As Chairmen of Québec’s rap scene, the six members of Dead Obies are the very incarnation of the bold, up-and-coming new generation. Raised on American rap in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, they were mainly inspired by diverse and multi-lingual literature. They truly broke onto the scene in 2013 with Montréal $ud and followed up with this year’s Gesamtkunstwerk, a critical and popular juggernaut that was, however, shunned by the industry’s institutions – who can’t stand the “Frenglish” used by the band throughout their œuvre.

Resilient combatants driven by a desire to be the flag-bearers of a polyphonic culture, the band stands and delivers. “At the end of the day, we speak French with our audience, in all of our releases, etc.,” says Jo RCA, one of the band’s rappers. “I come from a South Shore Francophone family who parks their car in the driveway. As a general rule, a 51% ratio of French content is required to be considered Francophone, but for some obscure reason, an institution like Musiaction requires a 70% ratio. Thing is, there’s basically just Dead Obies who fall into the category. Lucky for us, Bonsound, our label, can and wants to support us. But it does send a weird message,”

Create, Right Here, Right Now
Beyond the ire of public funding – the band has been asked to refund an $18,000 grant from Musicaction for failing to comply with their Francophone content ratio – the Obies clearly know what their audience wants: the album was at the top of the sales charts in Québec when it came out, and fifth in Canada overall. This feat was accomplished without much help for the usual commercial suspects who, to this day, turn a blind eye on locally sourced rap.

The situation is basically impossible to explain from a logical standpoint. On the one hand, you have the institutions and other major networks who basically just don’t know how to handle this phenomenon; on the other, you have the millennials and their cultural identity anchored in both official languages – and a few mouse clicks – who are yelling for more, more, more…

And it’s precisely in that somewhat disconcerting, spontaneous divide that Dead Obies strive and become perfectly relevant. They stand and deliver.

A Six-Headed Hydra
“We roll with peeps from both sides of the Main,”

they rap, referring to Montréal’s Saint-Laurent Boulevard, a major north/south axis that serves as the historical and symbolic boundary between the Francophone community to the East and the Anglophone community to the West.

 The band operates as one beat-maker fuelling five very distinct voices and lyrical styles, and their creative process is achieved around those distinctions. “We work as a unit, we influence each other, we set each other on different trains of thought, and even rhymes,” says Jo RCA. “We want our material to be representative of each one of us. Our differences also influence our creative process, and therein lies the Dead Obies’ unity, what makes our cell so complex and wide-ranging. The connection between each and every one of us is mind-blowing.”

Their songwriting often resides in something rather intangible, like the zeitgeist of each member’s individual reflections, but always using an infallible equation: “We are all very abstract thinkers, it’s probably our strongest common creative denominator,” says Jo RCA. “We hate when everything is easy, spoon-fed, when there is no second, third, or fourth degree. Our tracks must be able to breathe and have a life of their own. I think we’ve made great strides towards that goal on the new album.

“Our main goal is simply to create great tracks that, we hope, the audience will react to. When we come up with a track, we play it back to each other for months. And then comes the time where we feel it’s time to release it to the world. It can sometimes be strange to witness how a song created spontaneously, in a specific moment and state of mind, ages. It happens all the time to me: I’ll listen to an old song of ours and hear something completely different than what I remember I intended when I created it!”

One thing’s for sure, few artists are in a better position than Dead Obies to unequivocally claim its own relevance in a not-so-inclusive cultural landscape. On both sides of the Main.