to fade, as artists like Tyler, the Creator, Chance the Rapper and many others continue to push the boundaries set by those before them.

Nova Scotia’s Classified is a trend-setter in the independent Canadian hip-hop movement. Dropping his first self-produced mixtape Time’s Up Kid in 1995, Classified has moved on to earn himself MMVA’s, Juno Award wins and a certified Gold record. Classified took the time to speak to Surrey604’s SR3Y about his rising career just days before his free upcoming show at Surrey Fusion Festival with co-headliner Nelly Furtado.

“My career was built slowly, with small goals. Reach one goal, get to the next.”

Classified writes, raps and produces the beats to all of his music. He has been running and releasing under his own label, Halflife Records, since the beginning of his career. He grinded for nearly 11 years before his song “No Mistakes” won the MMVA for MuchVibe Best Rap Video in 2006, garnering him mainstream attention.

MUSIC VIDEO: “No Mistakes”

“I like making beats, I like making songs. If i just rapped I feel like I’d be missing out on half the project,” Classified states. “Plus it’s all me. Sometimes it really bugs me when every artist has the same top producers, that’s why everything is so similar in the commercial market. When I make my beats only Classified get’s that sound.”

Like his 2003 record Trial and Error would suggest, Classified learned how to produce through just that, starting with a Yamaha 4-second sampler and 4-track recorder. “From there I slowly built my studio and with each piece of equipment i bought, I would teach myself how to use it. Now everything is on my computer. I have some keyboards and an MPC drum machine/sampler. Same ideas and techniques though.”

Making music is only half the battle. Once you have work to showcase, you need to attain attention. “I did anything and everything to get my name out there. Got on every show I could possibly get on and just kept working. I didn’t have much of a social life cause I liked making and performing music so much. I think that’s how you have to be to make it in this music world. It’s gotta be everything or nothing.”

After a plethora of award wins for tracks like “Anybody Listening,” “That Ain’t Classy” and “Inner Ninja,” Classified has followed up his two recent hit albums Handshakes and Middle Fingers and Classified with his Hip Hop Recording of the Year winning record Greatful last year.

Now a father of three, Classified reflects on the inspiration for his new album. “They [his children] gave me more to write about, a different perspective and angle to look at life. They just changed a lot of my values and what was important to me.” Classified continues: “The record is about living life. I’m not a guy who goes off and comes back to music. I am always making music, so the album was just the next step in my career and where I’m at in life.”


A master of the independent scene, Classified offers valuable advice to new artists who look to follow his footsteps: “Now more than ever it’s so easy to try and be a producer. if you wanna get into it you can download a program and do it up and try to create your own vibe. I started my own label because I couldn’t get no one else to sign me. Starting your own label, especially now, just means you fund everything and do everything yourself. With iTunes and streaming, etc, anyone can start a label and get their music out worldwide.”

Surrey Fusion Festival is a free event that takes place at Holland Park on Saturday, July 22. Performers include: Classified, Nelly Furtado, the Zolas, Kytami, Amrinder Gil, Alx Veliz and DJ Khanvict.

In terms of the event, Classified concludes: “Expect a good time! A party, energy. I really try to do a show that. Even if you don’t know my music you can still get into the performance.”

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Johnny Papan
Jonathan Nicholas “Johnny” Papan is a Canadian writer, filmmaker, and musician born in Surrey, British Columbia to a Guyanese mother and half-Hungarian, half-Trinidadian father. Aside from film and music, Johnny also enjoys performing standup comedy. His interest in journalism surfaced after watching documentaries on influential writers Nora Ephron and Hunter S. Thompson. -

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