Unbound by the rules of traditional hip-hop music, Dead Obies came to life in 2011 with the self-appointed mission of adding a “post-rap” feel to their own punk/electro/soul musical mixture. The band’s first year of collective learning and experimentation produced Collation Vol. 1, a pleasantly chaotic basement recording. “One of the hard drives blew up, and we lost all our works-in-progress,” Yes Mccan, one of the band’s five MCs, recalls. “The MP3s of some of our previous sessions were all we had left. So we decided to get them out there and see what people thought. We got good reviews and sold some albums without any marketing. We just posted that material on Facebook and Bandcamp, and people started sharing. We hadn’t given any serious thought to our songwriting up to that point, but we now got thinking about what we had to say, and started planning a conceptual album that would show people where we were coming from.”
The clan (also including RCA, Snail Kid, 20some, O.G. BEAR and VNCE) met at a cottage and conceptualized what was to become Montréal $ud, the sextet’s November 2013 official debut album. This ambitious, daring and stylistically on-trend opus strings together a slew of inventive and solid beats, and contains no less than 17 tracks depicting life in Montreal’s South Shore neighbourhood with as much authenticity as intelligence.
“We were after a cinema/movie feel to engage psychologically with the listener,” says Mccan. I see it sort of like a novel. We were actually thinking of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The more you dig into the Montreal South Shore, the deeper you bury yourself… Our original idea was even more narrative in style. We had been planning on doing something similar to what Kendrick Lamar had done on Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City; that is, travel to a place where the geography and the environment are at the heart of the story and play on its main character. We revised our itinerary to loosen things up a little. We wanted a self-standing work as opposed to what was being done in the rap world at the time. And when the album came out, it was exactly in sync with what was being done in that style.”
“We wanted to create an album that people could listen to on their way to work, that would help them get through the day.”
While the 24-year-old MC agrees that the sextet’s outlook involves no preferred themes, the songs of their debut album clearly share a particular vibe. “It’s an empowering album,” Mccan suggests. “It happens all the time in the rap music world. We wanted to create an album that people could listen to on their way to work, something that would help them get through the day. That’s what was behind this album.”
Dead Obies members, whose ages range from 22 to 26, are all informed and committed lovers of music in the broadest sense of the word. This shows in the way they seamlessly move from French to English to Franglais to Creole (“just a modern Quebec reality,” Mccan points out) on Montréal $ud, and in their democratic approach to the writing of catchy songs. “VNCE looks after the music side. He’ll sometimes come in with a fully composed or nearly completed tune for the band to work on. On other occasions, we’ll start from scratch, but music always comes first, and the lyrics only come in to support the story that’s already inside the music. Putting words on the musical feel of a piece is our biggest challenge. We get together and talk it over. Someone writes a verse down, and we all listen to it. Other band members follow suit, and we’ll try to zero in on a central theme. Everyone shares his own snippets and we all try to build something on that idea.”
Still moonlighters, all Dead-O band members dream of being in a position to quit their day jobs at some point. “We’re probably not going to be able to raise our families from record sales,” Mccan explains, “but I think there’s a way of getting into the loop. We’re looking for ways to make this work. We’d like to build our own studio and provide professional services, which would be a good way of making our revenues more regular. You know, I never identified with the pop music that’s being played on radio, but at the same time, I feel that if those nondescript artists can make a living and fill a need, maybe I too deserve to earn my living in this business!”
Besides planning their dream home studio, the Dead Obies crew is now working with a production company on a show that can be staged as part of large-scale events, starting with the Montréal en lumières Festival. “We’ve always tried to put up the best possible show on a shoestring, but now we can afford to do things in a bigger way. Montréal $ud was recorded the same way Collation Vol. 1 was – we did the voice tracks in a closet and the beats in a basement. We want to take things further and take our music on the road. Nothing’s been confirmed yet, but we’re planning a European tour. We’re going to keep busy, that’s for sure. VNCE already has 20 beats ready. We’re producing a lot of stuff, and it gets our record company worried sometimes! We want to improve our craft so we can offer an even finer product.” Things are definitely looking up for the Dead Obies.