Published Feb 01, 2006Nestled in the suburb of Enfield, 20 minutes outside Halifax, Nova Scotia, amongst bungalows and cul-de-sacs, Classified sits in his basement studio, making his latest beat. It's not exactly the first place one pictures as a hot spot of East coast hip-hop. But this is where Classified (aka Luke Boyd) arguably the busiest performer and producer on the East coast makes a large portion of his living through recording other artists as well as writing and recording beats.
"It's peaceful out here," the affable 20-something rapper laughs. "I grew up here and I have nearly all my family around. I can walk down the street if I need to borrow milk or something."
The smell of special cigarettes in the air thankfully dispels any notion that the MC has grown complacent now that he's become a homeowner and moved away from the downtown core. In fact, it's quite the opposite; he's hard at work on his 11th record just a few months after the release of his last one, the well received Boy-Cott-In the Industry.
The studio has been converted from an old carpentry workroom; the back wall is comprised of shelves stacked with nearly 1,000 records, while the room adjacent serves as a sound booth. It's a big change from Classified's former duplex apartment workspace where the sound booth was a tiny closet with eggshell soundproofing on a door held closed by a bungee chord.
The main room contains all the ingredients to make his next track: a Technics 1200 turntable to find sounds and samples; an Alesis compressor; MPC 2000XL sampler; and the staple of many hip-hop studios, a Korg Triton keyboard resting in front of a computer monitor.
"It's something I bought back in the '90s," Boyd says of the massive Triton. "Now so many producers use it, a lot of music sounds the same. But I manage to get some original sounds from it."
All the pieces connect to a common Dell PC on which an equally old school Cool Edit 2.0 software program assembles the sounds of up to 245 tracks. However, Boyd says most songs don't go over 30. To add live instrumentation to the songs, Boyd brings in session guitarists and plugs them straight into his compressor.
"I almost always start with the beat," Boyd says. "I'll work on the drums first or find the sample, then put the two together. Once I get a good mood off of the beat, I'll try to come up with an idea for the song, then start writing. Or I'll have an idea first and will try to make a beat that fits with the mood of the idea."
Originally self-taught, with a small debt to East coast legend Jorun, Boyd spends eight to nine hours a day in his studio. The move from Halifax proper has been good for his work ethic, with fewer unexpected visits from rapper friends wanting to drop a lyric or shoot the shit.
"It helps get more work done being out here," Boyd says. "Before, it was people just dropping by all the time. Now I come down here and work on stuff most of the day. Also, when people come out here to record, there are not as many distractions."
It's in his own studio that the prolific producer created nine of his ten independent records, from One Shot in 1996 to Boy-Cott released last year. He also does his part to keep Halifax hip-hop vibrant, recording many Hal-town artists over the years, including Jay Bizzy, J-Bru and Spesh K. At the moment, he's writing beats for 16-year-old East coast battle MC phenom Quake.
"Sometimes it takes me two or three days, sometimes I can sit down and write whole things in a few hours," Boyd says. "Some days you can sit down and ideas will just pop out. Sometimes you really work at something for it to come out."
Other than touring and CD sales from his independent label Halflife Records, Classified makes his living selling beats. He's sold his work to Canadian hip-hop luminary Maestro Fresh Wes, Jin and more recently Eternia and D-sisive. Most times, it's young rappers who snatch his samples. Over the long run, the sales add up, providing Boyd with the space and equipment to work in hip-hop full-time.
"If I wasn't making beats then I'd have to work a 9-to-5 job," Boyd says. "I wouldn't be living off just the rap shit. Plus it lets me do something different instead of just writing rhymes. I just like making music but at the same time this is my job now," he adds. "I'd rather do this any day then have to work for someone else, so that keeps me motivated."