Published Mar 15, 2011On Jonestown 2, D-Sisive (aka Derek from Northcliffe and Derek Christoff) further cements his reputation as one of Canada's most introspective and hardest working rappers. Jonestown 2 is D-Sisive's fourth studio album in two years, not including several other collaborative efforts, guest appearances and Internet-only singles. That work rate alone is worthy of respect. More impressive though is D-Sisive's ability to change his lyrical focus from album to album without ever sounding false. If he was melancholy on The Book and Let the Children Die, defiant on Jonestown and surprisingly upbeat on Vaudeville, then on Jonestown 2 he's mostly just pissed off. Sure, there are some lighter moments ― the sweet, lovey "Morning in Barcelona," the childhood reminiscence of "Derek from Northcliffe" ― but much of the album has D taking pot-shots at a music industry that has turned him into a critical darling, but left him as broke as he was when he started. Whether he's railing at a industry that turns Canadian rappers into second-class citizens on "If...," hitting back at people who criticize him as less-than-real ("Wannabe") or just freaking out about being broke on "Stroumboulopoulos," it's clear that D-Sisive is ready for a wider stage. And he's willing to take it by force, if necessary.
Your references can be kind of obscure. Do you ever worry that people don't get them or shake your head when people miss what you're talking about?
Yeah, but then sometimes I have to be brought down and back to reality. I consume a lot of pop culture; I'm just a pop culture junkie. I'm a fan of music, I'm a fan of movies, I'm a fan of television, but it's almost beyond that. I'm an obsessive; I've always been an obsessive my entire life. I remember being, like, eight or nine years old ― it's hilarious, but I was never into anything specific, I just like movies. It wasn't like, "oh, I like this kind of shit, or I prefer whatever genre." If it was a movie, I was watching that movie. It was like, the most random thing. I was watching Once Upon a Time in America on Beta. My mother would take me to this video store ― this was just when VHS was starting to come in, but we had a Beta player still. The video rental place was just unloading all their Betas, and they were all in these little black cases. A movie would be, like, a buck. My mom would give me ten dollars and tell me to go get ten movies, and I'm going home with Once Upon a Time in America, three Cheech and Chong movies, Porky's, all this stuff. And I'd watch them all. I'm sitting there, eight years old, just soaking it all in. Even now, all the references that I drop are from shit like this from back then. I'm the guy, even now, can tell you the cast and real names from Degrassi Junior High and Family Ties and shit. Don't ask me anything about math or geography, but ask me about Tina Yothers and I know the whole story.
These references, are you just drawing from this vast knowledge or are they influenced by what you're listening to and watching at the time?
Both. Like, with something like "Morning in Barcelona," that's just another love song, or however you want to label it. I'm not a guy known for writing songs like that, so it has to have my twist to it. Like, on the second verse, and this isn't really a reference: "I'm sorry if I'm coming off bicep, but life's too short to be pipsqueak." That's just, like, "Sorry if I'm coming off strong." That's such a basic thing, but I'll figure out what I want to say, "Sorry if I'm coming off strong," for example and then I'll just stare at that sentence on my monitor and figure out how I want to alter it. Then I'll look at "bicep" and think of things related to that. If you see my songs after they're written, I'm constantly making notes. I'll have a section for my verses and I type all my shit. So, below each verse are just notes, like footnotes. One will go beside "strong" and then I'll [have] "Hulk Hogan, 24-inch pythons," just stupid shit like that. And that's how the references happen. I try to put as much to strong, or biceps, as I can. I think a lot about biceps.
I've never heard of a rapper, or any other sort of musician, for that matter, writing lyrics using footnotes. How did you start doing that?
It started with The Book ― no, not so much with The Book, but more so on Let the Children Die. The Book was more straight-ahead, with no punch lines, with the exception of "Brian Wilson" or "Up," where I mention Augustus Hill. Actually, that was probably the first time I did it, when I mentioned Augustus Hill, the character in the wheelchair from Oz.
Why did you feel the need to do a Jonestown 2?
It was me just loving the concept behind it. I thought it was one of my best, if not my best, record. I was like, "How am I going to beat Let the Children Die?" But I saw the faults in Let the Children Die and what I needed to fix, and I feel that I accomplished that with Jonestown. I also feel that with Jonestown, it's not that I ever really hold back, but Jonestown gives me more of a platform to be darker; it allows me to let that side of myself come out. I remember being on the subway, coming home, Vaudeville had only been out for four weeks, and just texting [Daryl Rodway from Urbnet] and saying, "Hey, Jonestown 2, let's do it." I'm kind of treating it like my free series. This could change, but I'm looking at it being my annual thing, even though I fucked up last year and missed the release date. If I can pump out two albums a year, I'll be happy. The Jonestowns, in a sense, are for the heads, and my retail records, I can get more experimental with those. I can play around and see what happens, then I alienate a bunch of fans and lose them for a couple months and then I release a Jonestown so they can be like, "Okay, cool, D-Sisive's alright again."
It's funny that you say that because I actually thought the album was kind of experimental, especially on a song like "Wannabe."
Yeah, that's all Muneshine; it's important to mention that Muneshine is as much a part of Jonestown as I am. As far as producing, that guy is a genius. Me and him are like best friends; we know each other inside and out. He knows what I want and he just brings it. Other people will send me beats and I'll sift through them and be like, "No, yes, no." He'll send me a beat and I'll just be like "Sick!" The guy's incredible.
Is the songwriting a collaborative process, or...
It is that he's the inspiration for what is written. I don't write songs without the beats; I don't start songs without beats, ever. The album was supposed to come out last year, November 13, 2010, which was the Jonestown anniversary. You know, we couldn't hit it; I couldn't hit it. I was in a bit of a funk. The response for Vaudeville wasn't what I was hoping; I was on such a hot streak for a little good amount of time, then that kind of made me go, "Oh, I need to rethink things." I was starting to feel like everything I was writing was fucking shit. There are a few songs on Jonestown 2 that were re-written three or four times. There was a point, maybe a month-and-a-half before the record came out, where the beats were chosen, the artwork was done, the songs were titled and maybe two of the songs were written. That's how we work; it's so strange. But I guess it lights the fire under my ass and I'm pretty proud of what I came up with.
Let's talk about Vaudeville and the response to it. What did people say?
That it sucks. Everyone grew so accustomed to Let the Children Die and that side of me, then I was like, "Okay, cool, I'm happy now," but the people were like, "D-Sisive sucks when he's happy." Nobody wanted to hear it, which made me sad again. I was in this minor funk until I wrote "If I Live to See Tomorrow." That was like the "Brian Wilson." "Brian Wilson" was the song that brought me back into music, so that was like the "Brian Wilson" of this period. It was like I couldn't do anything. I went to go see 127 Hours and I heard ["Festival" by Sigur Rós] and I was like, "I need to rap over this song." I went home and downloaded it from iTunes and started writing. I usually write pretty fast, but that took me almost three weeks to write. Then I just leaked it on YouTube, people freaked out and I was like, "Let's go." I called up Muneshine and it was like, "it begins." (Urbnet)