Muneshine Is Always In Transit
Meet the Saskatoon rapper who is huge in Japan.
Some things that come to mind when thinking of Saskatchewan: harsh winters, junior hockey, farmers, and the TV “sitcom” known as Corner Gas, which was thankfully laid to rest in 2009. Hip-hop music is the furthest thing from people’s minds when thinking of the prairies, with the two mixing like oil and water. But hip-hop artist Rob Bakker defies the common stereotypes that are associated with the rural province. His foray into hip-hop began in the flatlands of Saskatoon, but he eventually took his talents to the brightly lit city of Toronto after attending audio engineering school in London, Ontario, to learn the tools of his trade.
Instead of “starting from the bottom”, Muneshine experienced the dizzying highs of the music industry early in his career when he formed the rap duo known as Phocus, alongside Emilio Rojas, in 2004. They released an album called A Vision and a Plan through (Japanese label) Handcuts Records, and hip-hop heads in Japan were gaga over it. A Vision and a Plan (2004), along with Opportunity Knocks (2005) and Status Symbol (2008) have sold over 30,000 records combined in Japan during Muneshine's career.
Muneshine has often described his music as “traditional hip-hop”, but now he’s transitioning into a more contemporary realm. He’s had the fortune of collaborating with hip-hop legends such as Pete Rock, DJ Spinna, Buckwild and Sean Price.
Fans anxiously awaited the arrival of his new album, In Transit, which was released on June 30. Muneshine has been grinding for nearly two years, perfecting every aspect of the project and making sure it sounds like something that would shock native Saskatonians. It will feature a slew of top-tier lyricists and producers, including Ghettosocks, Moka Only, DJ Spinna, and Oddisee. We spoke to Muneshine when he was in New York about his new album, early career success and the chemistry he has with Ghettosocks.
Noisey: What’s the story behind your music alias Muneshine?
Muneshine: I don’t really have an impactful story for picking the name. It’s a name I picked a long time ago, when I was actually just finishing up in high school, and I first kinda got into DJing, cause that’s kinda how I got my foray into music. So it was just a name that I came across, and then I kind of tried to attach a reason for it that meant something a little more, later. But in the beginning it was Moonshine spelled the correct way, m-o-o-n-s-h-i-n-e. But I just kinda try to look at it like I’m gonna use something that has a strong impact, and that’s it, really. I’ve been asked that question a few times and it’s not something that I really have a story for. I should actually come up with a story.
You originally came from Saskatoon, what brought you to Toronto?
I moved to Toronto when I finished audio engineering school. I went to school in London, Ontario, for a year, to a school called OIART. I always knew that if I was gonna do music, or I was gonna be involved in the industry in Canada, I kinda needed to be there. So as soon as I finished school I took the plunge and moved there, and started grinding as soon as I touched down.
Your new album In Transit is scheduled to drop on June 30. How long did it take you to complete this project?
I started working on it maybe six months after I put out There Is Only Today, which was in May of 2012. At the time I was a little more excited to put out the follow-up to that. And then I just started to honestly lose a little bit of interest in emceeing. It got to a point where I wasn’t really hungry to write. It wasn’t coming naturally. So I started to drift away from writing and emceeing, and doing shows, and got back into DJing and production. Which is still sort of where I’m at right now. So it took longer than it normally has taken me to create records, because I kinda went back to square one with it, once I had already done a substantial amount of work. Like I was literally working on it until maybe a month ago. I went back and I was updating the production, or just putting finishing touches on it and getting it mastered, and all that sort of thing. So it took quite a long time, nearly two years to actually create it.
What can fans expect from this release, in terms of style and sound?
It still has a familiar sound for the music I make, although I am attempting to kind of transition into something a little more contemporary. The whole idea behind the branding of the album and the artwork of the album is were trying to take this renaissance man approach to it, where it’s a mix of something classic and a mix of something new, and contemporary. So that’s kind of the direction of this sound, as well. I would still say it is more traditional hip-hop. But you’re definitely gonna hear those elements of more contemporary sound in there, and that’s to help me transition into what I’m working on now, and future projects, which are gonna be more contemporary and a little less traditional.
The album will feature production from many beat makers such as: yourself, Moka Only, Oddisee, DJ Spinna and many more. Was there one particular producer that stood out the most?
The most exciting one for me was probably Exile. I had never worked with him before and I’m obviously a huge fan of his music, he’s an incredible producer. So doing the track with him was great. To be honest, I enjoyed working with pretty much everyone else on there, they’re already friends of mine. He’s the only one that I kinda seeked out, just to get him involved without having much of a relationship with him prior. We had met a few times at shows. I actually met him in the Czech Republic when I was on tour with Ghettosocks in 2010. And then we stayed in touch after that. For me that was it, and that’s strictly from a fan’s perspective. I love his music, so I was really excited to get him involved. And then it’s the more contemporary producers, this dude El Train from the UK, and LAKIM, he’s from the US. I was excited to work with them because they really brought something new to it. Otherwise it was very comfortable, kind of everyday business for me.
The album will feature many rappers. One who stands out is Ghettosocks, cause you’ve worked with him quite a bit in the past. Do you have a lot of chemistry with him?
Oh yeah, definitely man! We met in 2009 and just hit it off immediately, and formed Twin Peaks. And just started going around the world doing shows, and making music. Yeah, we definitely have good chemistry, we’ve been good friends since then. We were roommates for about two years; we lived together, and just worked on a ton of shit. So it’s always been very easy to make music with him. Even when we did the Twin Peaks record, we knocked it out in a matter of two studio sessions. We just compiled all the beats, and then just sat down and wrote and recorded the whole thing. Just knocked it out. It’s always easy working with him, for sure.
Do you have any plans to do any more work as the duo Twin Peaks?
Oh definitely! We had one EP that we started when we were over in the UK, doing some shows with The Herbaliser, and also with The Process, which is Ollie Teeba from The Herbaliser and Jonny Cuba from Soundsci. The four of us were gonna do a Twin Peaks/Process EP. That’s kinda what we’ve got underway. But you know the way life goes, and touring. We’ve both done solo records in the meantime, it just got moved to the backburner. But it’s definitely gonna be coming out for sure.
Do you think In Transit will be your best work to date?
Oh yeah, absolutely! Like I said, when I first started on it, I was excited about it, and then I kinda lost interest. But this new transition that I’m going through as a producer and DJ has reinvigorated me to create more. So when I went back to the drawing board with it, it really inspired me. I’m really happy with how it’s come out. Even lyrically, even though I’m not taking emceeing as my main lane, I’m still really happy with it. I really like all the songs and the writing. Everything is updated from last time. I mean obviously if you keep working at something you’re gonna improve. I definitely think it’s the best work to date.
The Freddie Joachim remix of your track, “Venus & Mars,” has received a lot of attention on SoundCloud and YouTube. How gratifying is it to know that so many people have been exposed to it?
It’s amazing, man! I totally didn’t expect that. As far as stats go, it has really eclipsed everything else that I’ve done in the past. So obviously it came unexpected. And I really gotta tip the cap to Majestic Casual, which is the YouTube channel that really broke it, in the beginning. They’re a huge tastemaker based out of Berlin. Again, doing more electronic music, not so much hip-hop. It’s been pretty crazy, man, how that has turned some momentum, and then as a result of that, a lot of other things have started falling in place. It’s crazy, man. I don’t really know what else to tell you.
Where is Freddie from?
He’s based in San Diego, I believe.
Explain the significance of the former rap duo known as Phocus?
Oh shit! Phocus, wow, that’s me, and Emilio Rojas. Aside from the production stuff I did for Lightheaded, that was my first real collaborative project. We met way back in the day through Hip-Hop Infinity, which was a message board. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it? It was full of underground hip-hop nerds, which we certainly were at the time. He was going to university in Rochester, New York, and I was actually still out in Saskatoon at that time. We just connected and just made that record. It actually got picked up from a label called Handcuts Records, which was under Universal in Japan. I feel like that was really the start for my career, in the quote unquote “real music business”. The Lightheaded stuff was a lot more informal. But again, it had a big impact, which led to me getting a deal in Japan. It’s funny you mention Phocus, cause I just actually met up with Emilio while out here in New York. I haven’t seen him. I saw him briefly at SXSW, and our paths cross randomly in different cities. Phocus was big, man, and it was fun and it was a learning process. It’s kinda crazy to look back on it now, for both of us. For me, and Emilio, we’ve both grown a lot since then. Yeah, it’s crazy.
Didn’t that one album sell a lot of records?
Yeah, it sold really well in Japan. Like I said, that kinda kick-started what I had going in the music industry. It charted when it came out. I think it hit number 11 or something, on the hip-hop charts in Japan. It just snowballed, and that turned into me getting the deal to put out Opportunity Knocks, which was my first solo album. Which was way before I had any idea what I was doing, making a solo album. That really set it off, it sold well and got a huge response. It was great. It was kinda crazy too, being in Canada and all that shit was going on in Japan. I’ve still never been to Japan. But I mean even just seeing it, having people from the label send me photos of these big life-size standups of me in HMV and Tower Records in Tokyo. It was just weird, man. Sitting in my mom’s house in Saskatoon, getting wired money and just photos of all this shit poppin off. So separated from it, it’s still such a weird thing to think about.
You’ve done a few mixes with Elaquent recently, known as the Pressure Mixes. What has the response been like so far?
It’s been great, man! Pressure is really a big focus. In Toronto particularly, there is a scene and I’m not gonna say that we’re pioneers or something. There isn’t a lot of organized events around this beat scene and future music. There isn’t a lot happening. Doing the mixes has been our vehicle, to get that to people that know our music already, and introduce them to it. Show them what we’re inspired by. It’s really translating well with the party, it’s growing. We’re still doing a monthly event. We’re looking at potentially upping that to a more frequent party. It’s been huge and the mixes have gotten a huge response. Even compared to other podcasts and mixes I’ve seen on SoundCloud, and things like that. The stats on that are really impressive as well. It’s just fun, man. We’re excited about new music and trying to do something with it. And show it to people and get people excited like we are.
You are a rapper and a producer. When you first dabbled in hip-hop music, were you a rapper or a producer, or both?
I was a DJ first. And even though I had messed around with writing raps and whatever when I was a kid, DJ was the first thing. That’s where I actually invested money. I don’t know if you remember back in the day in The Source magazine, I bought the Gemini DJ starter kit from some crooked company based out of New York. And I got these two busted-ass belt-drive turntables and a weird Richie Rich 12 inch. But the real jump up was DJing, which is kinda how I’ve come full circle with that being the focus again. I would probably say rapping came after that. And then out of a necessity to have beats, and by becoming a fan of it as a DJ, learning how to make beats. In about ’99 or 2000 I bought a MPC 2000, and just kinda dug in. And I think that’s when I found out what I really truly loved doing, and that was the production and the DJing, just cause it’s where the roots are. And I think even to be a good producer you need to have DJ sensibilities, you need to understand how songs work and how they fit together, and all that shit. So that’s kinda my career path in hip-hop.
You’ve toured across Canada, the US and other countries. Are there any countries that you haven’t toured, that you would like to tour?
Oh yeah! Japan’s probably the biggest one. Most of my touring has honestly been in Europe. Canada hasn’t been that much. I mean I’ve done a lot of stuff regionally around where I’ve been living, and then of course I did the Train of Thought Tour in 2011, which was coast-to-coast, which was really dope. But I’ve got a lot of stuff lined up now. I’m working with a new booking agent, this dude Frank with a company called Autonomous, based out of Portland, Oregon. The same company actually books for Elaquent as well. He and I are both working on some things for fall. We’re looking to get back out on a few runs, mostly in the US at this point. Yeah man, Japan is kinda the big gap, especially compared to the glaring numbers that I’ve done over there. That’s how everything really started for me on a bigger scale. I’m still dying to get out there. Even just as a traveller and a fan of culture, it would just be cool to get out there. Who knows? We’ll see if I can make it fuckin happen.
Do you know if there’s much of a hip-hop scene in Japan?
Oh yeah, it’s huge! It’s really huge! When I was putting albums out there in like 2004-2007, they really were soaking up international hip-hop. That was like the shit! And that’s kinda why everybody was getting licensing deals and things were selling really well. And then just as it is everywhere, things kinda turned. The international stuff isn’t as popular there as it used to be. But they still have a huge, thriving hip-hop scene. It’s really kind of its own thing. And to be honest, some of it’s kinda strange. Near the end of me doing projects out there, the labels and people that I was working with would connect me with producers and other artists out there. I never really got it. Some of it sounded really strange to me, but it’s obviously alive and well. In every country there’s gonna be those scenes.
You have collaborated with a number of hip-hop legends. If there was one particular legend that you could work with, that you haven’t already worked with, who would it be?
I definitely have been lucky as hell to work with those legends. To be honest, I’m not even really thinking about that stuff anymore. To me it’s more exciting to work with young, up-and-coming people who are doing exciting and different things. That’s way more inspiring to me. Even two years ago, the idea of going after a bucket list of artists that I was a fan of, was more of a priority. At this point, I don’t even have any plans or interests to hit anyone up to do work. I feel like things have moved away from that as well, especially with the older hip-hop generation. A lot of them aren’t even really doing shit anymore, or they’re doing things that honestly aren’t very exciting, or creative, or unique. And with me trying to transition out of what I have been doing forever, essentially, it’s more important to me that I’m working with people that are gonna challenge what I’m doing, and introduce new ideas. Cause I’m trying to move in that direction and evolve more. And I feel like if I kept trying to do that with artists that are still doing the same thing, I’m not gonna go anywhere. I’m just gonna keep doing the same thing. That’s not exciting for me, and I don’t really think that’s exciting for listeners either. It’s always good to have things change, and obviously you don’t wanna turn a corner too quick on something and really fuck it up for people that like what you do. But at the same time, if it’s not fun for me, it’s not gonna translate into something good to listen to, in my opinion.
If you could give advice to an up-and-coming Canadian hip-hop artist who wants to be both a rapper and producer, what advice would you give them?
Just do what you like, 100 percent. Even if you like weird shit and nobody else is doing it, that’s probably gonna work better for you than anything else. Just practice, man, and get out there and talk to people and make relationships. Because that’s how this business works, and that’s the fuel for it and the fuel for success is your relationships. You gotta get out there and meet people. It’s tough, there’s so much that I’ve learned in the 10 odd years that I’ve been making music. I can’t even really imagine starting out now, even with how things are in the business. It’s really intimidating. But I think the cream will always rise to the top, and anyone that stays true to what they love and what they focus on and get good at, then they’re gonna succeed.
Ian McBride is a writer living in Waterloo, Ontario. He's on Twitter.