DL Incognito’s Urban Zen

DL Incognito’s Urban Zen
With the spring release of A Captured Moment in Time, DL Incognito can boast that he ranks among the few Canadian hip-hop artists to have four full-length albums under their belt. That is, if he wasn’t so humble about it.

"It’s just about the love of making music,” says DL over the phone from his Toronto-based crib. "It’s like when you love playing recreational basketball — you keep playing whether you make it to the NBA or not.”

This isn’t to say that Oliver Nestor doesn’t possess major league talent. On his underground grind since the turn of the century, DL Incognito — he of the inimitable "real talk” flow and style — concedes that his frame of mind when it comes to defining success has shifted since dropping the acclaimed A Sample and a Drum Machine back in 2002.

"It’s funny because at the time I was just looking to release product and get the music out. We had no idea what the Canadian market was really like from a retail and industry perspective,” recalls DL. The Juno-nominated artist now has a deeper appreciation of the grind and, with the lack of anything resembling an infrastructure for urban music in Canada, that touring and establishing a loyal fan base is mission-critical to something resembling success. It’s also the reason DL, a new school veteran in this Canadian hip-hop game, adopts a Manichean approach of absolutes in determining success. Born and raised in Ottawa, he soon found out that he had to be proactive in term of writing, producing and developing the local hip-hop scene. "We do it ourselves or we don’t do it at all,” he says on the eve of a tour heading to the West coast this month. "If you’re not going to adopt that DIY mentality you’re not going to be successful because labels have less and less money to spend. Especially now, I’m doubtful that any major labels will dump any money behind an urban project at this point.” All things considered (and true to his character), DL is far from bitter. The rapper has always tried a Zen approach, showing hip-hop’s human side behind the commercial gloss and glamour. It’s perhaps the reason for his longevity and A-list Canadian hip-hop stature.

According to DL, A Captured Moment in Time is his most introspective record yet. Featuring in-camp production from Techtwelve and T-Wrecks, the 12-track album is soulful life music, created to evoke a certain feeling and bring people back to a certain moment in their existence. Coming from an artist typically known for his bringing a lot of himself and his personal struggles (including the untimely loss of his mother to cancer) into the music, it’s a serious statement.

Indeed, new joints like "Atmosphere” (featuring Theology 3), "Made It Through” and "Too Late Now” explore a range of emotional themes and ultimately reflect his "keep it moving” perspective and ethic. A decade into the game, DL still brings the lyrical heat, commanding listeners to not only respect him but to also know him as a person.

"It’s been a grind but I like doing music. When I don’t like doing it anymore I won’t, point blank. It’s never been about getting mass appeal, clearly the stuff that we do won’t appeal to today’s masses,” says DL. "But I do have the sound that I was looking for — and one that’s borne out of necessity. We have fan support and we’ve always found ways to succeed.”