Wearing a forest green, Nautica wind-breaker, New Era fitted cap and black horn-rimmed frames—after taking one look at Scarborough based Toronto rapper Scott Ramirez, you can be sure that this cat is no JD Era, Drake or Weeknd for that matter. Ramirez is an unabashed 24-year-old whose latest hip hop release “Headlocks” is quickly making him the talk of the town and hears him strapping us into a DeLorean and turning the dial back to 1995, to the heyday of East Coast hip hop.
Inspired by rappers ranging from all directional bearings, “Headlocks” comes nearly a year after Ramirez’ debut EP Mad Work, Low Pay, Big Dreams. With lots of well-timed chorus refrains chanting “Buck em down!” and mentions of strictly Torontonian contrivances like Metropasses and the TTC, Ramirez’ sound will soothe any hip hop affectionate fan like a smoothie made out of an M.O.P. album and a Canadian flag that got tossed into a blender. With many grand plans for the future of his musical output, I got the chance to sit down with Scott to discuss where his sound comes from, his new focus on “Headlocks” and what we can expect from this young, blast from the past MC.
Brandon Bastaldo: Let’s start back in 2011 with your first EP MAD WORK, LOW PAY, BIG DREAMS. Where were you at in your life at that point?
Scott Ramirez: Well, the album is an acronym—MLB, right? MLB was a culmination of my university years, a bunch of things about university, my work life, misadventures and encounters at that time. I actually wanted to release MLB earlier, but I just wanted to get university done ASAP. I don’t really know how to explain it…it just is, you know? It was a very personal project. I didn’t really push it out as much as I wanted to because man, when I said mad work, it was legitimately mad work. I mean, several engineers helped me through it, ups and downs throughout the whole process, setbacks, good encounters and all that.
BB: Well speaking of engineers, I noticed that you made sure to mention where each of the tracks off of MLB were recorded, and by who and that’s something you don’t see very often anymore. Why was this important to you?
SR: I’m an 88’ baby. I grew up in the 90’s, you know? Nas, Big Pun, Big L, Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde and all that. I have a record collection, well not vinyl—I don’t have a vinyl player but I wish I did (laughs). I buy CDs still, I don’t even care who it’s from. I love looking over the artwork, reading over the information and seeing where and who recorded it. I feel like that’s kind of like a lost art, I mean people can go all willy-nilly and upload 10,000 songs, but it’s like okay where did you record it? Who recorded it?”
BB: You have many mentions of Toronto in your music. You talk about Metropasses, Hydro bills, TTC workers. Was Toronto a focus for you while you were writing, or are you just speaking on your life?
SR: It’s just part of my life man. It’s like when you listen to a Nas record, you’ll hear lines about Queensbridge, or when you listen to Tribe you’ll hear about Lindon Boulevard. So when you listen to Scott Ramirez, you’re going to hear about Scarborough Town Center, Kennedy or Adelaide–it’s just part of my up-bringing. Man I’m not ashamed of Toronto. Toronto is one of the flyest cities out there.
BB: You have a line off of “Still Life” about TTC drivers being incompetent. If could speak face to face with TTC Chair Karen Stintz, what would you tell her?
SR: Oh man, there’s a lot of things I want to say and tell her. Yo Karen: straight up, do proper background checks on your bus drivers. Get em’ through some mental health, customer service testing because most of these guys don’t know how to communicate. I would tell Karen that. Quality testing Karen, quality testing.
BB: So it’s a year later after your dropped MLB, and you’re back with your new single “Headlocks”. Why the wait?
SR: When I released MLB, right after I was just soul searching. I went to New York for the Rock the Bells festival. Nas, Lauren Hill, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Black Moon, Slaughter house—yeah that was wild. I mean I’ve seen Nas several times already but he was the livest in New York, but you know, home field advantage and all that. Definitely, 2011-2012 was a soul searching experience for me: I just got out of university, job market is shit, and I’m with everybody else in their mid-20s and early 30s struggling to find out place in this world. I was wondering, “what do I want out of music?” Just seeing Nas and everybody on the RTB bill, I was like “this is what I want to do”. This ain’t no trend, fad, you know? Although I haven’t released anything in over a year, there’s definitely been a lot of writing and prepping involved. I’ve been doing a lot of shows during that time too: I did Canadian Music Week, opened for GZA and Stalley from Maybach Music. I’m just happy that I’m getting good responses from “Headlocks”.
BB: Your sound on “Headlocks sounds much more focused than before.
SR: My God, yes! I’m glad you noticed that. With the MLB EP, it took two years to prep, plan and release it. Since then, I’ve had a lot of time to prep, revise and definitely test the…vocal range I guess? I don’t know how to describe it. I’ve been working with dope cats too, I mean with MLB I was just hustling from studio to studio trying to get the best quality I can. But now that I’ve been meeting good people, it’s just legit, they know their shit.
BB: You have a chorus chanting “Buck em’ down” on “Headlocks”. Is that an M.O.P. reference?
SR: Naw, it’s a Black Moon reference from their song “Buck em Down” off of Enta Da Stage. When I made “Headlocks”, I was just feeling that no one makes records up to that magnitude anymore. Remember when cats used to yell into the microphone? Like M.O.P.? Busta Rhymes in the “Ante Up” remix? Man, I just feel like not a lot of cats do that now in days so in “Headlocks” I just thought, let me bring that essence back, let me reinvigorate that into music. Because that’s the music I grew up with, I thought let me bring that to how Scott Ramirez does. Since I haven’t released anything for a long time span, I was thinking let me come out of nowhere and put you in a headlock.
BB: Any upcoming projects?
SR: For 2013, I’ll be regularly releasing promo singles, A cappellas and what not. In February I’ll be releasing a new song called “She Got Me”. It’s my tribute to the very, lovely-dovey month of February.