After over two decades in hip-hop, Vancouver rapper Dave Nelson, known as Emotionz, has worn just about every hat the culture has to offer.
In addition to also being a beatboxer, DJ, and working with acclaimed underground artists like Stylust Beats, Nelson has also spent the past 12 years helping to coordinate various country-wide initiatives to grow hip-hop culture.
“I help out with The Hip-Hop Drop here in East Vancouver that my sisters do every week, and I’m always traveling around to different indigenous communities, or different schools doing hip-hop workshops,” says Nelson.
These workshops have even attracted the attention of major media outlets like the CBC, who reported on one such workshop for youths in Saskatchewan last September that highlighted the intersection of hip-hop and modern indigenous culture.
“I’m from Canada so we’re on indigenous land, so it only made sense to try to go to some of these really cool spots and communities,” says Nelson.
“I’ve always had different friends from all over, so I’d go check out different people’s reservations, or different people’s communities and cities and see really cool parts of Canada that not a lot of other people get to see.”
Attention from major media outlets is nothing new for Nelson. In 2002 he was profiled by the Globe And Mail just as he was beginning to break through to American markets. At that point he was already an accomplished lyricist and part of a crew called Clockwork.
“I started rapping when I was about 12 years old,” says Nelson.
“There was already people cyphering and there was [rappers] around, but really when I got into it and started taking it serious I was one of the first acts from here to really start travelling.”
Since that time his presence as an artist has only grown. In the past five years alone he’s released three albums on Vancouver-based label Wandering Worx Music, and currently has a mixtape and a full length release in the works.
Over the past six months Nelson has taken this depth of skill and unending drive to grow the culture into hip-hop’s business end by co-founding Apex Rhythm, the booking agency currently helming Merkules’ cross-Canada tour.
Apex Rhythm is the product of a merger between Apex Live, a group that Nelson began alongside two of his friends two years ago, and True Rhythm, a group that in the past has organized shows for artists like Tech N9ne, Joey Badass, Method Man etc.
“It kind of started out with a couple rappers and artists around us, and it’s grown from there,” says Nelson.
“We’re still a boutique agency but growing rapidly, and yeah it’s kind of grown into rappers, groups, a few bands, DJs, comedians, workshops, seminars - so we’re doing bookings for all sorts of different stuff now.”
Becoming a booking agent was a role that Nelson naturally grew into over the course of his career. Being an independent Canadian rapper meant that he often had to set up his own gigs, travel itineraries, and festival appearances.
“I kind of just realized one day hey, I’m pretty much a booking agent because I’m setting up tours already and shows for a bunch of artists, I might as well take it as a serious thing and try to get together with a team and do it on a bigger scale,” says Nelson.
Spending the majority of his life on the front of the stage has given Nelson an entirely unique perspective on how to operate the show from behind it. For starters, he knows firsthand the importance of supporting the underdog who’s vying for exposure.
“Try to take some chances, believe in some maybe up and coming artists that you like, and you enjoy, and try to give them the time of day and some good opportunities,” says Nelson.
“And maybe that will help put them on the platform to become bigger artists.
“I think sometimes new promoters get lost in ‘ticket sales, tickets sales,’ and if you’re only booking acts that can sell you your top amount of tickets, most of the time that’s not going to be the best act programming-wise that you could have had for your night,” says Nelson.
“That’s the best hustler you could find, but it doesn’t mean that’s the best group that should have came on before your headliner.”
Part of the cause of this, he says, is the state of hip-hop’s economy, particularly among artists who prefer to stay true to classic hip-hop.
“There’s been waves of hip-hop where it’s a no brainer, it didn’t matter who your opener was, you didn’t have to get someone to really help you much or sell any tickets, and you still made thousands of dollars from putting on a concert, you paid everybody good and there’s still money to go around,” says Nelson.
“That’s not really where I’d say independent or underground hip-hop, or old school golden era hip-hop is at right now, people are scraping the crumbs.”
The tough conditions for purveyors of hip-hop’s underground hasn’t deterred Nelson in his own work as an artist. On his forthcoming mixtape Scovilles he’ll return with the same highly lyrical flow his fans have come to expect, but at an elevated level they’ve never seen.
“I tried to go deep into the rhymes on this one, into multi-syllabic patterns and kind of nerded out on double times and technical rap over banging beats,” says Nelson.
It’s also shaping up to be more sonically diverse than Nelson’s recent works. Whereas his previous two albums were shaped by one producer each, Scovilles will see Nelson collaborating with a wide array of beat makers and guest MCs.
“So on this mixtape it’s a lot more spread out, it wasn’t with one producer in particular,” says Nelson.
“But Fresh Kills got a couple beats on there, Dafug, which is a group from Seattle, they’re on a couple tunes from the mixtape, and it was mixed in Seattle as well by Dannie Wormwood from that group.”
Nelson’s excitement over the mixtape is a testament to the fact that focusing more on the business side of hip-hop hasn’t diluted him as an MC. After over two decades he’s still committed to finding dynamic ways to bring his rhymes to new platforms, be it through working with live bands and electronica artists, exploring the sounds of soul and funk music, or traveling the country and fostering the next wave of talented MCs.
Scovilles, the next mixtape from Emotionz, is currently slated for release on August 25
Follow Emotionz at https://soundcloud.com/emotionz