Here’s the latest edition in our series about creative meetings between two songwriters. This time, we dissect the successful reunion of rapper Séba and composer-producer DJ Horg, who, together, wrote the hit “Vintage à l’os” (“Vintage to Death”). To their astonishment, the song currently sits atop of the chart of one of Montréal’s commercial radio stations. Their first album, Grosso Modo, is a project that germinated 20 years ago, but materialized only recently – as a kind of homage to the boom-bap sound typical of ‘90s hip-hop.
But first, a bit of history: while New York DJ Premier (Gang Starr) is considered the architect of the boom-bap sound, we’d be remiss to not mention the composer-producers of Boogie Down Productions, laucnhed with the first solo album of legendary rapper KRS One. And what was the title of that 1993 classic? Return of the Boom Bap. Boom as in the sound of a fat kick drum. Bap as the sharp, crisp sound of a snare drum. These are the two main ingredients in this irressistibly danceable version of the rap rhythm.
As is probably clear by now, boom-bap is rap’s ancient history, and its second Golden Age, the first one being the old-school explosion, circa Run DMC. Now a dominating musical force in Western culture, rap has changed a lot since then.
“If I was 15 or 20 today, I’d most likely be totally immersed in the whole trap thing,” says Horg, mentioning Migos, Gucci Mane, Future, 2 Chainz, and so on. “Except I’m not 20, I’m 43, and that’s that. Like I told Séba: if you want to do a rap album today, it has to be trap. Thing is, neither of us are really into that sound. Not to say it’s not good, but the beats, the lyrics, the message, it’s just not us.”
Apparently you can’t teach new tricks to these old hip-hop dogs, who met about two decades ago at Cégep du Vieux-Montréal. “During the first week of classes!” says Séba. “I hosted a radio show during the morning and Horg was right after me. When I saw him arrive with his machines and his vinyl, I thought, ‘Oh shit!’ and we immediately started talking about rap. The scene was just picking up speed in Montréal, that was 1995, and the movie La Haine had just come out. . . We recognized each other. There weren’t a lot of people into it, then.”
Once Cégep was done, they lost track of each other. Horg stayed behind the decks, composing and producing beats for Québec’s underground scene – “vintage to death” fans will remember projects such as Cavaliers Noirs and KZ Kombination – before becoming the shining light behind Samian. As for Séba, he became the spark plug of the punk-rap trio Gatineau.
They met again at the 2008 ADISQ Gala. “You sat behind me with your manager,” Horg reminds his partner-in-crime. That was the year Gatineau won the Félix for the best hip-hop album of the year, beating Samian, Sans Pression, Imposs and Radio Radio. “It was more punk than anything else and live, it was almost metal. Let’s just say we sounded more closely related to The Breastfeeders than to Biggie Smalls,” says Séba, who’s a rapper deep down, even though he looked goth at the time.
Third time’s a charm, as they say, and a few months ago, Séba decided to attend the taping of Horg’s radio show, Sur le corner, and took the opportunity to tell him about his dream: recording a rap album over Horg’s beats. “What’s cool about Séba is that I feel like all I’ve accomplished since I started in rap, everything I realized I wanted to do and say in this scene, converged with his experience and his journey,” says Horg. “It became obvious very quickly that we had a project on our hands.”
The first demos were made with Séba’s “depressing lyrics written after a breakup, it just didn’t work,” Horg explains. They started over, inspired by their common passion for rap. “We wanted to make an album like we would’ve done it 20 years ago, no compromises. To me, it was almost therapeutic; I would constantly ask myself, if I grab the mic to rap, what would people like to hear me talk about? And the answer was always: How was it, being in Watatatow?”
Yes, dear young (or too old) readers: in his old life, Horg was an actor in a TV series for tweens and teens. “Yes, I was a comedian, but I stopped, mainly because I didn’t like being centre stage. It’s also why I’ve never been a solo rapper,” says the man who’s perfectly comfortable sharing the mic with Séba on Grosso Modo. “We made that record for ourselves, Horg says. “Unabashedly, honestly, we figured we’d tell all – Horg played the character of Bérubé in Watatatow!”
Séba adds, “To be honest, I think I also did this record so that people will stop saying I’m that guy from Gatineau,” just as Horg is no longer Bérubé. The lyrics were written four-handed, dug up from their memories of being young rap aficionados, along with a healthy dose of nostalgia and ‘90s cultural references, which they drop with humour and tenderness.
And it works: At press time, Vintage à l’os sits at the top of CKOI’s 6 à 6 chart. Iit also sat in first place, for awhile, of iTunes’ Francophone songs chart, over Patrice Michaud, Cœur de pirate and 2Frères! “Unbelievable,” says Séba. They literally couldn’t believe it. “Even in our wildest dreams. Québec rap on such heavy rotation? It looks like we hit the spot, in people’s hearts, with that song…”