Saukrates

Saukrates
Photo: Shane Parent
While Toronto recording studio the Post Office is a public facility, veteran producer and hip-hop artist Saukrates notes the space exudes a private feel, perfect for kicking off his renewed musical sensibilities and ambitions.

The boutique facility (run by executive partners Chris Martin and Scott McManus) is tucked away in Toronto's Liberty Village, and was a World War II munitions factory in a past life. It now serves as the proving grounds for the sonic onslaught and musical missives that Saukrates is delivering via his recent Amani EP and the forthcoming Season Two full-length set for the coming year.

It's been more than 20 years since Big Soxx arrived on the Canadian hip-hop scene with "Still Caught Up" and went on to a prolific career, working with artists like Choclair, Kardinal Offishall, Nelly Furtado, Divine Brown, Redman and more. In creating new music in the space, he notes that the technology tools involved in mixing and mastering production may have changed, but his drive to create cutting-edge sounds hasn't.

"This has been my go-to place for a little while now," he says of the space and of working with its resident engineers. "It's a private space with a lounge that's large enough to bring in people to bounce ideas off. Basically, they give us free rein. As an artist, you want a space that gives you the freedom to do whatever you want, besides burn the house down."

The creative process for the Amani EP involved the "heavy lifting" done in a private space at home, writing lyrics and melodies in ten to 12-hour stints. From there, transferring over to the studio was "almost like a quiet party, celebrating the completion of the songs and adding that gloss to the finish."

"I'm a drum machine guy. I love the ASR-10. That's what I pretty much started on, along with sonic machines EPS-16+ up to the 32-bit ASR-10. I love that because it spreads the sample across 88 keys on a keyboard and pitches it up and down. So for someone who is musical, it helps you to find the right pitch and right speed. It's easily manipulated," he explains. "Guys like Doc from Esthero were on MPC-60 and showed me how to manipulate that machine and I fell in love with it. So I switched from the ASR-10 to the MPC-2000 and then MPC-2000XL which had more features."

Rounding out his tools are Triton and Korg MS boards for analogue sounds, an electric Yamaha violin "that I can plug right into the system," and an old 88-key Rhodes that formerly belonged to K-Cut of Main Source fame. As a gearhead, he notes that he recently sold his MPC-2000 to current Drake/OVO producer Noah "40" Shebib. "It was so awesome. I put it up on Kijiji and out of nowhere 40 hit me up. It was crazy. Not only did it still work, it came with cases and a great story along with it. So he was happy to take that. I took it over to him at [Toronto studio] Metalworks and sat down with him and Drake and had a good time. It was really passing the baton."

As for the organic-versus-digital debate, he errs on the side of keeping things not too tight and not too loose when it comes to production, something working with notable mixer and mentor Noel "Gadget" Campbell taught him back in the day. "I'm banging. I'm hands on. Even if I can't plug in, I'm putting the mic up against something and banging against the wall. I really like that organic feel to production. That's just kind of been my style," he says.

As a veritable elder statesman in the Canadian music scene, he notes that it's still about collaborating with younger artists and producers like Boi-1da, Rich Kidd and others. For Season Two, he notes that it's a recharged musical vibe that first got rolling with Season One and the Amani EP. The upcoming Season Two encompasses a renewed musical aesthetic and vibe where he's looking to create complete albums for folks weary of a single-driven world, he says, adding that it's a resurgent type of vibe. "The brand known as Saukrates is maintained by an approach of simplicity. It still feels like 1996.

"It's so natural that it's fun again," he says, noting that the facility allows him to arrive at this headspace. "I found a natural way to enjoy it again and in a way [that] allows you to be prolific in abundance," he says. "If you can find something within yourself that you haven't exposed yet, that's gold."