Great white hope 

Canadian rapper Classified makes a run for the border

His name may be Classified, but the music's for everyone. Hailing from the Great White North, Luke Boyd, aka Classified, has been making rap records for more than 15 years, since falling in love with the sound as a tween. Along the way, he's turned himself into a major Canadian artist. And he's been crossing the border more frequently of late, hoping to extend his brand deeper into the American consciousness.

Fans of the Rhymesayers crew will find a lot to love in Classified's music, with its golden-age-of-rap boom-bap overtones and evenhanded, everyman flow. Indeed, his latest, Handshakes and Middle Fingers, even features one of their flagship artists, Brother Ali, on the flute-driven track, "Maybe It's Just Me." It also echoes the Rhymesayers ethos of everyday people with everyday problems. (For example, in the song he mentions how all his shirts are covered with baby food and vomit stains.)

All of which comes naturally since, like many young kids, Classified grew up with hip-hop shaping his identity and serving as a framework for everyday life.

"I think the biggest thing with teenagers that causes the most stress is just insecurities with themselves," Classified says from his Enfield, Nova Scotia home, a little north of Halifax. "With me, I never knew where I fit in. I played hockey. I was a skateboarder. I rapped. All my friends were the same way. It was like, what the fuck are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to dress this way? And for me, hip-hop gave me that direction to go."

Turned on to hip-hop by Run DMC's "It's Tricky," Classified was just 16 when he released his first album, 1995's Time's Up, Kid. A decade later, he'd reached his 10th. Boy-Cott-In the Industry featured a bevy of guests (including Royce Da 5'9" and Choclair), broke into Canada's Top 50 hip-hop albums chart, and earned him a Juno nomination for Rap Recording of the Year. He received another nomination for his 2006 follow-up, Hitch Hikin' Music.

Since then, things have gone smoothly up north. He tours Canada in a bus, not a van, and hasn't had a day job in a decade. But in chasing Canadian success, he ended up neglecting the U.S. and still loses money touring down here.

"Up in Canada when I tour, it's like I have to do this track and this track. They were the videos. They were on radio. Down there, it's like I can do anything I want," he says. "That's a cool thing about it. These people have never heard these lyrics before, so I'm rapping like this is the first time they're hearing it. It's a lot more intimate, and people are really hearing what you're about for the first time."

With Handshakes and Middle Fingers, Classified maintains the momentum of 2009's terrific Self Explanatory. That's especially the case on the track "That Ain't Classy," which continues his tendency to school rappers on their boorish behavior, like dancing in their sunglasses on a table in the club to their own song, or "with a couple bottles of Cris [-tal] trying to pick up a chick, like, 'Bitch you want this?'" Classified's not big on shallow braggadocio.

"Who gives a fuck about your fly-ass sneakers? That doesn't prove you're a bad-ass emcee," he says. "It's like, that was cool when I was 18, but when you grow up, it's, 'A'ight, let's talk about something a little more important.'"



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