Not many hip-hop artists hail from Vancouver, and even fewer can claim Iranian heritage and a father who spent 10 years as a political prisoner.
So it's relatively unsurprising that Sept. 11 continues to have a resonance for Mos Eisley, whose group Sweatshop Union happens to be playing here on that date. "We all knew there was this momentum to [the attacks] it's like, this was the gateway to the next eight years of our lives," says the Canadian rapper, whose parents were both socialist activists in Iran at the time of the country's 1979 Islamic revolution.
While noting that Canadians tend not to be "overtly racist," Eisley still found himself, in 9/11's wake, to be the target of a newfound interest toward all things Middle Eastern: "It was mostly just tasteless jokes about terrorism and stuff, which I got tired of pretty quickly."
Sweatshop Union released its first album a year later, and the politically conscious hip-hop collective has gone on to write songs about the war in Iraq as well as various aspects of class consciousness. The latter is the subject of "Oh My," one of the most beguiling tracks from the group's forthcoming album, Water Street. With its sung chorus backed by a mournful horn section, it's a departure from most conventional rap arrangements.
"It's just how we perceive music from what we heard growing up," says Eisley. "Music from the '50s, '60s and '70s was a lot more melodic than what's going on now, and we really appreciate harmonies. As far as the reaction we get, I definitely find a lot of the hardcore hip-hop heads might be like, "Oh, these guys are some barbershop shit.'"
However, Eisley adds, that's been a rare reaction to his band, which has logged time on the road with Black Eyed Peas, Swollen Members and Jurassic 5, but didn't undertake a U.S. tour until two years ago. There's also virtually no resistance to the fact that the band is primarily white, which isn't all that surprising given that, as Eisley notes, "the primary hip-hop buyer right now is a white kid between the ages 13 and 21," most often from suburbia.
Of course, that means a number of the band's influences were popular before most of its fans were born. Sweatshop Union's song "Come Back," for instance, is based on a groove whose drum, bass and vocal sample virtually replicate Young MC's 1989 hit "Bust a Move."
"Oh yeah, that was intentional to a degree," Eisley acknowledges. "It wasn't so much that we were like, "Oh, let's do "Bust a Move,"' but it was like, that whole era, you know? It also reminds me of some [Eric B &] Rakim songs.
"I think when we came up with the beat, it was like, "Wow, that's so authentic, it sounds like something we grew up listening to,'" says Eisley, whose bandmates range in age from 25 to, um, 30-something. "I don't know how intentional it really was, but we are into early '90s stuff some of us even earlier than that."