Published May 31, 2012If JD ERA is getting weary of answering questions about Raekwon, it's not evident today. Rather, in speaking with him in the new ICE H20 Canada label offices in downtown Toronto, he reveals that signing an indie deal with the Wu-Tang legend last year is a new chapter that not only boosts the career trajectory for the MC but the Canadian hip-hop scene in general. His appropriately titled No Handouts mixtape, featuring 13 tracks of pure JD Era, demonstrably revealing that having the Raekwon backing allows the more than capable lyricist to shine in the larger spotlight. With an official full-length project in the works, the Mississauga-based MC is in a great position to show that Toronto and Canada as a whole is currently setting a next wave of urban music that demands to be seen as a sustainable industry force. And after more than a decade working in the local rap game, JD Era is currently relishing the opportunity to leave his mark.
Is JD Era in a good place right now?
I'm definitely in a good space. Mentally and creatively, in a really good place. I've been recording in Toronto for a couple of years and just getting the opportunity to leave the city and go on tour with Rae has brought new ideas and obviously there are new topics and new things to talk about. Creatively I'm in a really good space and personally I'm in a great space. A lot of good positive energy around me right now. Real talk, I've got a legend around me and just showing me the way. You can't have a better person to job shadow with.
Since announcing the deal how have things been moving?
From Rae's perspective, it's Era heat up by any means. By my perspective, we put out the mixtape and it's been doing really well, really picking up steam. But I want to put out more music, more visuals and really start setting people up for the album. And if I have to do another mixtape for people to feel more music, I'm definitely on pace for that. We're working on album joints right now.
Tell us how hooking up with Raekwon came about?
A good friend of his lives in Toronto and [is] familiar with the scene in Toronto and Rae's been coming back and forth doing shows and was asking around what MCs up here are hot. People had brought my music to him. I wasn't around when that had taken place but he wanted to meet me and I was out of the city. When I got back I flew out to Winnipeg and we meet just on a personal level, sit eye to eye and just play him my music. Just on a personal level, not so much the business. After that we just had a good rapport and the rest was just history.
You've been grinding on this music thing for a minute. Did you ever think about hanging it up prior to meeting Raekwon?
Every MC goes through a period where they hit a bit of a wall. Prior to meeting Raekwon, I was in a good position because I knew that we were making good music. We were also getting a lot of love in the city. For me I was generating a lot of buzz but no major labels were signing me and I was looking at how to take it to the next level and still stay independent. Me connecting with Rae and his [indie] mindset being the same way… for me it was coming with someone who was likeminded.
You just wrapped the Unexpected Victory tour with Raekwon. What was that experience like? Any lessons learned?
Rule number one: Don't shit on the bus the first week of a 40 day tour (laughs). Don't mean to put anyone on blast. But just learning patience and learning from Rae. The thing about Rae is he does every show a little bit difference. I know a lot of artists would do the exact same set. I was doing the Canadian dates and a lot of the U.S. audience hadn't really heard of me. So for him to bring me out after his set, after he's done "C.R.E.A.M" and "Incarcerated Scarfaces," huge records, and [introduced me] as this new guy from Canada, it's like them being receptive to me. Just to have that, it just built up my confidence to a whole different level. It's showed me where [Canadian] artists can be.
What do you hope to achieve with the No Handouts mixtape?
I think a lot of people know me as a lyricist. Anyone that knows me from my battle roots and my earlier mixtapes, they are all about bars and me really spitting. With No Handouts, I really wanted to show people that I can make records. I made a conscious effort that I could make songs and not just freestyles. Just showing people that I'm really versatile. I wrote a lot of the music and really was as hands on as I could be. I got guys on there like Lex Luger and 9th Wonder ― these are guys that are doing it on the love.
What are your thoughts on the Toronto and Canadian hip-hop scenes right now?
I think that we're in a good place. I tell people that hip-hop in Toronto like five years ago was never received by Torontonians and Canadians the way that it's being received right now. Guys like Kardi and the Swollen Members have had success don't get me wrong, but it's different. For me the respect level is at another point right now. It's good. So you've got the OGs right now and then you've got the new people like Drake, P. Reign, me coming up and giving a new energy to it. I'm excited for where Toronto right now and I'm really excited to see who comes in after me. It's just the evolution. Drake's been doing his thing on a world level which is dope because people are recognizing Toronto and now it's about other people stepping up. I'm excited to do my thing and help create that balance right now.
Would you say that we're building a movement right now?
We are definitely building a movement. It's an organic movement right now. I'd love to see a lot of artists work a little closer together but I feel that will come in time. With more success, you're going to see a lot more guys willing to work together and cross into each other's market a bit more. I love to see that happen and I think we're on the verge of that right now.
What's next? Touring? Full-length album?
I'm going to be pushing the shit out of this mixtape. Be in the studio: the good thing about being on tour is that I got to connect with a lot of different artists. So right now I'm in the studio pushing out a lot of collab records. But for me, it's about more visuals. We've got the "Smoking Good" video off the mixtape. I think it's about taking the summer to set things up. I'd like to see an album by September but that's based on buzz and how people are feeling the music. But I'm gunning for September. Touring-wise, I'm going to be doing my own tour for No Handouts across Canada and look out for me across Canada with Rae. I think the thing to take from this is a lot of people wasn't sure what to make of me signing with Rae. Rae signed me and was like "do you." I think this mixtape is a good stepping stone to show that I'm doing my own thing.