Montreal hip hop DJ Killa-Jewel Reckless EP

Photo by Russell and Raw

Montreal hip hop DJ Killa-Jewel drops her Reckless EP

The new EP features hometown MCs Wasiu, Nate Husser, Ras Kass as well as her own vocal signature.

DJ Killa-Jewel has been a fixture of Montreal hip hop and club life ever since being a girl who could cut the shit outta records was still considered a novelty around these parts. 

A pro in every sense, Killa-Jewel is as at ease rocking crowds at Piknic Electronik or Osheaga as she is in the club or even entertaining comedy fans between sets at JFL.

With none of these options on the table this summer, she shows and proves another aspect of her skill set with a new EP, Reckless, out this month, that features rising hometown talents Wasiu, Sereni-T and Nate Husser, underground legend Ras Kass, and even her own vocal signature over an array of styles that comes together, as always, under Killa-Jewel’s fierce crossfader. 

We chopped it up via email to learn more about how she got the power.

Darcy MacDonald: Firstly, congrats on the project. First question: Why now? And at what point in your evolution as a DJ did you begin production?

Killa-Jewel: Thank you! This EP has been a long time in the making. The answer to “why now” is simply because this is the point at which everything seemed to come together. I started dabbling in production back in 2005. I got my hands on an MPC 2000 and fell in love with the process of sampling and sequencing. It was a natural progression for me. 

I set out to work on my first project, Saudade, which is available on my website exclusively, due to sample clearance issues. But it was a project I was proud of, and a good exercise in releasing art into the world. 

Moving away from traditionally sample-based music into the realm of the DAW completely changed my sound. I started recording some really experimental stuff using analogue synths, acoustic drums and lots of signal processing, while also trying to re-create the texture and feel of sampling from a record. (I have) a ton of stuff of an entirely different genre that I hope will eventually see the light of day!

DM: The tracks on Reckless are all totally unique from each other. What guided your hand in creating each track and how did those decisions inform the shape of the EP?

Killa-Jewel: A couple of years ago, I sat down with Julie Blake, a long-time music industry professional and good friend of mine. I came to her with 12 tracks, half of which were more old-school/electronic in nature, and the other half of which were more mainstream hip hop-sounding. I clearly needed help choosing the direction for this record. We decided that, strategically, something with a little more of a modern sound would work best as a first official release. So I took the most commercially viable tracks and re-worked them with her, getting them to where they are today.

DM: Did you create the music here with the featured lyricist collabs in mind?

Killa-Jewel: The short answer is no. I never know what the next idea is really going to end up turning into until I start recording and experimenting with it. I love this process, and to be honest, have never tried working any other way. Assuming I will be putting vocals over a beat, though, is something that I do need to know in advance because this will inform certain creative decisions along the way. 

Once a good working version of the instrumental is done, I’ll then go ahead and throw some a capellas over it, and envision what kind of artist I think would sound good on it. 

The next step is to reach out to artists I think would be fun to work with, and see where it goes. Sometimes you don’t quite find what you’re looking for, and end up singing over the song yourself, as was the case with “Drop Out” and “Rusty Rhodes.”

DM: You’ve been at it for a long time and it’s cool that you’re working here with local youngbloods. Can you tell me a bit about how you forged relationships with the vocal partners on the project?

Killa-Jewel: Looking for collaborators has been a whole other job unto itself. It’s all about doing some research, seeing who’s out there, who you’re feeling, and not being afraid to reach out, send them a beat, and see if they’re feeling it too. If they’re not, that’s totally cool, and you just keep trying until you eventually find the right match. The whole idea around bringing in younger talent was in an effort to bridge the gap stylistically for me. 

Up until now I’ve had an old-school sound, so having some fresh talent on the record, I believe, brings the music into the present day. I’m happy with the end result, and excited to see what the future holds.

DM: I love the scratch symphony on “Rusty Rhodes.”  This is one of those nerd-ass hip hop questions I only save for true-blue turntablists: What ever happened to scratching, Jewel? Why do you think it hasn’t had a pop-level resurgence? 

Killa-Jewel: I feel you! Yes, that is me singing. I like to look at scratching as something that happened to us, and not the other way around. Turntablism is certainly not dead — on the contrary, the art-form is still thriving thanks in part to modern day tech that has made it even more accessible to the masses. Look no further than Instagram and hashtag “scratching” or “turntablism” and see what comes up. 

My take on the whole thing is that, following the golden era, hip hop itself started branching out (toward) these different directions and sub-genres that we see today. Most of them didn’t preserve what we know as the traditional elements of hip hop, and I suppose that’s just a normal part of evolution, whether we like it or not. 

As for me, scratching will always be a part of what I do. It’s a skill that I still love to exercise. I’ll continue incorporating it into the music that I make because I can, and because it’s still so freaking cool!

DM: What do you miss this summer and what are some new options you’re looking forward to?

Killa-Jewel: For sure (I’ll miss attending) and playing the summer festivals like Osheaga, Mural, Piknic, Jazz Fest and the 30 shows I usually play in July at the annual Just for Laughs Fest, (as well as) my gigs down in the U.S. 

All of the events I would usually have been booked are now of course on hold. But more than the shows themselves, I miss seeing my people. On the bright side, this has given me an incredible opportunity to focus on my live set, which I am currently working on, so that’s been a positive.

DM: Do you intend to release more music?

Killa-Jewel: Absolutely. There is a remix and a couple of other new singles in the pipeline, as well as a new, entirely instrumental EP project in the works with another possible vocal feature by yours truly!

DM: I’ve gotta ask about your perspective on releasing a project in the age of COVID.

Killa-Jewel: I look at the upsides. Music has been going digital for years. I’d be more worried if we didn’t already have a digital platform in place to share music. That is clearly not the case. 

Although there is a learning curve when it comes to digital distribution and live streaming, I think artists are more adaptable than we give ourselves credit for. One thing is for sure: None of the hermits are complaining, myself included! ■

Killa-Jewel website

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