Published Mar 08, 2016On their latest album, Light the Sky (out now on Bonsound) Radio Radio not only crack wise, but also impart wisdom. Gabriel Malenfant, one half of the East coast rap duo, tells Exclaim! that he and cohort Jacques Doucet endeavoured to balance seriousness and silliness on new songs like "Remodel (Mike Holmes)," which features the line: "We can fix it with paint / It's like the shrine of a saint."
Aside from paying rueful tribute to Holmes (a beloved Canadian reality TV home improvement contractor), Malenfant says the song is also Radio Radio's way of "laughing at people who are always trying to keep up with the Joneses, and taking it too seriously."
The duo's jokey social commentary is also deftly delivered on "Cause I'm a Hoe," especially on the line: "I'll sell you product with a smile to boot / And all I ask in return is part of the loot." Malenfant says the song pokes fun at hip-hop's infamous macho posturing, in which rappers "call each other hoes while saying 'I'm for real.' But we're also pointing out that everyone struggles to determine what they can sacrifice for financial security, and that everyone has their own definition of integrity."
To address these heady concepts, while also avoiding heavy handedness, Malenfant says he spent more than three years crafting his lyrics for Sky. Plenty of preparation was needed because this new LP is the duo's first to be rapped entirely in English, rather than the Acadian Chiac dialect that they were raised with in Atlantic Canada, and that they favoured on their earlier releases. Malenfant and Doucet also had to take plenty of time to brace themselves for the inevitable backlash.
"I see people commenting on Youtube: 'Oh, they're turning their back on their culture,'" Malenfant says of the viewers that troll their new videos, adding that they fail to realize the true nuances of Acadian life. "When I was growing up as a French Canadian in Moncton [NB], the people I lived and worked with and dated spoke both English and French. I could speak English before I went to school, because I was surrounded by it. And I ingested more American culture than anything, with The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, instead of being inspired by French shows."
Those recent critiques don't phase Malenfant, because Radio Radio's unique linguistic background has always been a point of contention for a small, closed-minded segment of Canadian music buffs. Before delving deeply into English on Sky, Malenfant says the duo's detractors would accuse them of using "Chiac as a schtick. But that's bullshit. No one has written subject matter in the way we have, or given shows like we have in either language. We're original across the board."
That unique approach is not only apparent in their bilingual lyrics, or their ambitious themes — it's also clear after a quick glance at Sky's cover photo. The image features Malenfant and Doucet sporting ridiculously loud pastel clothing while striking faux serious hip-hop poses, as they stand in a regal Victorian abode. Malenfant explains: "We're really into contrasts, not only for our cover art but also our shows. We'll start by wearing pleated pants, collared shirts and vests on stage. Then later, the gigs usually get more punky and sweaty. That's been our signature for a long time, playing with colours and our fashion and our style. It kind of becomes satire in itself."
To make their new album and tour even more fun-filled, and to ensure that their weighty song concepts stick in listeners minds, Radio Radio sought out the catchiest of dance beats for Light the Sky. Those grooving, synth-laden instrumentals were crafted by esteemed beat smiths like Shash'U of Fool's Gold Records, who hosted Radio Radio in a Brooklyn studio for a week of sessions late last year. DJ Champion, J.u.D. and Alex McMahon also served up first class beats.
Radio Radio's teaming of glossy instrumentals, punchline rhymes and thought provoking social commentary are encapsulated in the LP's title. Malenfant describes Light the Sky's sentiment as being akin to "looking at the night-time sky. You can lean back and enjoy the view, or you can take out telescope and figure shit out."
Check out the remaining dates of Radio Radio's current tour here, and have a look at the video for "My Dance Floor" below.