Rel McCoy On His Creation Process, Canadian Hip-Hop, Signing With Illect Recordings & More [Interview]
Canada’s Rel McCoy (fka Relic the Oddity) has been one of my favorite artists for a long time. His string of albums from 2012-2016 genuinely got me through some of the most difficult times of my life. On top of that, the music and quality has always been there, Rel is an all-rounder. Usually handling everything from the production, to the lyrics, singing and even the engineering, he does it all. His last record “Gas Money” dropped in 2016 and we haven’t heard from him since...until today. I’m blessed to be able to sit down with Rel McCoy to talk about where he’s been, how his creative process works, his recent signing with Illect Recordings and more.
Ok-Tho: For those who somehow still don’t know who you are, who is Rel McCoy?
Rel McCoy: I used to go by the name Relic the Oddity, I emcee and produce east coast inspired hiphop. I got a big love for all kinds of music, and that kinda pushes me towards the melodic end of things more times. I like making songs with a message, but I’m just as partial to jawns with just bars for the sake of bars. “Stricktly for the headz” could describe me, but so could “rather debonaire, far beyond compare”… Other than that, I dig drama flicks, try not to eat too much pork, favor bourbon over scotch, can’t do dairy, try to hit the gym every now and then, don’t have a barber, never had a style coach, and my favourite advice would be “For best results, play loud.” (would slap that on all my jams if possible)
OT: My very first question has gotta be, how have you been? What have you been up to these last couple years?
Rel McCoy: I’m good man. In good health, and got a new lease on life. Dealt with some personal junk over the last couple years so decided to mostly just focus on production for other artists. I did Solar C’s Access to All Lanes, and Made Wade’s The Mind Full. These two records, and other work in my studio kept me real busy. I was doing some writing in the in-between times, keeping notes on concepts for a new record, and pulling songs together when I could. Aside from that, Call of Duty is a great pass-time, plus binge watching Bravo or FX is always good.. and yo, reddit.. I know I’m late.. but still… REDDIT.
OT: In my eyes you’ve crafted a lot of classics, however what I think some people miss is that you do almost everything on the album yourself. Not just the raps, not just the beats...everything. Can you tell me a bit about your creative process when putting a project together?
Rel McCoy: Thanks for saying that, for real. Classic material is for sure a goal, but can’t ever be the main focus, feel me? I just put my head down, make beats, and set aside the ones that I can like, hear my own song for. Then I try to finish watching all the seasons of shows I never caught up on yet, clear my head, drink a lite beer, or three, say a prayer, and from there I just get alone, pull together hooks, and then flesh out the verses. Then, leave it, come back and repeat the process over and over. It can probably be mad boring from the outside looking in. The thing I think I fear most tho is making records that all sound the same you know? If you’re making music for a while, it gets to a point where you feel like you’ve been making the same beat or song for years. Breaking out of that ain’t easy. I’m always hype to try something new, even though I feel like my junk is more familiar than it is innovative.. really, I wanna change that and go way out there. I do sometimes, but no-one ever really hears those jawns. I’ve got a ton of unfinished songs that I just got to the point of hating so never bothered finishing. If I was a potter, my yard would be full of warped anatomically incorrect statues, unusable wobbly bowls, and piles of unrecognizable blobs of clay, only good to be trodden underfoot. I’ve ordered my wife to destroy all hard drives in case I pass. No return albums from the grave. Bun fire on that.
**To be fair, my last album only had 2 songs where the beats were made by me, the rest were feature producers. All the beats from my 2015 album The 13th Floor were made by my dude Fresh Kils. My new record tho, is a fully self produced album, which I’m itching to share with the world. I worked slow and methodically towards something that I thought brought a nice range of flavour to the table. (**To be fair to myself tho, I do do all the tracking, editing, mixing, and mastering, on all my stuff with, of course, exception of guest features. )
OT: One thing I love about your body of work is we get you rapping AND we get you singing, what brought you to add that facet to your art? I feel a good portion of artists sing just because…..but my goodness all your melodies and choruses are beautiful, what brings that on?
Rel McCoy: Thank you again. I appreciate that. Straight up, most of it is just some kind of feeling I get. I just put what’s inside down on the track. After that I feel like it would be impossible for me to pass it to someone else to sing it, like, exactly the same. Not that I’m the most talented singer in the world, I never took lessons or anything like that, but I feel like there’s some kind of authenticity that gets through when I do it myself. And why not? It’s my writing, and coaching people to do stuff that comes from your inner vision can be as painful taking the eyes out of your head. It’s like music videos… That process always bothered me in a big way. The hardest thing is to somehow put into words what you see in your heart. Video directors are only good if they can be intuitive and extract that kind of deep visual info out of the artist. Sticking a crap vid on a real dope-ass song can make you feel like throwing yourself off the CN Tower. So in the same way, getting someone to execute your idea on a song feels the same to me. It will be good, but never exactly as you envisioned it. Working with guest emcees is a bit different cause there’s a lot more room to breathe creatively. When it comes to singing, I just look at it like, music is really all I got goin for me, so I better use every tool in the arsenal, if you get me. So more and more singing comes thru. Not some chez R&B stuff .. (not yet anyway lol) I just like to sing.
OT: Another facet of your career I feel some people miss is that you’re not signed either. So when it comes time to get your work out there to the masses, what does your strategy usually entail?
Rel McCoy: Well .. that part of what I do just changed. After tackling it all on my own for a number of years, I felt like it would be good to look to partner with someone who knows more about getting music out there than I do, and also hopefully to free myself up to work on more of my own music. I’m working with Illect Recordings for this new release. They’re a label out of Rochester Minnesota, and I’ve known the owner thru the internet for a good number of years. That built-in trust is really what made me move in that direction. I know he knows what he’s doing, and I know his history running a label for more than 20 yrs is hugely valuable. If not for the label, I’d be looking at a number of different strategies to get my stuff out there. Touring has been a main one for me, FB and Instagram marketing are interesting, and things like Kickstarter and provincial and federal grant funding have been successful for me in the past. I’m still open to all of those things, but they’ve sort of taken a different position when looking at how to get music into people’s ears. The label partnership kind of just feels like the right timing. I’ve been working hard for a long time, and one thing I can say I regret is that I never really took time to enjoy it all while it was happening. Touring Australia, Japan etc is dope, but if you’re the one responsible for how it all comes together, and don’t have some kind of team to help, it all just seems like a blur of work. I’m kinda takin it easy now, and focused more on the creative side. Sooo thankful for that. For real tho, relationships are the most important in terms of operating in this crap-storm of an industry. There are so many traps, and so many illusions, you’re best to partner with people you can trust. Then, if your ship falls out of the sky in a ball of flames, you at least have someone to talk to on the way down.
OT: I don’t care what anyone says Canada has produced some unbelievable albums and artists since hip-hop’s inception, can you talk to me a bit about the hip-hop culture in Canada?
Rel McCoy: Hip hop in Canada is dope. There are a ton of great acts, and a dope underground scene, a bunch of decent festivals, and grant funding for music in (I think) mostly every province. I can only really speak from my own short experience, but close to home (for me) you got dope cats like Full Circle, Elaquent, Mathematik, Theology 3, Rich Kidd, Adam Bomb, Tona, Fresh Kils, ToolMan,.. too many to name, Moka Only is my Western connection (Vancouver), and Ghettosocks with Dropping Science fam out east (Halifax), and in the centre you got guys like Factor (Saskatoon) doin dope stuff. All in all, there are so many dope producers and dope emcees, it really makes me wonder why the world isn’t more aware of them all. Community is tight here at home. I did the LoopSessions Toronto event back in March, and there was such a dope vibe there. The competitive spirit is still here, but I feel like we all have a lot of mutual respect for each other, even despite sub-genre differences. Hiphop is at an interesting place. The genre seems like it went thru a divide, you know, old heads arguing with young heads… That conversation needs to go the way of Blockbuster. Actions speak louder than words always right? IMO, Old heads need to listen to more new music, and young heads need to listen for wisdom from those who came beforehand. Anything more than this seems like a waste of time to me. If you don’t like what you’re hearing, don’t listen. Dummy.
OT: Can you give me 5 artists that we have to check out from Canada?
Rel McCoy: Ooops. Just did that :S ^^^^
OT: I feel like I keep going back to this but I’m always so impressed by your prolific yet consistent body of work. I’m almost certain from 2012-2016 between music and beat tapes you dropped some type of content every year for four years straight. Did you ever have to deal with burnout or creative fatigue and how were you able to get passed it to continue on?
Rel McCoy: That’s a great question. Yeah I’ve gone thru the ups and downs - burn out etc. Sometimes it just helps to take a step back and decompress. Shut off all the voices and just do life things. I’m so thankful to my wife and son for being there for me thru it all. Hangin with them is my goal in life. I really think at some point, you really have to just be happy creating. All of the other stuff… I mean ALL of the other stuff that comes along with making music is (or should be) just a bi-product of you enjoying the creative process. I see way too many people with their eye on this prize, or that prize… and at the end of the day, it’s all so elusive. With that kind of mindset, the music industry just becomes some sort of lottery you tryna win… and guess what? Most tickets in a lottery are losers, and if you’re holding on to one of them waiting for your golden goose egg, guess what it makes you?.. Loser. If you can’t just simply enjoy creating what you create, you’re gonna burn out faster, and get more upset with the way the industry operates. Artists are here to make art. That sounds simple and mundane, and I ain’t saying that you don’t have to be about your business, (cause you do, you really do) but we gotta be able to at any moment swing back to what got us into this business in the first place, and we gotta get a real good feeling from it. If you don’t like your own music, get out. Now. Stop wasting your time and ours. Get famous somehow else… Please. Too many suckers out here.
OT: Now “Gas Money” came out in the Summer of 2016(?) if I’m not mistaken…...but you’re back now. What’s next? Can we expect any music from you going forward?
Rel McCoy: Yep, that was May 2016. So exactly 3 years ago. All jokes aside, I’ve gone through a super low time the last few years. Depression, anxiety, health issues, sobriety issues, family issues, death in the family, money problems.. well, a lot of junk. (to put it politely) I think I wrapped a bunch of that up in this new record, and called it A Different Crown. It’s been since 2013 since I featured another artist on my own record, but on this one I have a bunch of dope emcees who I’m close to come thru and fill in the blanks in a beautiful way. In some instances, I really feel like they said what I was feeling, but was too broken inside to get it out. I’m so thankful for all of them. Moka Only, Theo 3, Grimace Love, DJ Versatile, Eternia, Die-Rek, RationaL, I owe them all a debt of gratitude for going IN on this album with me. Going forward… God willing, you’ll get some more of the same, but hopefully on an even higher level. I’m still growing, and hope to take people with me on this journey. I’m back to doing what I enjoy, and enjoying what I do!
OT: Alright I gotta ask, Drake hits you up trying to collab, you in?
Rel McCoy: Yes. If we can turn off the auto-tune, and pls just let me do the singing. Jk :P