Indie403 is proud to present Ricca Razor Sharp as our Featured Artist of the Month for May!
Hip-hop is not where it started. Underground street hip-hop is still alive and well, but the music has expanded from the streets into car commercials, corporate events, and iPods. The music and scene is well known. Hip-hop is now in suburbia and at clubs all over cities, and now the mainstream has accepted the music, taking the rhymes to places far from the ghetto. One of the city’s biggest MCs, Jonathan Stoddart, who Calgarians know as Ricca Razor Sharp, has been influential in the growth of this scene over the past 14 years. We would like to recognize him as Indie403’s Featured Artist of the Month.
The Growth of Hip-hop in Calgary
Sprouting out of the ghettos in Bronx, New York in the 70s, hip-hop is now all over the globe. From coast to coast and through borders, the music and attitude is now in the mainstream. That growth is being seen in Calgary, where hip-hop used to be little known. Now, as the scene expands, one of Calgary’s biggest MCs sits back in awe, proud of what the scene has become.
“It’s definitely bigger and more prominent and a lot easier to find a show to go to,” says Jonathan Stoddart. When Stoddart arrived from Nova Scotia in 1999, rap fans had to wait weeks to gear up for a show. Now the scene has exploded so much that you would eventually file for bankruptcy if you hit every show at every club.
“There’re more nights for locals to shine, and more out of town acts are coming through regularly,” says Stoddart, mentioning one showcase as an indicator of how big the hip-hop scene in Calgary has become.
Since UBU Lounge started the 10 at 10 Showcase in September 2011, young Calgarians hope to make a mark in the hip-hop scene. Stoddart co-hosts the showcase with another local hip-hop star, Beni Johnson, the first Thursday of every month. Although Stoddart believes the 10 at 10 Showcase did not create the hip-hop scene, “it definitely helps it.”
“[The showcase] is more of a reflection of the scene,” says Stoddart, adding, “Hip-hop is probably more prominent worldwide.” As more people get into rap, more acts are created. In a city that is known for cowboys and stampedes, music that doesn’t fall into the country lifestyle is slowly redefining Alberta.
“There’re more and more Calgary acts, whether they be hip-hop, indie rock… that are taking their shit to the next level,” says Stoddart, who has witnessed that growth with his very eyes.
Every artist has that one moment, that one artist that shakes them up and places them on a new path painted with destiny. Stoddart’s first injection of hip-hop was the “poppy stuff that came along” in the early nineties. Then he heard the rhymes and the beats of one legendary hip-hop group that opened his eyes, and planted the seeds that became Ricca Razor Sharp.
“Somebody made me a mix tape of Public Enemy… and that is what blew my mind and made me want to learn the lyrics and pick my favourite beats,” reveals Stoddart, who mixed the best songs from the group’s first four albums. Public Enemy were the artists that Stoddart heard with his ears and his heart.
Stoddart studied the lyrics and first entrenched himself in the rap game by writing his own lyrics. As he developed a love for hip-hop, he began a love affair with writing. It was only after developing that skill that he started performing at rap battles.
Conventional wisdom places the origins of battle rapping in the East Coast, back in the 70s. In 1981, a legendary battle in Harlem between Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee Starski created two legends and influenced some of the game’s biggest acts in the world of battle rapping. Names like LL Cool J, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre have had rap battles of their own. It is an art form described as “two rappers going at it head to head, bragging about what they do and insulting their opponent while rapping.” It takes a lot of skill to develop the rhymes and grow the thick skin you need to not take the insults to heart and to concentrate on the words you have worked hard to sew together in a rhyme.
“It was really a knack. It really scared me to learn. You just sort of get a database of rhymes,” says Stoddart, adding that freestyle rapping is “not written – it’s pre-conceived.” For Stoddart, free styling takes hard work and a lot of patience. Before a rap war, Stoddart would read up on current events, write some rhymes and think of new words to rhyme, and when an opponent insulted him, he went into his head, took the insult and shot it right back.
Stoddart has walked away from battle rapping in order to let future rappers in on the art and not take away their spotlight. But that doesn’t mean he has stepped away from performing. He can’t walk away, because performing on a stage in front of adoring fans is a feeling he strives to absorb.
Although he was hesitant to sound like a “70’s rock star,” getting on stage is “really similar to sex.” The feeling he gets while on stage and after a show is one of exhaustion and euphoric relief.
“Sometimes it’s better than others, when it goes correctly it feels like the peak of the world.”
Blades of Steel
That beautiful feeling of excitement and adrenaline is now a collaborative effort. Stoddart is all about his new band. He has performed hundreds of shows as Ricca Razor Sharp, but he is now fully committed to Blades of Steel, who released their first EP on 4/20, exactly one year after they made initial plans to cut an EP.
“We played our second ever show last year on 4/20, and we said next year on 4/20 we are putting out an album.” That album is just the beginning of a new journey Stoddart is taking with four other men who bring individual talents to the band as a cohesive unit with one goal in mind: to grow the band.
Stoddart admits to having his fingers in “every part of the band,” but he is no control freak. “I have a lot of faith in the competency of the other people in the band.”
The band consists of Ricca Razor Sharp sharing the MC duties with So Leo, along with Smokin Jay on drums, Roopert El Toro on keyboard and Al Caissee on bass. The band is a collection of five guys who contribute individually to the band, which makes Stoddart, “feel really good about having a super talented band,” behind him.
“Everybody is good at what they do, and we all know whose job it is to do what, so there isn’t a lot of stress.”
Stoddart is all about Blades of Steel. Although he may do a solo show here or there, he is moving full steam ahead with his band and the future is paved in steel.
“For the foreseeable future, my biggest thing is booking better Blades of Steel shows and recording with them,” says Stoddart, who sees another record in the future, as well as a big tour when “the chips are in place.”
Ricca Razor Sharp has a love for music and a love of hip-hop that drives his life. Hip-hop is on his skin and in his bones. He has made a mark in Calgary’s hip-hop scene and continues to help foster its growth, and now he is setting his sights on paving the road with gold. That is why he is Indie403’s Featured Artist of the Month!