By Del F. CowieWhen Masia One hands me a copy of her latest album Bootleg Culture, she tells me there's another blank CD inside so I can burn the album and share it with someone else. I laugh, chalking it up as a joke of some sort, but it turns out what she says is true. Not only does it contain a blank CD, but the album package includes instructions to bootleg and remix the album. "The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is encouraged," reads the back cover of the album package, underlining Masia One's unorthodox approach to making her third album. Bootleg Culture is a musically adventurous outing, drawing inspiration from hip-hop, pop and reggae among other influences. It is the product of the Singapore-born Canadian artist globetrotting around the world, drawing cultural similarities and differences while running into the likes of the RZA and John Frusciante along the way.
Why are you so comfortable with your art being spread around? In these days and times there's definitely a lot of censorship, whether it's trying to withhold information and knowledge on the internet with Megaupload [and what] went down, or if you're looking down on counterfeit code or this and that. I've been fortunate as an artist to travel all over the world and I see that there are certain brand names, there's this and that, we're all humans and the reality of how humans live is that they just have to make a living. Brand name or not. And also with the technology, with the internet, no matter how much you try to censor it or the technology of the music industry, no matter how much try not to allow people to burn and steal music they're gonna do it. If the technology is there, it's a way of life. So I mean I'll go to New York and I'll hear girls talking about "Oh my god, I'd never get caught wearing a counterfeit this and that" and then I'll go to Indonesia where there are kids ― because he's gotten a bootleg copy of Photoshop let's say ― he's been able to break his poverty cycle from what he's always been doing to suddenly learning Photoshop, learning on a computer and possibly becoming a graphic designer. So I decided I'd mess around with the concept of this, how badly and how taboo we look at bootleg culture and just kind of say that well, at one time the culture was stolen from the streets and larger corporations have money to market it and make it into a large phenomenon. And we that invented it are taught how to lust for this thing that was ours in the first place. So the main message is for people to reclaim their culture. It's also on many different levels. On one level it's also the criticism that comes from music critics on [my music being] all over the place. There are too many styles, this and that kind of thing. We don't understand what Masia One's style is. But for me it's like you're allowed to be dynamic people and travel around the world and learn all these different things. So when it comes down to it ― making a record like this , that has a bit of dancehall a bit of pop, a bit of rock ― everything's in it because that's who I really am as an artist. I've seen, I've lived with that hub and flow. I used to jam with whoever and this is Toronto too. Toronto is bootleg culture. So, in a way using the term is as a mix of culture, that everything doesn't need to be so black and white. Finally, the third meaning is that the music didn't take two years, but the business around it took two years to make sure things are clear, things are mastered, this and that. So it's one of those things that you fight so hard to keep something. I always feel that it's best to just let it go. So, now that I've fought to have this record we can release it and let the music go and see what it does you know. Having that faith that it's a vibe and if it's music that the people like, then it's always coming back to you. It doesn't necessarily have to be this giant music industry fear of people stealing music.
Did you ever second guess yourself on giving away your music? Only when I go to music conferences and labels are like "You're crazy for doing that. No, you don't do that shit." One of the biggest things that holds a lot of artists back is that they're being perfectionists and defining their song. "But I can do a better vocal performance than that" and that has to come into play to a certain extent. At the end of the day, if you're an artist you make music and you let it go and you're always gonna make more and hopefully you make it better. So it's ok. We all know that you don't make money in the music industry anyways. Not anymore. You don't sell enough off CDs, you're selling off licensing or you're selling merchandising. You're selling the idea of somebody.