DOMINIONATED’s PRESS PLAY artist for January 2022 is Saint John NB-based rapper STEPHEN HERO. He recently released Eat the Rich, a collaboration with beatmaker Brydon Crain that’s been on heavy rotation at DOMINIONATED HQ these past months. Today, STEPHEN HERO shares a new track, “Slick,” that picks up on the themes explored on Eat the Rich.
“I’m having a lot of fun right now with this mixture of classic rap braggadocio and increasingly radical anti-capitalism,” he explains about his most recent work. “I like to take that general theme and give you a ton of super-specific regionality ([James] Joyce had that ‘in the particular lies the universal’ and since he came up with my name I gotta take his advice here) and visual wordplay and narratives from my life and my city in a way that’s somewhere between Ma$e and [MF] DOOM in terms of style and delivery, but in a Tom Waits/Shane MacGowan kind of way if that makes sense… That’s the idea anyway.”
Here’s more from HERO in his own words about how “Slick” came about:
Beatmaking is fun but there’s something really special about the conversation that happens between a producer and a lyricist and it’s definitely one of the things that makes me feel so attached to the form. When someone sends you beats, even if you sent them ideas and references and notes, you really don’t know what to expect. Sometimes you’ll get a beat that feels perfect for you, but in the end, the song just isn’t it, either cause the vibe isn’t right or because you were off your game or whatever. Sometimes a beat just hits you in a weird way and you write it off until a month later and suddenly it feels like the exact moment you’re sitting in. Sometimes the words just come to you immediately, either because you had to get something off your chest or because the rhythmic ideas just appeared and it was just a matter of forcing the words to fill in the pockets you found.
I like to write to beats from my childhood a lot, and just keep those around as demos in case I get a beat that makes sense with the words. Sometimes something really magical happens when you take a verse written to a beat from the ’90s and apply it to some producer’s weird-ass ideas. When I work with Brydon [Crain] we sometimes end up with magic using that process. When it comes to the beat to “Slick,” this guy Tom, aka Locdog, is a guy from the hip hop scene here who’s been around much longer than me and seems to know everyone. Somehow we’d never met but throughout the course of this pandemic, he’s reached out to me a few times to show love and send beats. This beat is kinda weird but is structurally sound in a pop kinda way. And it has space in it, it’s not crowded sonically which is an ideal situation for my voice.
I don’t remember where I saw this but at some point when I was young, I watched an interview with a painter who was talking about starting a piece by laying textures and colours on the canvas, often randomly, to establish a starting point rather than staring down the barrel of a blank, white canvas, which can be intimidating. I think about this idea all the time. The beatmaker-rapper relationship is a perfect distillation of that concept. I consider myself a writer first and foremost, and for sure I can sit and make a song from nothing, and it’ll probably be pretty good at this point in my career, but skipping over the labour of establishing a sonic template over which you can express your ideas and going straight to the writing is very freeing. And if you’re working with people you like it means you get a constant flow of good ideas feeding into your process.