Although he doesn’t rock sweaters or serenade thirteen-year-olds on stadium tours, D-Sisive a.k.a. Derek Christoff is still considered to be one of the best Canadian rappers of all time. His debut studio EP, The Book, gained critical recognition back in 2008, when it was nominated for Best Rap Album at the Juno Awards — the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys. The album is now considered to be a classic within the canon of Canadian rap, with its astute cultural references and homegrown vinyl samples, while prominent stateside DJs such as DJ Premier have been bumping Christoff’s records since the early 2000’s.
When RESPECT. sat down with D-Sisive in a Toronto eatery along Bloor Street, he had just dropped his seventh project to date, a mixtape entitled Asian Elvis. Download it here.
On the song, “PT Anderson”, from Asian Elvis:
PT Anderson, who’s one of my favorite directors of all time… I remember one day I was bored — this was in 2008 or something, or 2007, after my dad died — and I had nothing to do, so I was like, “Okay, I’m going to watch an audio commentary.” And I watched Boogie Nights, with the audio commentary, and Boogie Nights is an incredible movie– but I’ve always been that guy, well, I never went to college, but in high school, in literature classes, I always felt like I didn’t get things, when the teacher would be talking about the symbolism behind something, and all the other kids in the class are blurting out this bullshit. I’m just like, “I don’t see what you’re talking about.”
So my ex-girlfriend, she went to university, she was taking philosophy and she took a film class. We were hanging out and she showed me her film list, like they tell you all the films you’re going to be watching. And the classrooms are huge, you know, anyone can go, so I was looking at the films, all typical films, but one of the films was called They Live, with Rowdy Roddy Piper, the wrestler, the Scottish wrestler in the WWF, he’s like the worst, and the film was a John Carpenter film. It’s like the fucking worst movie of all time. It’s about Roddy Piper, he discovers these sunglasses, when he puts them on, he can see who’s an alien and who’s not– Do you remember Cameron Diaz’s dad from There’s Something About Mary? That actor [Keith David], he was younger back then and in shape. He and Roddy Piper are feuding. There’s a twenty-minute fight scene where Roddy Piper’s forcing him to put these glasses on and for some reason the other guy’s not putting the glasses on. He’s like, “Get the fuck outta here,” and Piper’s like, “Put the fucking glasses on,” and they’re fully fighting for twenty minutes. It’s the stupidest movie. It’s one of those movies that you like, but it’s stupid.
So when I saw that on her list, I’m like, “I’m coming to watch They Live in your university.” I remember the professor gave this speech before the the film, and he was saying these things and I was just like, “Huh?” He was basically explaining They Live beyond what I just explained to you right now. I basically just gave you the best description of They Live, but he was using words I had never even heard of before, and I was like, “What?” So here comes the twenty minute fight scene and I’m sitting with 300 people, looking around, and they’re all taking notes. I’m like, “What’s happening here?” When the film stops– and I’m baffled — the professor starts giving this lecture about how when John Carpenter wrote the film it was social commentary on the Republicans. I was like, “What? It’s Roddy fucking Piper, who’s wearing sunglasses so he can see aliens.” That’s just one of those moments- either everyone’s full of shit or I don’t get it.
But anyways, back to PT Anderson, I was watching this audio commentary for Boogie Nights, and that’s a movie that was extremely critically acclaimed and was weird, had strange moments, so I was like, “Okay, this could be cool. It could give me some insight into what I’m missing.” It’s not like Boogie Nights had just come out either. Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love had come out. So I’m like, “This guy’s a genius, let’s see what’s going on,” and it blew me away, because the entire audio commentary was PT just talking like us, being like, “I did this scene because I thought it was cool.” I was living in Parkdale at the time, and I’m laying in my bed like, “Huh?” I didn’t expect this. He was like, “A lot of people ask me why I always work with John C. Reilly? It’s because he’s fucking cool.” And then other scenes he was like– because the movie’s based on John Holmes, “I watched this documentary on John Holmes and this scene I totally ripped off from the documentary.” It blew me away in the sense that I’ve never heard someone who makes that kind of caliber of art, just talk about it like that, to be so honest in the sense that it was nothing: “I just wanted to make a cool movie.” But once it gets out there everyone pulls it in– There were scenes too when he was like, “This scene here, I’ve heard people talk about it, using the metaphor or whatever, but I just wanted to see guys wearing Speedos in a bathrobe because it looked cool.” That audio commentary completely changed the way I look at everything. So when we talk about things we don’t understand, I’m not sure I want to dig anymore, I’m not sure I really want to do the digging. Maybe I am just the kid who can’t see it — I don’t have the They Live sunglasses to see it — or it’s all just bullshit. And if it was all bullshit, I think I’d still like it. But if I ever saw an interview with John Carpenter and he said it the way the professor said it, I would hate that movie. I don’t want to hear about Republican aliens.
On his critically-acclaimed album, Let The Children Die:
My songs that are autobiographical, it’s all accurate. It’s all how it happened. I’ve never really talked about this in a story before, but I put out my second record, Let The Children Die, and I had the guy in the mask playing the piano, and just put it out. I had a couple songs about ostriches, I liked ostriches at the time, but then people just — and it’s not a bad thing — but people took it in and started referring to it as the ostrich mask, or as the bird mask. And it’s like, “I don’t want to knock anyone’s interpretation of it, but it’s not.” It’s an old play doctor’s mask that I saw at Malabar, that costume shop downtown, that I was just like, “That looks fucking cool. I’ll probably use that for something.” So I bought it, and the album’s called, Let The Children Die– I remember reading reviews, talking about mainstream hip-hop versus underground and all this shit, and I hate to — I don’t hate, it’s just another PT Anderson moment — but I just thought the mask would look cool. And I’ve had all these interviews, people asking me, “What does it mean?” I’ve always been like, “It’s up to you.”
I read often and I’m always looking at art books or DVDs, or something. I go through different phases every couple weeks, and I try to take something, not steal, but absorb something. Bukowski is a major influence, maybe to my bluntness, I guess, in my storytelling. It goes back to that kid who didn’t understand, or didn’t get it, going back to high school, and learning about poetry, and reading poetry about butterflies and typical- what people would look at as poetry stereotyped. And I never got it. I couldn’t grasp it. That’s all that I thought there was, until I started reading Bukowski. That’s where I found that influence, that person who opens that door for you. It makes you feel comfortable, like the PT Anderson thing. I didn’t start by reading any Bukowski books, I just saw a documentary. Then as I started reading more, like Hollywood, and he’s just shitting on everybody, but at the same time exposing everything for what it is. It’s just all bullshit. Of course ‘the intellectuals’, they hate on Bukowski, they think he’s a hack, but he’s just saying it like it is, and that’s always the case when someone puts it out there, people don’t like it.
On the music industry:
I have no faith or interest in the music industry, especially the Canadian music industry. It’s fucking bullshit. When you’re in it and you see how it operates, it’s fucked. I talk about it and then I get shitted on. And there are people who are like, “You’re not making your situation any better,” but it’s like, “Labels aren’t signing me.” There’s nothing. There is no situation. There’s me putting out free fucking records every few months. Even as of late — and I’m not trying to pat myself on the back — there are kids tattooing my fucking song titles on them, yet no label will ever talk to me. I’ve been doing decent shows for the past three years- That’s always been my argument with my manager, or my label, because the marketing is the worst.
We had a conversation the other day, it’s funny we have this conversation now, because Asian Elvis is my seventh record, and it’s like, “Who’s your demographic? Who’s your market?” I’m like, “Anybody.” There’s no age, like labels fucking put it, it’s anybody who’s been through some shit. But the problem is, no one’s going to put marketing dollars behind it because they don’t think it’s going to sell records. And I can’t insult the music industry like they owe me something, like, “Sure, labels aren’t interested in working with me,” with the exception of my own label, which works with me, but major labels aren’t going to look at me twice. They don’t have to. That’s fine. They don’t owe me shit, but don’t act like it doesn’t work, when there’s Atmosphere, for example, living off of music, and making fucking honest music, telling his story, people like Brother Ali, these people are fucking making a living off of music. People out there give a shit. And then you’ll hear the same old bullshit, like the population isn’t there, or rap won’t sell records in Canada because there’s just not enough people, that’s fucking bullshit. This kid who lives in London who tattooed my song on his fucking chest, there aren’t kids like him? What blows my mind is they’re ignoring this music that exists, that you could actually try to push- when I’m getting emails from kids saying I helped them in certain ways, just like Bukowski helped me, or PT Anderson helped me. I’m like Bukowski to these kids, and maybe this could happen more if you could believe in something with substance. It doesn’t just have to be me. There are other artists out there doing it too, that are struggling the same way. But then you’re taking all your money and pumping it into this pop shit, that’s not even selling either. It would make sense if these pop stars that Canadian labels are pushing are selling hundreds of thousands of dollars. You’re saying rap isn’t going to sell because the population is so low, but your bullshit’s not selling either? What’s the point?
The Canadian industry has always been like that. It’s following whatever America is doing. You always have that childhood dream, like I’m going to sign a record deal and be signed to a label and I’m going to be huge. You try to keep it going and live that dream, but then you just get to a point, where I’m at, when you just don’t care anymore. It’s always the dream. You’re going to sign with the big record company and you’re going to get a record contract, then you’re going to be famous. Everyone wants the U.S.’s acceptance, everyone.
On Asian Elvis, his latest project:
Asian Elvis is me. I started getting into Elvis Presley impersonators. I learned that they prefer to be called tribute artists, impersonators is an insult to them because they’re tribute artists. I never really knew much about Elvis. But then I grew obsessed with the idea of Elvis Presley, the impact he had on music, how massive this guy was, to the point where there are thousands of people around the world that devote their lives to dressing up like him, trying to sing like him, and trying to be the best Elvis Presley clone that they can be. They travel worldwide to be in these competitions to really win nothing. There’s a grand champion. But what does it mean to be grand fucking champion of Elvis tribute artists?
Like I went to Elvis Fest in Collingwood and it was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever been to in my life. They’re proud to say it’s the largest Elvis Presley festival in the world, and people are traveling from New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Italy, and it was ridiculous. In every corner there are Elvis Presley tribute artists. One guy was performing on the street, and I heard someone say, “He’s performing tonight for the grand championship.” I was like, “I’m not going to shit on what you want to do,” but to me it’s crazy, that their fandom can go to such heights. In a sense I relate it to myself. It goes back to that kid wanting to sign the record contract, praising these guys for being real hip-hop- Everybody wants to be at some point in their life a fucking superstar, or famous, or at the top of whatever field they’re in. Look at Elvis. He’s the pinnacle. He’s probably the biggest, next to Michael Jackson, and he will be the biggest forever. It’s not like he’s dying down and it’s going to fade away. He’s been dead for 35 years, and I watched thousands of people eating hotdogs in Collingwood, and fucking watching these guys in costumes.
What was even more strange, was that I had tweeted that I was there, and a fan who lived in Collingwood came out trying to find me. He found me and took pictures and we were talking. He was like, “You know these are all tourists.” I was like, “Really?” He was like, “Everyone who lives in Collingwood leaves, because they’re like, ‘All these fucking Elvis wacks.’” But then people are traveling to come watch tribute artists as well, and it just blows my fucking mind. I relate that to myself. I shot my first music video when I was 18. Someone from my high school came who I wasn’t really friends with, and someone told me that he said, “Oh, he’ll never make it because he doesn’t have an image.” Shit like that. I’ve always been judged in that sense. I don’t look like a typical rapper. I don’t fit the mold. It’s the ‘white man can’t jump syndrome’. I’ve always battled that. Maybe that’s my worst enemy, that has always prevented me from actually having real success. I gear that towards Asian Elvis. We all want to be Elvis, we all want to be the king, and some of us make it close, but then you have the Asian one– like c’mon, let’s be real. It’s not a matter of being racist. If you see an Asian Elvis impersonator you’re gonna fucking laugh, and I’m sorry. I apologize if there’s any Asian impersonators who read or see this, but it’s fact, man. We were there, and there’s this Indian dude performing. He was just wearing khakis and a khaki shirt, but he had this weird star, so it’s like, “You’re trying to be army Elvis.” But he didn’t even comb his hair. It was the worst fucking effort I’ve seen. He wasn’t competing with this grand champion who’s going on tonight, who’s doing this as a rehearsal, who’s going to tear shit up later. That’s how I see myself. And maybe the fucking Asian impersonator has the voice of a fucking Memphis angel, and sounds beautiful, but he’s Asian Elvis. Immediately you have that strike against you.
He’s always wearing tank tops. He’s getting ripped now. That’s what guys do when they get muscles. The tank tops come out. That’s it. I can’t wear tank tops. I can, but…
On research, and the song, “I Watched My Father Cry”, from Asian Elvis:
When I make a Jonestown record, I got to break out the Jonestown documentaries. I have to get in that mode. So when I said I was going to do this Elvis thing, I bought every documentary, every record- not the movies, because they’re horrible. At Elvis Fest I bought this $80 ring. It’s supposed to look like gold and diamonds. It says ‘E.P.’. I had to have it. At least so I could say I gave back to the community. It will probably sit in my apartment and never get worn, but I felt like I had to have it.
To me, I’m not interested in 1950’s Elvis. I’m interested in 1970’s Elvis, when he had a bit of meat, when the jumpsuits came out, it was all over the top. Ridiculousness. That’s what I’m obsessed with. You watch these concerts, where they show his first Las Vegas show. I forget which song it was, but the band’s playing, but he’s literally just going along the front row and kissing women. Women are coming from the back and he’s kissing all of them on the lips. I’m like, “This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in my life.” Kissing fat Elvis. Not sexy wiggling 1950’s Elvis. Fat kung fu fucking Elvis. And then I watched it on Saturday. They’re kissing fucking Gary Thompson from Ohio, just kissing him on the lips and freaking the fuck out. They get caught in the moment, and that’s what I was trying to represent in the first song, “I Saw My Father Cry”, how this father almost fainted, hanging out with a bunch of other middle-aged people that were trying to relive the day. After I wrote that I watched it happen, and it blew me away. It was very surreal.
The best art comes from a dark place. This could be me being the bitter old man, but if you haven’t experienced anything, you have nothing to talk about. I can only compare it to myself, in the sense that, I’ve been making records since 1997, and there was a time in 2000, 2001, when I was like the ‘it’ kid. I was 20 years old and doing shows around here. It was popping off. I got representation in the States. I was being flown out to meet with lawyers. But my mind wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t have substance. My mother had passed away, but I hadn’t experienced anything. I was sheltered in the sense that I had my father to protect me. Once that started to go downhill, I fucked up all my opportunities, everything that I had at that point. But I don’t look at it like I fucked them up. I look at it like it wasn’t the right time. If only I could have those opportunities now, but that’s how life works. It was a fucked up seven years, that continued even after my father passed away.
From 2001 to even now, it was all darkness. I had no motivation to do anything. It goes beyond my dad being sick. My manager at the time- we would have talks every week, and I wasn’t producing any music, so he had no reason to pay any attention to me, but he still did. I remember him telling me, “What you’re going through now, write about it,” and I never did. I was too busy going through shit and feeling sorry for myself. It’s not like I could sit down and write about it. It took everything to settle before I could wrap my head around it and even then I was in a dark spot, but I pulled it out and wrote it.
When I worked on The Book, the first EP, all I could think about was, “No one’s going to give a shit.” I was putting it out there, saying names, telling facts. I was like, “Who wants to know my story?” And then we put the record out, and it just fucking put me back out there critically. I had to go through that to be the artist I am now, or else I would still have an 18 year old brain writing battle raps. You got to go through shit. Since I spent over a decade on the dark side, I relate to art that is dark. I’m not interested in reading about happy things, because I don’t give a fuck. I tried to make a happy record with Vaudeville and nobody cared. They thought it sucked, so I thought, “Okay, maybe I should do what I do best.” Three months later I made Jonestown 2 and it put me back to where I was. I’ll never forget it. This one blog, they wrote, “Everyone loves an angry D-Sisive.” Or, “A sad D-Sisive is a great D-Sisive,” and it kind of annoyed me, because it’s like, “I can’t be fucking happy?” But I’m not, so… it is what it is.
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