Sweatshop Union: Canadian Hip-Hop Collective Takes Austin

Next up on RAPstation’s SXSW coverage is Canadian hip-hop collective, Sweatshop Union. Hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, the group formed in 2000 through a mutual love of musical expression. Comprised of Mos Eisley, Metty the Dertmerchant, Conscience, Dusty Melo, Marmalade, and Ray Black, Sweatshop Union are on their seventh studio release (and 5th LP), the first since 2008’s critically acclaimed Water Street. Infinite hits stores May 7. Mos Eisley took a few minutes out of his hectic tour schedule to give us the low down. –Kyle Eustice When did you fall in love with hip-hop and why?   Mo: I fell in love with hip-hop when I saw graffiti and breakdancing at the same time I started to hear rap around the buildings my cousins grew up in. I liked that it was a fresh form of expression, and it seemed so honest and raw, so unlike a lot of popular music at the time. I really liked that DJ's would touch the record, and manipulate the songs, it seemed sacrilegious, and revolutionary, and I loved it. Who or what made you decide to pick up the mic and start performing?   Mo: Straight up, it was my friends. If it weren’t for my friends I wouldn't have had the courage to have stood up in front of a crowd or call myself a rapper. I had been deep into illegal graffiti for 3 or 4 years when at 17 I got busted red-handed and ended up in jail, with the threat of being deported since I didn't have proper legal status. That scared me enough to where I though "I need to do something legal, something that's fun and won't get me kicked out the country." I was always into books and words, so rap seemed like the perfect thing.    SXSW seems to be predominately indie band oriented. As a hip-hop artist, what do you hope to gain from your time there?   Mo: Every time we have gone there, we have been exposed to so many artists and their performance, which really inspire and motivate us, and expands our horizons as musicians. On top of that, you meet a lot of good people: artists, musicians, industry people and promoters, and you can show them what you have been up to, your new songs, new styles, and new outlooks. It feels like a whole city that's a giant concert and there is nothing like it that I have ever experienced. 
This year, I will be focusing more on getting the most out of my time there, attending more workshops, panels etc. to learn more about what we are doing and how to do it better. With record sales on the decline in this digital era, how important are tours now? Merch?    Mo: Touring is the most important aspect of this music thing now. Not just for the money, but for the real exposure, for showing people that you are serious and will travel to their town or city to show them your  music, your movement. With the collapse of the music industry, it is getting back to how it was: show and prove. Merch, of course, is great for money on the road, and it is a walking advertisement for your band or group, something invaluable. It is like a flag for your country. How have you been navigating the social media waters? What have you done that has been fan favorites?   Mo: We always respond personally to questions and comments, and people are always taken aback that they are talking to the real members of the group. What I have noticed makes a good impact is when you meet people in real life after having seen or talked to them on the internet and they get to see what you are really like, and have a real conversation with you. We are working on getting better with social media also, I have been noticing a lot of groups that do really well with many strategies and ideas they use to attract and keep people interested. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame started inducting bands in 1986. Out of the 279 performers who have been inducted, only 3 other Hip-Hop/Rapper acts have been included, most recently Public Enemy this year.  As an artist that falls into this category, how does this make an impact on you?     Mo:  It's great that they finally decided to put some legendary hip-hop artists in the hall of fame, but honestly, we don't look at things like that as some sort of yardstick by which to measure the power or influence of our hip-hop culture. The influence and cultural legacy of hip-hop is evident in so many aspects of life today, in almost every genre of music and art. I don't feel we need any vindication or recognition from any music industry organization.  There is kind of a revolving door of rappers/emcees these days, what sets you apart from the pack and how will you attain longevity in such a fickle and oversaturated market? 
Mo: Well for one, we really talk about real stuff we are living and thinking and feeling, things that concern many other people as well. So there is almost no comparison to a vast majority of rappers that are in the game just to make money, be popular, or push some fast (mostly fictitious) lifestyle. We have been expressing ourselves in the most honest way possible from day one, and the people that know us and like our music appreciate that. That is what sets us apart: there is no agenda, other than to keep the culture alive and relevant and real. We evolve with our whole generation, and keep our head above water, so as to hopefully help show the way. And have a ball doing it.    As far as longevity is concerned, we have been together for 11 years now, and touring for 9 or 10 years, with no sign of slowing down. In fact, every year we are expanding our reach and influence, and the next few years will be the best years of our careers. So there you have it: we remain in love with life and culture and we stay keeping at it, regardless of what is going on around us. By: Kyle Eustice for RAPstation.com