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Prairie Rapper Anthony OKS Premieres From The Attic Session

The Winnipeg wordsmith turns up his jazz sensibilities for a live recording while teasing the release of a new double EP.

by Stephan Boissonneault 

Photo by Vince Tang

In the music world, Winnipeg is often referenced as the city that spawned bluesy dad rockers like Burton Cummings and the Guess Who or, in more indie circles, the tender emo stylings of bands like the Weakerthans. However, in the last few years it has not-so-secretly become a hub for juiced-up hip-hop, partly thanks to rap titans like Anthony OKS. 

The rhyming wordsmith harkens back to the old-school days of thoughtful boom bap hip-hop, with poignant lyrical flow and one-liners that will have you reaching for your inner emcee. He follows a long line of prairie hip-hop history, like the important rap label, Peanuts & Corn Records, and MCs Shadez (fka Different Shades of Black) and Frek Sho. OKS learned to make music from his older brother, Alex, scribbling notes in the corner as his brother produced beats with various friends.

Anthony OKS’ latest offering is a live session on From The Attic — Winnipeg’s new live band web series, nodding slightly to the widely-popular UK series, From The Basement — where he performs some jazzier live versions of songs from his EP, In The Garden, and one new track called “I Hid From Love.” 

We chatted with him about the experience, his upcoming double EP, Combing Through a Memory and Let Man Shine, as well as his place in the Winnipeg rap community. 

Photo: Tom Elvers

Was everything during From The Attic Session one take? What was the vibe like during the session? I’d say the live versions are a bit more jazzier?

We were doing a new song, “I Hid From Love,” so that took a minute to get down right. We also haven’t shot a ton live like this, so it took a minute for us to get comfortable. These live sessions are a bit jazzier, yeah. There are more jazz elements on my next two projects—a double EP.

And the new song “I Hid From Love,” that’s about remembering to not forget about what is beautiful in life?

Yeah, it is. It’s about the nuances of love. I unpack moments in my life that made me feel love. I wrote the song like a series of snapshots. It sounds like I’m talking about one person, but all these moments are connected to several people in my life, at different times and places.

How do you decide if you’re going to rap or sing a verse?

The music directs me. Me and my producers will sit with the track for a while and I’ll play with different melodies and ideas. Sometimes It’s immediate, but sometimes it takes months to decide.

What can you tell somebody about the Winnipeg/Manitoba rap scene if they know nothing about it? 

There are lots of artists here. It’s a burgeoning scene, and it’s getting better every year. Every time I hear about a new artist, it excites me. Some artists to check out are: Lavi$H, YSN FAB, Dill the Giant, Cayden Carfrae, and Myazwe.

Back to your music, “Line Of Fire” is quite a powerful and vulnerable song. Do you find you have to get back into the headspace of when you wrote it to perform it?

It is. I’m happy I wrote that song. In life, you’re going to get hurt, no matter what you do. Pain is imminent. But we live, and we try to do our best every day. It’s an honest song. When I perform it, I feel like I’m fighting something. 

Photo: Tom Elvers

Your rap and verses are thought out and don’t fall into the trap of too much information/too many verses that actually make no sense, but just rhyme. Did it take you a while to get to this point?

Appreciate that. I’ve been making music for 12 years, so I’ve had some time to work on my craft and myself as a person. I think self-development plays a role in your artistic output as well. 

You’ve been DJing quite a bit lately. Does that inspire the creation of your own music in any way?

Totally. Listening to more music just gives me much more inspiration. You’re not just listening though, you’re learning about the melodies, the song, and the structures because you need to know how to use them in sets. The songs you play as a DJ are like your tools. So you really do get to know them, and studying those songs and different genres definitely influences the way I write and create.

What can you tell us about the upcoming EP, Combing Through a Memory? Is it still inspired by your newfound family in Nigeria and Sierra Leone?

The first EP, Combing Through a Memory, is about unpacking oneself – the little pieces, molecules, and references that have shaped a person and influenced their perspective. The second part to the package is called, Let Man Shine. I touch on identity and everything that comes along with that. 

What was the experience of finding your newfound family in Nigeria and Sierra Leone a few years back?

It was a wild one. My dad’s family is pretty large. I knew we had all these family members, but I didn’t know their names and hadn’t met them before. It was trippy to meet uncles on Zoom that looked just like my dad. I’m hoping to visit them one day. 

Hypothetically, what album would you take on a marooned island with you and why?

Probably Black on Both Sides by Mos Def. That record doesn’t get old to me. Every song is so different. Mos jumps around from singing to rapping while altering flows, voice, and delivery on every song.

You did a collaboration song, “Fortified Bond” with Begonia for her album In the Garden. What was the experience like, mixing between two different genres?

Alexa (Dirks, aka Begonia) is very soulful. It was pretty easy to collaborate with her. She’s also just so talented and multi-faceted as a singer. I think she just had fun with it. I loved what she delivered on that song. There will be a few more collabs on the upcoming EPs. 

From the Attic is a collaboration between Argyle Studio’s award-winning engineer Cam Loeppky (Sloan, Weakerthans, Greg MacPherson) and the video production duo of Tom Elvers and Mike Requeima.