These are the transcripts of an interview with Moses of Sweatshop Union. The interview was conducted by Phayde.
Not too many hip-hop groups can amp me up for a night on the town and simultaneously encourage me to start a revolution to overthrow corporate America. But with their perfectly balanced blend of humour, realism and social awareness, Vancouver’s Sweatshop Union has done just that.
Through their music, Sweatshop defiantly addresses problems within modern society. But by not directly offering solutions, the group triggers listeners to come up with their own, and in the process open their minds to what is really going on around them. Some would say that it’s refreshing to have hip-hop make you think of anything other than how to perfect Beyoncé’s booty shake or if you really need a perm to be a pimp.
The seven-member group – made up of the four separate groups Dirty Circus, Innocent Bystanders, Creative Minds and Kyprios – has accomplished what few in hip-hop are able to do: appeal to a diverse demographic, emit indisputable knowledge through rhymes, and shed light on important political issues while still capturing the attention of today’s youth. With the cheap, superficial images of flashy rappers that have become so predominant in hip-hop, Sweatshop is definitely a much-needed breath of fresh air.
On October. 9th 2003, I had the chance to sit down with group member Mos Eisley (AKA Moses) over multiple pitchers of beer and talk about Sweatshop Union's place in hip-hop.
MVRemix: What are your thoughts on the Canadian hip-hop scene?
I feel that as much as we’re a part of it, I kind of feel [like we’re] not really part of mainstream Canadian hip-hop. It’s good though. I like Canadian hip-hop better than American hip-hop in a lot of ways. I think the thing about Canada is that we’re so removed from hip-hop’s birthplace. A lot of hip-hop in Canada is very suburban. There’s a lot of suburban self-pity in it, which is kind of shitty. Kind of emo. That’s something I don’t like about it, and I’m guilty of it too. But aside from that, it’s good. I think when Canadian rappers try to be too urban it doesn’t really work. A lot of the East Coast rappers do that. A bit much, I think.
MVRemix: What are some of the best and worst qualities about living in Vancouver?
I hate the rain, but I love the trees and they’re irrevocably entwined, so you can’t really have one without the other.
MVRemix: What kind of “trees?”
All kinds of trees! [laughs]
MVRemix: What are some issues in hip-hop that you feel have to be addressed?
I feel that – and it’s kind of hard to say this, although it’s just my personal opinion – people need to be more real. Kind of like what I was touching on before. People just need to be more comfortable with who they are and express that to the audience instead of living behind a façade all the time to protect their ego or whatever it is. Aside from that, it’s okay. Every facet of hip-hop serves a purpose. I used to really hate all the “jiggy” shit but now I think it sounds okay. Some of it sounds really cheap; some of it sounds really synthetic, but it serves a purpose. Certain people like that, and in a way, it makes it easier for us. I’ve said it time and time again, the more synthetic and fake mainstream hip-hop becomes, it makes it easier and easier for kids growing up to understand that the music that we make, or people like us make, is genuine, and it sounds different.
MVRemix: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about Sweatshop?
I think that, rightly so, for the last album the criticism was that we weren’t very practiced rappers but we happened to have international distribution, so a lot of people heard it. The biggest thing is that we’re a bunch of nerds. We’re kind of goofy, we make stupid jokes. You have Sweatshop in a room and you’ll never get anything done.
MVRemix: Name three likes and dislikes (not necessarily music-related)
I like food a lot. I like making music. I like feeling that what we’re doing has a future, and that there’s a way that people our age – in whatever they want to do, whether it be journalism in your case, or music in our case, or art, design, skateboarding, whatever – we’re finding a way to make it work. If you find a way to make money doing what you like, you don’t have to work for them. I really like that. Dislikes? I don’t like the rain. That’s about it.
MVRemix: What about dislikes in hip-hop?
I really hate that the two extremes in hip-hop tend to be really adamant. You know, like the hardcore-backpacker-emo-rap dude and the hardcore blingers. The extremes are really extreme right now, and that kind of annoys me because it’s like, we could just be in the middle. It’s okay to like 50 Cent and Slug. A lot of kids I meet don’t want to admit that they like hardcore shit, or that they like 50, just because they think they’re selling out the “true” elements of hip-hop. I think that’s bullshit.
MVRemix: What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
The worst job that I can imagine right now is also the best job at the same time, and that’s hip-hop.
MVRemix: How is it the worst?
It doesn’t pay a lot, and there’s no security in it. And at the same time, I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I’m good at a lot of things, but this is it.
MVRemix: With so much of your music – and even your name – being targeted towards the “blue collar worker,” what are you gonna rap about when you blow up?
[Laughs] Ohhh shit, I like that! We’re going to rap about blowing up and using the money to do something responsible. I met Chali 2na from Jurassic 5 and he said one of the most profound things to me. He said, “You might see me doing this and this, you might see me in the videos, but don’t doubt me because I’m going to use this money to do something proper for everybody.” I already felt that way, and for someone like him to say that to me is really meaningful because that’s what I want to do. I want to make money doing this and blow up. The whole goal is to blow the fuck up and have everyone hear what we’re saying.
MVRemix: Evidently you guys address many political issues in your music. I’m going to name a few issues that have been making news lately and I want you to give your opinion on it in one or two sentences.
1.) The Terminator becoming the governor of California
I think that’s really funny. [When I found out] I was like Wow, really? Well, Ronald Reagan became president and he was a governor first. And he sucked too! What it is, in essence, is that it doesn’t matter because only the face changes. Nothing in the California legislature will really change profoundly from this. It’ll still be just a figurehead.
MVRemix: 2.) The legalization of marijuana
I’m for it, but I’m only for it if people are allowed to grow it on their own terms and it’s not a government or corporate monopoly, which would again leave us at their mercy for it like everything else. The grade of it, how much of it we get to consume, how expensive it is – I think that should be left up to the market itself. It’s a thriving market right now. If it was legalized and turned into a proper thing, I think it would help people.
MVRemix: 3.) The safe injection site that just opened on East Hastings
I’m for it as a necessary evil. I’m not for using those kinds of drugs, in fact, I’m very against it, but if it is happening, there must be a place for people to go do that. Let’s put it this way, [I’m for the] Safe Injection Site only if there’s an attached program and there’s a government subsidy to help people stop doing that as well, which there usually is, but more of that. With the usage of drugs like that in our society, especially the Canadian west coast society because we’re huge on that, safe injection sites or decriminalization will never really get rid of the problem, it can only make it easier for people to deal with the problem. The problems, and the reasons for the problems, still exist.
MVRemix: Because you’ve had such strong and positive political messages in so much of your music, do you ever feel pigeonholed into having to be consistent with it?
The word “pigeonholed” rang a bell there. It is like that. A lot of people expect us to be this hyper-political group called the Sweatshop Union. I think because of their preconceptions, a lot of people will be shocked by the fact that we will do songs that aren’t like that in the future. Even on this new album, in a lot of the songs that sound jiggy, we’re still saying political shit. But there will be a day when I have a completely jiggy song because I feel like it, because I’m an artist and that’s what I want to do. I guess the preconception is kind of our fault, I mean the name itself… [Laughs]
MVRemix: Natural Progression came out Oct. 7th in the US and overseas, but it’s not slated for release in Canada until early November. Why is that?
It’s going to be even later than that now. Further delays! Battle Axe is working with a different distributor in Canada than they are with the rest of the world and basically they have to solicit our album through the distributor. They’re working with them to find a good time to put it out. It would have been perfect in October, but it wasn’t for sure yet. The next one would have been early November, and the next one after that would be early December. And now we get screwed by all the big names coming out like 50 Cent’s new album, Eminem’s new album. Everyone’s going to buy that for Christmas, so no one will buy our album. So they decided not to put it out then, and the next date they’re throwing at us is early February. It’s a stone in the path, but it’s only a little thing. My only concern with that is that it’s going to be on the Internet. Everyone’s going to have it. Why would they buy it when it comes out? Plus we’re going on tour and we don’t have an album to sell. And Metty [The Dirt Merchant] is sick. Little things, but nothing can stop us.
MVRemix: What’s the difference between Local 604 and Natural Progression?
Local 604 took 22 years to make and Natural Progression took two-and-a-half months to make. [Laughs] That’s the difference. In a way it’s a lot better it sounds a lot better [because] the production’s cooler, we’re better rappers now, we’re better performers now, but it was all put into two-and-a-half months so the subject matter is a little limited. We were a little rushed and didn’t make exactly what we wanted, but aside from that it’s a “natural progression.” You’ll notice when you hear it.
MVRemix: What is the definition of success?
Faith, hope, and love.
MVRemix: Tell me something I don’t know about Sweatshop Union.
We all hate each other. [Laughs] And Sweatshop has the combined game of one person, when it comes to girls. That’s the truth, right there. [Laughs] Condense us all into one regular rapper and that’s the macking potential of Sweatshop Union.
MVRemix: Awww shucks! [Laughs] Okay, my signature question: If hip-hop was a woman, what would she look like?
She’d be beautiful. I think she’d be coloured. And she would have eyes that would make you feel like a complete retard every time she looked at you.
MVRemix: What’s better: pirates or ninjas?
Ninjas! Ah no, I don’t know! Pirates get to roam the open seas. Ninjas are more effective. Pirates are more fun. Ninjas have a strict diet and regimen of stuff so it’s a little much for me. I think I’d rather be a pirate than a ninja, personally. [As a ninja] you could be a Japanese businessman by day and assassinate world leaders by night. If you’re a pirate, you’re just hanging out at the bar. More fun.
MVRemix: So what’s the next step for Sweatshop?
We’re going to keep working on our live show because I feel that’s our biggest asset right now. There’s so many of us; there’s a lot of energy. Me personally, I’m going to keep working hard in my personal life to make sacrifices, to work hard, to make this work, and to show people that this will work if you let it and you want it to. Next step, technically, is that we’re going to make a couple (more) videos, promote this album no matter how late it comes out, make another album and not stop until people really know and like us.
MVRemix: What songs are you doing videos for?
One of the songs off the new album called “The Thing About It.” We’re going to have a video out for it soon, if we get the funding. We’re going to work as hard as it takes to do it. I feel that we’ve gotten to the point that we finally realize that you only get as much as you put into it. All the props, all the accolades, all the hook-ups that we’ve gotten from the last album are a blessing from God. It’s not more than that. We haven’t worked very hard. I truly feel we haven’t put enough blood, sweat and tears into it to deserve what we’ve gotten, and I feel blessed by that. From now on, I think we’ve all realized that it’s time to treat it like a job and make it work for you instead of just going “Woah, we’ve got this now.” We’ve got to work to get it. That’s my personal lesson in life from Sweatshop and I’m thankful for being able to learn that, because I’m a lazy motherfucker. [Laughs]
MVRemix: What can you tell me about this upcoming tour?
It’s going to be better than you think it’s going to be. You’ll go away thinking, “Wow, those guys are really good.” You can say hi to us, and buy a CD or a T-shirt!
MVRemix: Anything else you’d like to add, or say to fans?
I want to say to kids – and people in general who supported us, who like us, or haven’t even heard of us – to give everyone a listen no matter who they are, and make up your own mind. Don’t let your friends, or your environment, or your prejudice decide for you. When you listen to an album, or go to a show, just go there with an open mind and an open heart. I think a lot of times you’ll find that you made the right decision… which is to support us! [Laughs] But really, everything we do, we do for everybody else. We do it for the kids, for our wives, for our parents, everyone that’s helped us. I truly mean that. Precedence proves that exceptions are possible, and exceptions prove the fact that you can make a change. Believe in yourself, faith, hope and love.
MVRemix: Additional quotes:
We’re trying to be accessible, and at the same time, have something to say at the end of the day. We want to be good and live good lives. When people meet us, we want them to know that we’re not sleazy fucks. We’re not a bunch of drunken rappers. We’re people who have something to say.
I realize that the kids love us now because we’re underground, we’re not paying our rent, we looked fucked up, we don’t have nice shoes, and we don’t have all the bitches. Those kids love us now. Just wait ‘til we’re like Swollen [Members], you know what I mean? I vow to say what I’m saying now, at every level of the game. Just because of the fact you have a hundred-thousand dollar video and some nice clothes on, they’re like “Look at him; he’s sold out. He doesn’t look like me anymore.” I’ve realized that. The underground is quick to turn on you when you stop being who they want you to be. I don’t care what people think, and at the same time, I really want them to think well of us.