The OPC: Hustling Vancouver's hip-hop game -- by Dwain Lucktung, April 2007
You can't start the interview without seeing my son's puzzle," says his wife Rosie.
Alite waits a few more seconds to begin as his five-year-old boy Taiyaz holds up his finished puzzle. The up-and-coming Vancouver born and bred emcee sits beside his biggest fans, and as Rosie, also known as Too Sweet, rolls the camera, we are ready for his first—but certainly not last—interview.
Arif Ali, who goes by the stage name Alite, is one-half of the On Point Collective (OPC) alongside Jean Marc Daga, AKA Dagamuffin. The duo has been in the hip-hop game for more than 10 years, but is just now working on its debut, Brownalistics -The Brown Man's Burden. It is Alite's hope that it will display what a real deal the OPC is.
"This is not a hobby. This is a career," explains Alite. "We want to show we write complex lyrics that you can get wild to. Meaningful shit, good beats and ill lyrics."
Four songs off the Brownalistics demo CD confirm that the OPC is indeed "no joke." Alite and Daga bounce off each other on "Babylon," an easy and chilled beat that throws some punches at the 9-to-5 routine and the George Bush regime.
"Yeah we finger-point at a few politicians," says Alite. "But that's the only way you're going to get your point across. Nowadays if you're not going to say something that's going to spark controversy, you might as well not say anything."
"In The Ghetto" is one of Alite's favourites, as the Alite and Daga display their chemistry and narrative skills. The beatsmith for the track, R&B Philiharmonic, AKA Rod Babia, calls it a story about survival told with "hot flows and deep lyrics," as Alite closes the languid song with: "The ghetto is in your mind/Lets be free."
But it's not all serious. "Lets Dance" and "Sauna (Get Loose)" portray the frivolous nature of the OPC, with jumping beats that are having the same effect on Vancouver's club scene as LL Cool J's "Head Sprung" or Usher's "Yeah." Alite plays the tracks and says: "These songs really give people a chance to let loose, get crazy." As he bops to "Sauna's" hook of "OPC/We make ya sweat like a sauna," he adds: "Listen man. It's a song that tells people to get that pay cheque on Friday, go out and have fun."
With Alite's double-time flow and Daga's punchline style, there is a distinct sound to the OPC, who intrigues and performs with promises of "entertaining, political and socially conscious rhymes."
Undoubtedly, they are presently small-time, as the "completely self-taught, self-produced and self-recorded" group is on the lookout to get signed. The freestyling crew knows it's a tough ride to blow up in the hip-hop game as Canadian artists, especially with the array of competition, need to cater to the US market and fear of being watered-down.
But sold out shows in the Vancouver's Lower Mainland have produced a slowly growing loyal underground fan base. From fundraisers to "hole-in-the-wall, gutter, junky clubs" the OPC has pumped upped crowds, embracing the limelight with every opportunity.
"The best part of performing is the crowd's reaction," says Alite, as The Upper Echelon emcee reminisces over how the OPC once shook up a show in a "cracky club." "It was the illest feeling to have the people sing back our hooks as it showed they really appreciated what we were doing." He carries on proudly: "I was just itching to perform, and because of the love from the crowd we turned a club in the junkiest part of Vancouver's East Hastings into the buffest spot that night."
Between Fijian Muslim Alite and Filipino Dagamuffin, they know a lot about stereotypes and saturation in the hip-hop industry. But whether they become platinum-selling artists or die cold and hungry, one goal remains true, clear and honest: "OPC is going to inspire a whole new generation by changing people's misconceptions about ethnic people period."
Alite sees a hip-hop industry consisting of three main races: black, white and Latino. He sees there is yet to be a Filipino rapper, or Indian rapper who has blown up in the limelight of the rap game. "It really is a shame to see how ignorant some people still are towards some cultures," he says. "But we're here, trying real hard to put a different spin on things."
The 27-year-old rapper along with 29-year-old Daga realize this is a make-or-break point for the OPC, as Alite says without a stutter or loss of eye contact: "We know we're not getting any younger." Nevertheless, the momentum and ambition is there as he continues: "But we've found something we love and want, and therefore we're going to pursue it to the death."
The OPC just might have its time, as Alite and Daga are prepared to give it all up to the game, after having abandoned the lifestyle of merely selling hip-hop merchandise in a petite stall. They're raw, they're real and they're ready and willing to flip the script. It's hard to say if this one will fade into the shadows like the rest.
But Alite leaves me with Jay-Z's words: "Every now and then you need someone to come in and DMX the game." He adds: "Look out. We are that fresh blood. OPC baby."