How the West Was Won: Doom Squad Are the Leaders of Canada's Cypher Scene
“Edmonton is going to be a place hip-hop comes from.”
Doom Squad started hosting monthly rap cyphers in February 2014 to challenge members of their hometown scene in western Canada. The Doom Squad trio consists of Edmonton-based Kryple (John Richard), NineLivez (Stevie Erasmus), and Trippz (Noel Wysocki). Each month they released a music video featuring different local artists, and soon their talentpool ballooned to encompass all of western Canada and beyond. In the span of nearly a year, Doom Squad had enough music to drop the free-to-download The Monthly Cypher Mixtape. They also have a YouTube channel bursting with content that would inspire other locals to participate in their program. To date, they have put out 23 consecutive cypher videos, produced by Adam Curatolo aka Sonik. This week, Noisey premieres cypher number 24, marking its second year. The latest features Doom Squad with guests Drezus and Merkules.
We wanted to find out more about this cypher scene, so we got Doom Squad on the phone for a conference call. They told us they all grew up in lower class, single-parent households around addictions issues and other struggles. Officially forming as Doom Squad in 2010, they focused on music as a positive outlet, while still maintaining their bravado as Alberta’s so-called “rap trolls.”
The trolling aspect of their image appears to be a source of motivation by fire for artists around them. That, and the volume of their creative output. Last year, on top of the cyphers, each member put out solo albums: Kryple with Anger Management; Trippz collaborated with Sonik to make Cd's On tape (On CD); and NineLivez released Nickel Plated 9z. The Squad hopes to release a group sequal project called Countdown to Doomsday II in March in time for their upcoming Countdown 2 Doomsday Tour spanning coast to coast. We talked to Doom Squad about their origins and the cypher scene they established.
Noisey: What’s Doom Squad?
Kryple (John Richard): Doom Squad is a coalition of three rappers that came together to make an awesome sound. Hip-hop is full of subgenres but I feel we don’t fit into any of them. I just feel like we have such a wide variety of sounds we like to work with. We can be on a trap-style beat doing double-time rap and another on a guitar work doing singing.
Trippz (Noel Wysocki): I agree. I don’t think it’s that we don’t fit it in, but we’re not worried about being limited to a genre. Hip-hop is where I started, but it’s not where I see myself finishing. We want to be as diverse as possible.
What brought you all together?
NineLivez (Stevie Erasmus): Trippz and Kryple had been rapping together since before [we were 15.] We’re all the same age—25. I came around when we were 17. Kyple and Trippz had a group called Kryptic Mindz. I was just a solo artist. We were a crew and rapped together, did shows together and everything. I had an older brother [Andy Block] who passed away. Andy wasn’t my real brother, but he was an older friend that looked out for me. He kept me on the right path but he lived the bad life. He was a mentor. He was actually murdered. They found him in an alley murdered back in 2010 in Edmonton. He was 31. He had this group called Doom Squad with his buddies. They were b-boys and emcees and stuff like that. He was trying to better his life and those around him. I just remember wanting to be a part of Doom Squad. Right before he passed away, I was doing my rap thing. He made the Doom Squad name pop up. He ended up passing away, so I carried the name on for his honor.
What’s it like taking up that torch from Andy?
NineLivez: It feels great. It’s something that I always wanted to do even when he was alive. We get a lot of respect from people because of that. It’s an honor.
Kryple: It’s good to have his legacy as a human being. The name of Doom Squad, the essence of it, draws people in. I don’t know what it is, but it has good energy.
Edmonton’s hip-hop community is surprisingly crowded: Cadence Weapon, Mitchmatic, AOK, KazMega, Locution Revolution, Politic Live, Epic, Brothers Grim and on and on—how does Doom Squad fit into the scene?
Kryple: I’m trying to sound as nice as possible, but aside from Brothers Grim and KazMega I guess, all those guys would be classified as nerd rap. Not trying be disrespectful. Politic Live I guess is conscious rap.
So you don’t make nerd rap then. That makes sense considering your older songs like “Asshole.”
NineLivez: “Asshole” was a play on that nerd rap. It’s really white hip-hop if that makes sense.
Trippz: They do prairie rap. Maybe that’s a better term. Politic Live is poppin’ off now. They’re getting a live band, from what I hear. They’ve been doing their thing hardcore. KazMega, I heard a couple of those artists are up for awards. I don’t know. I feel grateful to be a part of what’s happening in Edmonton right now. When I started 10 years ago, there was nothing. Now there’s two or three dozen cats grindin’ hard out here. Edmonton is going to be a place hip-hop comes from.
Kryple: Those guys paved the way in a bigger sense. Politic Live [has a guy] named Arlo [Maverick] who writes grants for artists. He’s opened doors for numerous artists … Cadence Weapon, if I’m correct, was one of the first Edmonton rappers to sign to a label and tour the country, though he doesn’t make music that I believe reflects Edmonton. These guys open doors for us though.
You contributed to that community by organizing cyphers. How did that happen?
Kryple: The cyphers were unintentionally good for the community. They started as a way for us to stay relevant while working on our own music. We wanted to be more conceptual. Featuring a different artist from Edmonton and even eventually people from outside every month has grown the scene and fanbases.
How did you hook up with Merkules and Drezus for this latest cypher?
Trippz: They’ve shown us incredible love and support. I remember meeting up with Merkules on tour a couple times. Merkules is younger than us, but seeing where he is business wise and creatively is exciting. Drezus has been on the up and up for a long time.
Kryple: I met Merkules and Drezus like six or seven years ago when [Merkules] still called himself Merk Mikz. He was touring with Snak the Ripper and Evil Ebenezer [with Stompdown Killaz crew.] First time I went to King of the Dot battle in Vancouver, I shot a video with Merkules and Prada West. Drezus we met through shows with Winnipeg’s Most and Team Rezofficial. It’s going big out here.
Devin Pacholik enjoys Canadian nerd rap. Follow him on Twitter.