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This article was published 1/10/2020 (380 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Those who are proud of their pandemic hobbies and the productive ways they’ve made the best of the new normal need to meet Rob Crooks.
Crooks, 37, is a Winnipeg hip-hop artist and rapper who on Oct. 6 will release his new album, Introducing the Ghost, the third record he’s been part of since COVID-19 turned the world inside-out in March.
"I try to keep busy, and things with the pandemic, of course, made it easier because I’m at home all the time, like most people," Crooks says. "I’m working from home as well, so it’s definitely been easier to keep busy. I enjoy spending time on creative projects."
Crooks appeared on the song Drip by Winnipeg rapper the Gumshoe Strut, which is part of the August release Heartbeat. He also teamed up with another city rapper, Pip Skid, for his comeback album It’s OK, put together while both were quarantining.
Pip Skid has collaborated with Crooks since 2010 and says he appreciates Crooks’ attention to detail. That became key during recording It’s OK, when the two rappers would email pieces of music back and forth, a time-consuming process owing to the large computer files being sent to and fro.
"Rob is always the person who will work until the sun comes up just to get one small thing right," says Pip Skid, a.k.a. Patrick Skene. "Making good music is really hard work and Rob is one of those people who takes that time."
Crooks blends synthesizer, samples and live percussion throughout Introducing the Ghost, as he stretches hip hop’s boundaries. The song History of Violence sounds more like ethereal indie-rock but is followed by a minute-long rap titled Nausea, where Crooks shows his intensity. His raps aren’t as overtly political as Pip Skid’s, but Crooks has something to say about the direction society is going.
“Rob is always the person who will work until the sun comes up just to get one small thing right.” – Pip Skid, a.k.a. Patrick Skene.
"The world was descending into this chaos that couldn’t be ignored anymore. I felt like the more I wasn’t involved into trying to be part of the solution, the more I was being part of the problem," he says. "The album is working with these personal issues, with societal issues."
He wrote and recorded Introducing the Ghost last fall, but a gig in Saskatoon last November put it on hold. Crooks met with other artists there and that led to the creation of an artists’ collective and a new label, Saskatoon Folk Rap Records, which started releasing music this year, including the Gumshoe Strut album, and Crooks’ single, Combat Liberalism, the final track on the EP.
"That kind of came just as I was putting the final touches on my album, and so we were kind of waiting to get our ducks in order and decide when we would release it," he says.
Twenty years in the Winnipeg rap scene has turned Crooks into a mentor of sorts for younger artists, often through school programs. These opportunities to help others eventually led to a career beyond recording, he says.
"I started working with Graffiti Art Programming doing hip-hop workshops, workshops on rap, beatmaking and DJing," says Crooks, who has since become a development co-ordinator with the organization that works with young artists.
Winnipeg country singer Don Amero couldn’t have gotten a better push for his new EP than he received this past Sunday.
Amero performed the song On Down the Road during the Canadian Country Music Awards telecast, which was shown across the country on Global. The song is one of seven that make up his latest record, The Next Chapter, which came out Sept. 25 on the MDM Recordings label.
"This album truly is The Next Chapter for me," Amero says in a release. "It is my first official label release, it’s fully country and it’s setting me on a brand new path in the world of music."
The three-time Juno Award nominee, who is part Cree and Métis, also was named one of eight semifinalists in the SiriusXM Top of the Country competition, which gives him a shot at the $25,000 prize for the winner.
Curbside Concerts, the concept that takes musicians to the people by performing on the boulevard outside their homes, has had to quickly adapt to the new pandemic rules in Winnipeg and the surrounding area.
The organization’s Winnipeg roster of artists, which includes Sierra Noble, Double the Trouble and J.D. Edwards, will be playing to households of no more than 10 people, in keeping with the code-orange restrictions, says Romi Mayes, the singer-songwriter who is producing the hour-long shows.
She says the concept was created with COVID-19 safety in mind. Curbside is accepting October bookings and is preparing plans for Halloween shows.
"The weather is slowing us down but I want people to know the new COVID restrictions do not," Mayes says.
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.