Interview – Cale Sampson
– by Zoë Christmas
Toronto rapper Cale Sampson surfaced as a solo artist in 2008, bringing a breath of fresh air to hip hop. Rather than following the trendy, lowbrow hip hop topics, Sampson chooses to channel his energy through intelligently-written, socially conscious lyrics. Formerly a member of the group Rhythmicru, he has been involved with hip-hop since the early 2000s, though his interest in rap music sparked when he was a kid.
Sampson is set to release his second solo album, The Big Picture, on Sept. 3. His songs are charged with social commentary touching a range of world issues, and his lyrics are diligently researched and cleverly pieced together. Sampson describes his unique genre of hip hop as “info rap.” “Reach Up”, the lead single off of The Big Picture, exemplifies this style.
But what really sets Sampson apart from other hip-hop artists is his earnest work ethic and total artistic independence. He describes the Toronto rap scene as “a do-it-yourself hustle where the artist has no choice but to also be an entrepreneur and a businessman.” Indeed, Sampson follows this logic: it is just him and his wife behind his work – “a true mom-and-pop organization,” as he describes it. Motivated with the urgency of global crises and his utter self-sufficiency, Sampson hopes to spread his message internationally.
Zoë Christmas: The Big Picture consists mostly of conscious rap songs that touch a range of subjects – wars, GMOs, disparity, mass media, banks, oil, TV, US politics. Though they’re all interconnected, you move in and out of topics so fluidly. Where and how do you research for your songs?
Cale Sampson: The information in my songs is really an accumulation of a lifetime worth of research and it’s literally influenced by hundreds of books and documentaries. Since almost all of my songs are about large scale subject matter, it does take me quite a long time to immerse myself into all the information. I also always make sure to study both the mainstream and alternative media perspectives and cross reference and fact-check everything before I come to my own conclusions.
ZC: You have described your songs as essay-like. How do you manage to pack in so much information while remaining street?
CS: That’s right, the majority of my songs are essentially rhyming, information-oriented essays based on a tremendous amount of research and analysis. The result is “Info Rap.” Even though there is a ton of information in my songs, I remain sincere in my music, which I hope will always shine through. I stand behind my words – people respect that because they know that it represents something real.
I also realize that, in order to get the message across, I have to make my songs catchy. For almost all of my songs, I go through hundreds of beats before I pick the perfect one that specifically matches my lyrics and the emotion that I’m seeking to make my listeners feel.
Video – Cale Sampson, “Reach Up”:
ZC: On that subject, who makes your beats?
CS: I work with a fairly small team of individuals who I feel both understand my artistic vision and handle their own business in a professional manner. The producers that I worked with on The Big Picture were Andre Flak, Fresh Kils, and Muneshine.
ZC: This might be an impossible question, but what is the most important subject that you write about?
CS: It is hard to pinpoint a specific subject as the most important or urgent, as there are just so many issues facing the world right now. I’ve had people with cancer contact me to write a song about the medical and pharmaceutical industries. I’ve had people from Greece contact me to write a song about the imposed economic austerity that’s going on over there. I’ve had soldiers in Afghanistan ask me personally to help bring awareness to their situations. Making songs that touch a range of issues is important to me because these people need to be heard. Because of this, I feel somewhat of a moral responsibility to represent people’s real life situations in my music.
ZC: What are your thoughts on the Canadian hip hop scene, and hip hop in general?
CS: Truthfully, right now my energy and my focus is less about the musical genre that I’m in and more about the actual information that I’m trying to communicate, it’s less about the local or national hip hop scene and more about the global human community. Nowadays I am less influenced by other hip hop artists and musicians, and more inspired by public speakers, authors and filmmakers who are not afraid to stand up and speak the truth even if it is not the most popular thing to do.
ZC: Any plans to tour?
CS: As of right now, I’m gearing up for my CD release party on Sept. 14th in Toronto and working on the beginning stages of some other performance opportunities. Also, I will be heading down to Washington, DC at the end of September to perform on Abby Martin’s television show Breaking the Set. This is a very exciting opportunity for me, as the program is on an internationally syndicated TV channel called RT, which broadcasts alternative news all across the globe.
You can connect with Cale Sampson on Twitter @Cale_Sampson and purchase his album The Big Picture on iTunes beginning Sept. 3.