Vancouver is a city that may have lost it’s soul. Or possibly sold it. It pimped little sections of it’s panoramic view. It replaced wood and brick with reflective surfaces and glass. Some remnants of it’s unstoried past linger in certain corners, however. Echoes of the days of the Smiling Buddha or The Retinal Circus. But the late 80’s and early 90’s seem to have been left out of the history books, at least as far as this music and culture is concerned.
The area around False Creek was mostly industrial only fifteen years ago, and the glass towers of Yaletown were neglected warehouses. But down the block from the Terry Fox Memorial was a Warehouse of a different kind. A nightspot worth the drive up from Seattle, and the crowd that a DJ named Kilocee sharpened his craft against. That DJ’s path leads us to what was likely Vancouver’s first Hip Hop group, EQ. A name reflecting their attention to sound, and a meeting of first initials.
Ease met Quaze in Seattle. He ended up in Washington State working for Boeing, after a stint traveling the world in the US Navy. Ease was born and raised in Patterson, NJ and caught the Hip Hop bug early, about the time rhymes were first committed to vinyl. The pair began making that I-5 drive north as early as 1986, the year that the world’s attention first focused on the small port city in the Pacific Northwest. Whether opening for Public Enemy (with “sandbags and all that”, as Kilocee remembers), signing autographs at the DJ Sound Wars, or headlining at The Paramount, you didn’t forget them.
Kilocee was introduced to EQ through Don “Prince Ming” Chow. The group had been working on the songs that would become the “Put Your Body In It” single in a Gastown studio, and Kilo happened to live across the street.
“At first they asked me to help out with some scratching, cause their DJ King Otto couldn’t make it up here at the time. We started hanging out at Ming’s studio. Quaze came over and borrowed a grip of my records for samples. As time went on I became their DJ in Canada.”
This relationship jelled as the long awaited EQ full length began production. A small and somewhat shadowy label put up the money. “We had a preproduction studio our label rented for us. It was called Mousetrap. It was in the bassment of the Kitten Theatre on Granville Street. We spent 6 months getting the beats together. Quaze did mostly everything. He’s a fucking genius at 18.” Kilocee explains, adding “I did help with some production, mostly getting the right breaks in Quaze’s hands.”
And the equipment used? “EPS 16 Plus and a SP-12 working in sync.”
The X-rated nature of the Kitten Theatre shouldn’t require explanation. And rumour has it, someone noticed the studio couch in one of the feature presentations.
Unfortunately, the crew took a loss when somebody snatched the cheese from Mousetrap. According to Kilo, “At one point someone jacked all of the gear in the middle of the night. Good thing my decks weren’t there”.
With input from King Otto and Kilocee, Ease and Quaze wrapped up the recording at another Vancouver studio called Blue Wave. The album would be called “Swellsville”, a reference to an elevated state of mind, and not entirely the group’s adopted city. It was slated to drop in that nebulous period between “Conductin’ Thangs” and “Certified Dope”, and just before The Rascalz entered the Canadian consciousness.
But “Swellsville” was not to be. Different versions of what happened next abound. The DJ’s take? “Our label fucked us and split with the masters. The only thing we got out of it was a handful of tapes.” It was through this sprinkling of cassettes that the album was heard at all.
Much could be said about the potential impact of this missing classic, and what could have been. To hear it is to understand. No Hip House or love songs. No clumsy attempts at pop accessibility. Hard beats, fresh rhymes and scratching. The sort of thing that heads in 1991 would have latched onto gratefully.
Luckily, those involved continued to spread their sound. Quaze moved to California to focus on production. King Otto is now a Minneapolis resident and very much part of the scene there. Ease and Kilocee (along with their friend Mr. Bill) began the heralded “Crispy Biscut Mix Show”, soon after their album’s masters vanished. That late night radio program would go on to influence a generation of BC b-boys and girls, and even those further afield through bartered tapes. Ease went on to release a solo project in the late nineties, and is a well respected part of the Vancouver community. Kilocee still rocks the party from time to time. And it’s still very much worth an I-5 road trip to catch him on the wheels.
As for “Swellsville”? A very late issue of the album is apparently in the works, but for now here’s a taste.
Come Alive www.*endspace.com/file/3i3904
Help A Bruva Out www.*endspace.com/file/nq0yqi
Late 4 The Studio www.*endspace.com/file/3se8cw
Play The Back www.*endspace.com/file/rqv0t9
Replace the * with an s