A few years ago, before we had even started writing songs together, Classified asked me to play trumpet at one of his shows. I was in the green room warming up when Maestro Fresh Wes walked in. You've got to understand that Maestro was one of my heroes growing up. I knew every last second of "Symphony in Effect." I just had to tell him. I said, "Man, I've been a huge fan for a long, long time. It's a real honour to meet you". He turned, gave me a fist bump and said, "Respect."
That was the first of many entirely unexpected experiences I've had working with Classified. Just this morning, a couple minutes before I sat down to write this article, there was a knock at my door. It was a dude from Purolator with my first Juno in his hands. I had dreamed of this moment before, but I must tell you, I certainly never expected it to be for Rap Recording of the Year! But heck, I'll take it.
Yes, Classified and I are an unlikely combination. I'm a guy who learned music on the trumpet -- taking lessons, learning theory, playing in the school band, Royal Conservatory, that whole route. Class learned by making beats, writing rhymes, sampling records, cutting and pasting. But that's part of the reason why I think the collaboration works. We hear things in totally different ways. Where I hear harmony and structure, he hears energy and momentum.
About a year ago I went out to Classified's studio and sang about 14 songs -- trying to find something we could collaborate on. Just as I was about to leave, and I swear this is true, I remembered one more idea that I hadn't quite finished yet. It was just a groove and a couple verses, nothing else. I played the guitar part and sang: "I read the rules before I broke 'em." Class looked up immediately and said: "That's it." As with everything we've worked on, the song became something quite unexpected. He wrote his verses, we worked on the choruses together and we ended up with "Inner Ninja": a song about tapping into your inner strength to overcome life's obstacles. We went back and forth for days about whether the whole "ninja" concept was too quirky. We knew people were either going to love it or hate it. The song went on to become one of Canada's biggest-selling hip hop singles of all time!
I'm now living a bit of a double life. Last week, Classified and I played the Much Music Video Awards. There I was, surrounded by thousands of screaming teenagers -- and I'm up there rocking it in my suit, glasses and my quickly-greying hair. The weekend before that I was the feature performer at the 50+ expo in Halifax (one of Atlantic Canada's biggest seniors' events). Admittedly, these are totally different worlds. But strangely, I now feel at home in both. I feel at home, because in each case, I'm just being myself. And if I've learned anything about hip hop from Classified it's that the most important thing is to keep it real.
Classified has become one of Canada's biggest rap stars because he tells his own story, not someone else's. He doesn't pretend he's from the city, or that he's had a rough past on the streets. He lives in a small Nova Scotia town and he's still tight with many of the friends he had in elementary school. And that's the story he tells. Because he tells that story -- his story -- it works. It's an important lesson: don't try to be something you're not. A couple months ago after a Classified show in Edmonton, I ran into a fan. He looked at me, amazed, and said: "Hey, aren't you the guy who plays the nerd in the video?" I sure am. I don't play the nerd, I AM the nerd.
A few weeks back, Class and I performed as a duo (just me on guitar and vocals and him rapping) at The Source Magazine headquarters in downtown Manhattan, right beside Puff Daddy's studio. The Rolling Stone Magazine of rap -- revered by hip hop fans everywhere. If I ever had a reason to worry about not fitting in, it would be here. We walk in and there are 15 people around a table: critics, writers, videographers, editors -- everyone is there. And these guys know hip hop. We play "Inner Ninja."
Then, from the back of the room, the biggest dude there stands up andsays: "That was so dope!" I look at him and say, "Respect."
Psy spent at least half his Q&A time answering a Korean interviewer's question in Korean, and while we have no idea what he said it sounded pretty good.
"How many MMVAs have YOU won?" responded singer Josh Ramsey to a press conference question.
Members of Down with Webster chat with reporters at the #MMVA press room on June 16, 2013.
South Korean pop performer, PSY, takes to the stage at the MMVA opening in Toronto on June 16, 2013.
Ed Sheeran takes a smoke break at the MMVA on June 16, 2013.
Serena Ryder performing 'Stompa' from a producers-eye view.
Most of the party guests watched the show on TV
Hundreds of fans gather outside the MuchMusic building in Toronto for the 2013 MMVAs on June 16, 2013.
Toronto hip-hop icon Kardinal Offishall fuels up during the MMVA pre-party on June 16, 2013.
Quebec's Karl Wolf gets comfy at the MMVA pre-party on June 16, 2013.
Members of Billy Talent hanging on the #MMVA balcony before the show kicked off.
The C.N. Tower peaks behind the MMVA main stage in Toronto on Sunday June 16, 2013.
Before the chaos
Canada's First Couple Of Music went a big predictable in matching black outfits: Avril wore a sexy knee-length dress with a layered detail on her hip while Chad rocked a leather jacket and jeans. But Avril had the best accessory of the night: A spiked headdress! She really is a Punk Princess.
She's a good girl gone bad in a sexy body-skimming black and white number and strappy heels.
Well helloooo legs! The newly blond singer takes a risk in a very mini black dress. (Let's hope a slight wind doesn't cause a wardrobe malfunction!)
The former "Smallville" and "V" star proves that white is the new black in a hot thigh-skimming dress with sheer panels.
The Canadian "Arrow" star is handsome in a navy suit and classic striped tie. We love his vintage-looking shoes!
We love the Irish pop duo's fab (if a bit cheesy) style. Faux tuxes and Chucks? Yes please!
The "Glee" star turns up the sex appeal in a revealing LBD that not only shows off her chest but her undies too!
Don't forget, this is still all happening in someone's office!
The Canadian "Pretty Little Liars" star vamps it up in a hot crop-top and matching skirt. Those gold capped shoes belong in our closets.
The "Africa" singer goes Full Metal Jacket in combat boots, camouflage pants and a leather jacket. (Don't forget the Gucci belt!)
The "Pretty Little Liars" star goes short and sweet in a bell-shaped mini and plum shoes. So cute!
The "Pitch Perfect" star hits the right note in a sexy but sweet sheer polka dot dress and pink clutch.
The Juno-award winning singer wears some much needed colour on the MMVA red carpet. A bold print maxi dress is the perfect outfit for a fun night.
We're not sure why the singer wore a ripped-up skirt but it works with those sexy leather sandal-boots.
The Juno-award winning Canadian songstress is sophisticated in a sexy LBD with a sheer cut-put and that infamous messy 'do.
The singer goes for a classic tanned blazer and hot black button-up and matching pants. Gotta love this wavy hair!
Loving the hair and the muscle shirt but we're on the fence on that jean vest.
The rock band channels their inner mermaid. (Don't they look great with boobs?)
"American Idol" winner Phillip Phillips goes dapper in tartan and a sleek blazer.
Down With Webster looking supa dupa fly complete with afros, hipster glasses and large chains.
Our favourite Ginger supports the Toronto Blue Jays!
The rockers look too cool for school in coordinating blue outfits.
Kardinal Offishall is straight up dope with the white sunnies, blue button-up and fun beaded necklace. But what's with the asymmetrical hair?
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