Representin' the 306
by Levi Soulodre
August 6, 2009
When it comes to making music, Trinidad-born (and now Saskatoon-based) hip hop/urban artist Garland Headley (also known by the moniker Spyder G) states his personal credo: “I am who I am…I do what I do. So deal with it!” Although Saskatchewan doesn’t proclaim itself the largest or most opportunistic of centres for the growth and demand of local hip hop music, Headley’s set on bringing attention to his own brand of gospel-turned-urban-hip hop. Remaining true to his personal and musical integrity has ultimately defined and developed many successful relationships for Headley, positively pushing his career ‘within the game’, as he calls it. (The ‘game’ refers to the lifestyle and culture that marks a hip hop artist’s playing field within the music business.) Headley has marked his musical territory by drawing upon both his gospel upbringing, and his old-school hip hop influences, while staying true to his personal convictions.
His first release, the Gospel R&B/hip hop-tinged Dimensions of Faith (2000) received a Prairie Music Award nomination for Outstanding Christian Recording. With a powerful singing voice that has been called "rich", "warm", "impressive" and "soulful", one may have been led to believe that Headley’s music tastes settled anywhere other than hard-core hip hop. His new EP, Urbanisms fo Rreaalll, proves otherwise. Urbanisms serves as a slick and colourful old-school/urban mash-up. It testifies to Headley’s varied musical tastes, and unleashes his honest and potent style of writing.
Introduced to music early on by his musically-inclined father, Headley began piano lessons at the age of two. “I grew up in a musical household, with instruments everywhere,” he remembers. The keyboard still remains his instrument of choice; as Headley notes, "With the versatility of sounds and technology available now, it's easy to pump ideas out quickly." In fact, Headley’s signature keyboard grooves provide something of a link between the varied styles of Dimensions and Urbanisms. He also wishes to pursue the saxophone and drums; “anything that creates a lot of rhythm,” he explains. He continues talking about his homeland’s music, wherein the majority of Caribbean music induces deep, natural and rich tones. His goal remains to inject his songs with the same type of vibe. Before making the decision to come to Canada, Headley spent many years performing with his father’s band, "The Advent Messengers", as well as with his own project, "J.B.G.S." (representing each band members’ initials, as well as serving as an acronym for "Just Be Good Stewards").
Speaking of his musical transition, Headley explains that although he had set some personal boundaries for himself while working on the creation of Dimensions, he didn’t restrict himself to a certain creative vision - and this stylistic flexibility eventually lead him towards the harder edge of Urbanisms. Headley describes the earlier album as a personal plateau - a “graduation certificate for himself and for his parents.” It then opened the doors for him to pursue a wider and more commercial brand of hip hop. While remaining steadfast to old school influences, Headley remains uncompromising in his personal faith and beliefs. Referring to the lyrical content of Urbanisms, he notes, “I had to address issues that I was talking about (in real life), or living through.” Headley states that his old-school artist influences displayed true-to-self lyrical content, which Headley now emulates.
“The genre transition was hard,” he continues, “(because) I had to decide whether it was going to affect my spirituality or not - that is, being a commercial rap artist. I wanted to maintain my own writing style - which was to tell a story, or put an idea out there and give my own solution for it. And I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to maintain that style of delivery and still sound legitimate in this genre. To deliver a message that a large audience can understand, but still keep my own personal beliefs intact."
It was the result of defining equality between self-worth and willpower. He thus describes Urbanisms as “an old-school hip hop record with more modern tones”. When referring to old-school, Headley isn’t talking of today’s top 40 rap tastemakers. Rather, he speaks of the artists and people who, throughout the 1980s, founded the culture of rapping and hip hop - notably Ice Cube, Run DMC and Big Daddy Kane. These are the artists, Headley explains, who put true-to-life experience into their songs. He relates to this approach, as he raps from true-life experiences and an honest emotional perspective.
In preparation for the project, he spent most of 2003 writing an extensive amount of tracks - enough for two new albums. Headley then spent the larger part of 2004 DJ'ing, analyzing the way people responded to the songs he played. “I did research to figure out what people wanted to hear, what sounded good to them,” he explains. Headley relates to his musical environment as 'the game’, a metaphor where the playing field relates to the lifestyle and culture encompassed in the highly competitive (and sometimes deadly) hip hop aesthetic. Luckily, Headley keeps a level head when it comes to playing the game; “(I) must keep a steady hand…you can’t let it get to your head.” Referring to hip hop pioneers like Tupac Shakur, he explains that “It’s always about who’s got the best game…I want to make music that will define the game on my own terms - terms I want to go on.”
On record, Headley’s outgoing, sincere personality shines through, particularly on the song "Body Shop", a critical, yet lighthearted take on Headley’s own larger size. "Why did You" was written from a shared experience Headley lived through, stemming from his own personal battles as well as the struggles of those close to him. He says, “I didn’t compromise (my urban roots) in any way for Urbanisms.” His soulful side can still be found, especially on the beautiful track "Can’t Hide Pretty". Headley reveals his philosophy on the construction of his vocals. “If I have something to say, I will rap it. If I have a story to tell, I will sing it.” He notes that if people really pay attention to the crafting of both albums, similarities will begin to reveal themselves. “When making music, I’m being true to what I know.” He adds with a smile, “That’s why I’ll always have at least one or two softer love tracks.”
Headley explains that he understood full well that he should prepare himself to accept whatever response the songs received because of their graphic lyric content and very personal subject matter. They're about experiences he's had, or that someone close to him has lived through.
He is certainly proud of his work; besides the creative elements, he co-engineered the project alongside (Audio Art's) Neil Meckelborg, and acted as producer - which means the album’s beats are of Headley’s own making. He explains there were two important factors that made it an ideal working situation: Meckelborg had no pre-conceptions about what a hip hop album "should" sound like, and was thus fresh to the scene and style of music. As a result, Headley felt more creative freedom.
Headley confirms Urbanisms to be a “hip hop experience,” much the way he describes his live performances. Headley approaches his shows in a calm, meditative state. For example, as part of a recent performance (opening for Joe Budden), Headley observed an hour’s worth of pre-show quiet time, and two days’ of self-reflection to prepare himself and become his alter ego, Spyder G. His approach brings to mind Buddhist methods: “I completely involve myself in the metaphysical experience within who I am in my daily life. The rapper in me emerges and exists…On stage, only three things remain: the audience, the music, and the performer.” Very disciplined about his performances, he believes that this approach, allied with his strong-willed and likeable personality, have allowed him to gain the respect of fellow artists, show promoters and, most importantly, fans throughout Western Canada.
“It’s usually most important to have someone you’ve just met hear your stuff in person, so that they can immediately respond to it,” he believes. Speaking humbly, he recalls how an old friend (who strictly listens to death metal) was won over by Urbanisms. Asking for an honest response, Headley recalls that he was in shock because the friend “was really feeling it.” Pretentiousness is nowhere to be found in Headley’s philosophy; furthermore, he attempts to distance himself from the sort of egos he sees around him, "in other artists who might not write to their true selves".
Headley plans on pursuing his music interests for the long run. One of his most important goals, he says, is “in developing solid industry relationships.” (He mentions that SaskMusic has helped a lot in this domain.) This is not so much because he wishes to take over the world of hip hop, but because he is obviously a person who enjoys what he does, at all levels of 'the game’, from performance to behind-the-scenes work like management and production. In the near future, Headley looks forward to Regina shows with Slim from 112, plans to release a self-produced DVD, as well as organize a few tour dates for the fall/winter season.
The good-natured and naturally calm Headley notes in conclusion that he likes to listen to his music “loud and hard!” And, it’s of no surprise; he has to be hard-edged and brimming with integrity in order to remain competitive in 'the game'