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Street cred

On new album Skid Row, Winnipeg rapper writes what he knows

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Pat Skene knows a thing or two about living in the dumpms.

"I spent the majority of my years in Winnipeg living in West Broadway in an apartment on Furby. I didn't have a screen on my window for years, the stove didn't work for five months, there was a bat living in my apartment for a while and flies were landing on my lips at six in the morning," says the rapper known as Pip Skid about his former home.

Skene's music has always been brutally honest, whether he's describing his living conditions, personal struggles, poverty, social issues, relationships or political views, his main musical subjects. His latest album, Skid Row, is no exception, as the rapper holds nothing back, rhyming about the recent events in his life over the beats of Michael Arnone (DJ Kutdown) and Rob Crooks (Grubbs).

"It always originally starts with me. I sometimes add fiction to make it more interesting, like when (Charles) Bukowski would write; it's stuff he's going through, but obviously it's embellished," he says. "Sometimes my life is so weird and I don't need to embellish. Skid Row is my life with a bit of embellishment. Some are pure sad songs that are just me at the time."

The new album is actually his second attempt. The first was written last year, after a relationship ended and Skene, 35, took a trip to Halifax for three months to visit some friends and recharge his batteries. When he returned and read what he had written, he changed his focus.

"The album was originally coming out of a severely depressed version of me," Skene says. "When I went away to Halifax, I was the saddest human on the planet. The record was originally 35 minutes of depressing suicide songs, but I revamped all that when I came back to the record and kind of flipped that.

SDLqSkid Row to me didn't mean Sebastian Bach and hair metal; more like the Bukowski version of skid row. I say in the song, 'This is where I live, but you come to visit,' which is a paraphrase from the movie Barton Fink."

Ironically, Skid Row was recorded during the last two months in a modern recording studio in the Exchange District.

"I got pretty spoiled having an endless amount of hours in a high-end studio, as opposed to standing one foot in the tub and one foot in the kitty litter," says.

"It's not like things have changed much. Maybe my living conditions are a tiny bit better, but I'm still broke and sometimes I eat one meal a day in order to live the way I want to live; to go to Europe once a year. It's a sacrifice. I don't regret it."

Although Skene might not have a lot of experience in professional studios, he's no stranger to recording, with nearly 20 albums to his name and numerous guest appearances on other artists' albums.

He got his start in hip-hop in 1991 as a founding member of Farm Fresh in Brandon with DJ Hunnicutt (Tyler Sneesby) and mcenroe (Rod Bailey). Since then he's been a part of Fermented Reptile, Hip-Hop Wieners, the Break Bread Crew and released three solo albums and three EPs.

He recently co-founded a digital-only record label -- Marathon of Dope -- with Tom De Geeter from Belgium. The pair releases albums online using the "pay what you want" format.

"It pays for itself, basically. As of late we've been getting an enormous amount of traffic and we've had to up the gigs we pay for," he says. "No one wants to buy CDs anymore. I think that's the state right now: pay what you think it's worth. I think that's the best look right now, especially for someone in my position."

But Skid Row will not be released on his own label -- it's being put out on Arnone's label, Foultone Records.

The album will be released across Canada on March 30, but Winnipeggers will have a chance to pick it up Saturday when Pip Skid holds his release party at the West End Cultural Centre with the Turtle Island Hip-Hop Dance Crew and Rebel Yell. For his set, he will be backed by Greg MacPherson's band. Admission to the all-ages show is $10, which includes a copy of Skid Row.

The 15-track-disc features guest appearances by rappers Yy, Silly Willy, Moka Only and Birdapres. Improv comedy group Crumbs throws in a couple of skits, while MacPherson sings on two tracks and John Vogan (Red Blanket/Rebel Yell) plays guitar on three.

"I just wanted to make some really heavy songs, so I brought in John Vogan to play guitar. The title track is sort of a metal-rock song. I've been trying to experiment lately with singing, so this is an album I thought I could go out on a limb and do that," Skene says.

"I've been interested in trying out some singing for a while, and in my head I've been writing that way, but vocally, I can't really hit much of that stuff... At home I sounded great, then I hit the studio and it was horrible."

To help with the vocals, he recruited indie-rocker MacPherson, with whom he shares a musical vision.

"Greg and I are, musically, in very similar positions," Skene says. "We struggle with the same things. Our songs are somewhat similar. We make different music, but we're on a similar path. To me, Greg is the most underrated singer in Manitoba."

MacPherson tried his hand at rapping during the sessions and Skene is planning to release that down the line as part of the extra material that was written and recorded for Skid Row.

He will be organizing that material for a followup release after shooting some videos for at least three songs with Toronto director Jason Lapeyre -- who directed his last clip, Pip's Kid -- and Winnipeg's Mike Maryniuk, who has worked with the likes of the D. Rangers, American Flamewhip and Electro Quarterstaff.

He is also working on a video for a song he wrote about Winnipeg, focusing on the city's seedier elements. The song isn't on Skid Row because of sample clearances, but he has already shot some footage with the Turtle Island Hip-Hop Dance Crew, who he met while working at his day job teaching art and music classes for kids at the Graffiti Gallery, and by extension, community centres and high schools across the city.

"Hanging out with kids and accessing the creative part of their brain is hilarious," he says, adding that it's the perfect job for him since he's a "terminal teenager."

"I'm getting paid to make the world better, and you see the direct result of your job immediately: in hours a kid will go from not being able to say their name to being on a microphone, rapping and talking about who they are. Kids haven't been destroyed by this horrible world yet; they have all the energy and excitement that's been drained out of us long ago.

"I'm a giant man-boy. It's the best job ever, only better. It's always amazing."

rob.williams@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 11, 2010 E12

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