Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/9/2021 (293 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The partnership started with a photograph.
It was 2015 and Steve Teixeira, known in hip-hop circles as BBS Steve, was performing a set at Lo Pub with 3Peat, then an up-and-coming trio with plenty of promise. In walked Charlie Fettah, who to Steve was a Winnipeg rap legend, a member of the foundational group Winnipeg’s Most. Fettah was there to lend support to the "young cats," his mere presence an indication to those in the know that the kids on stage were worth knowing.
Fettah — given name Tyler Rogers — approached Steve to let him know he enjoyed the show. In the movies, they might call it a meet-cute. In hip-hop, a co-sign.
"My homie was there, and he has his Polaroid," recalls Steve, seated with Fettah in the basement of the Main Street sneaker shop where he works. "He’s like, ‘Yo, get next to Fettah. This is some iconic (expletive). This is a legendary moment."
They laughed at the time, and they laughed when recounting the story in late August, but the photographer was kind of right, a bit prophetic: Fettah and Steve struck up a fast friendship, bonding over mutual obsessions before, naturally, heading into the studio on Albert Street.
The first or second time they hung out, they produced Life We Live, their first song together, with Steve creating the beats and holding down production while Fettah wrote, prodigiously scribbling.
Every time they met, they seemed to wrap up a song, collaborating in 2018 on the album STVN TYLR, not a tribute to the Aerosmith frontman but a vowelless combination of the duo’s first names. The record was a solid showcase of what both artists had to offer — dense beats and lyrics informed by a real love for their work — with enough leftovers for a STVN TYLR 1.5 EP, released in 2020.
Like the best partnerships, in hip hop and otherwise, they weren’t just finishing each other’s sentences, but starting them, Steve gamely tossing pitches over the plate for Fettah to smack, with the veteran MC adjusting his swing — and his entire approach — to consistently make contact right on the sweet spot.
With their latest album, STVN TYLR 2: Suite Emotion, Fettah and BBS Steve hit a home run.
The record, released by Winnipeg hip-hop label Fourth Quarter Records and featuring well-placed cameos from a stable of local pinch hitters, is in Fettah’s estimation the best release of his musical career, not light praise. Ditto for Steve.
In many ways, STVN TYLR 2 is a maturation over No. 1, with Fettah reckoning with the pains of life — changing and lost relationships, the death of his father, the weight and responsibility of fatherhood — along with the joys of creation and finding a new equilibrium.
Underneath Fettah’s lyrics, at times bursting with gravelly sorrow and at others with ebullience, BBS Steve’s beats and production alternate between glistening and grimy, showing off his expansive range and sonic vocabulary. It’s the rare case of the sequel outpacing the original, an admirable squashing of the sophomore slump.
What makes the album work is that Fettah and Steve are true connoisseurs, neither chasing hits nor streams, but their own approval and that of their mentors and peers, inspired by a love of rap that lies somewhere on the other side of obsession.
"When we work together, it’s like punching a clock to a job you love," Steve says. Lunch-pail rap, blue-collar rap, people’s rap that doesn’t forget where it comes from, packaged in a tight 27-minute run time, no skips.
From the opening track, the soulful hometown track "50 Below," it’s obvious Fettah has high expectations for himself and refuses to rest on his laurels. "I’m right where I should be but I can do it better, I’m under pressure but these dark days don’t last forever," he rhymes, always thinking about what’s next.
"Pretend," featuring Ed Riley, has a singalong chorus, with lyrics by Fettah that once again focus on the pressures of life and the weight of the world. "My diagnosis is I’m far from fine, I’m trying to focus but I’m not in line, looking hopeless but I gotta shine."
"Greek Omelette," another heavy track about heavy things, sumptuously pairs Fettah with E.GG of 3Peat. "In Between" and "Other Life" have Fettah examining his past, present and future. A recurring theme is being trapped chasing success, perhaps best exemplified on "Gusto" featuring Mooki.
"Broken Nose Blues," written after Fettah was suckerpunched at a strip club, was recorded through a busted nose, his version of Kanye West’s famed "Through The Wire" session, recorded when the Chicago artist had his jaw wired shut. "Suit & Tie" starts with Fettah asking, "Steve, I heard you paint houses," a mafia code for a hit job. "Wow, we made it out alive," he sings.
STVN TYLR 2 ends on a jubilant note with "Grown Folk Rap" a "straight-up dad rap" with a perfectly placed feature from YK The Mayor, and with Fettah — having just bared his soul — revelling at the fact he’s still making music, a childhood dream he continues to live.
"It was one of those situations where we needed one more song." says Steve, who knew the album needed to end on a higher note. "We needed something that was kind of upbeat, but still hard. We needed it to be fun, but we needed it to hit. We wanted to say something, but also to make you feel something. This song that didn’t exist had such high criteria to meet."
"(It’s the last song we made) but I think it’s the anchor of the record," says Fettah.
For the record, the record is available as an actual, physical record — a green-and-black LP that’s the first Fourth Quarter release to get the vinyl treatment. It was supposed to come out last year, Fettah and Steve say, but some technical issues led to it being delayed to 2021
Perhaps it’s better that way: that the album arrived now, when it might actually be performed at concerts or house parties, when listening, that profound act of togetherness, can happen again.
And, the delay also gave Steve and Fettah a chance to fine tune, to reassess, to re-obsess, and make sure the resulting album was one they’d be proud to have created, from Track 1 through Track 10.
"To us, it’s not about quantity, man," says Fettah, moments before stepping out onto Main Street to get his photo taken once more with Steve, this time by a Free Press photographer, not a homie with a Polaroid. "We don’t play that game."
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.