First and foremost who is Al-Viz?
Al Viz is simply my name abbreviated. Over the years Ive went through a few names, but as I started coming into my own and bringing a more direct style it only made sense that my stage name reflected that. Plus wild hip hop names were getting dated and corny haha. One of my producers used to call me Viz and it stuck.
Where are you from?
I'm from Bathurst and Steeles. A Russian, Jewish and now Filipino melting pot. It's an intersection in the Greater Toronto Area, as they call it. My parents landed here from the former Soviet Union just before I was born.
Toronto is a mixing bowl for diversity in regards to the presentation of different cultures. How has living in Toronto affected your perspective on life and your music?
It gives me an interesting perspective. The place where I'm from is this little intersection on the planet where people come to make dreams happen and many have. To me growing up watching that is poetry in motion. Watching some break through into a new life of freedom, watching some fail, all that is my motivation and it definitely has an effect on my music. This is the same story in major cities across the the world, so many can relate. On the bus sometimes I'll watch a newcomer to the country be baffled by the mix of people around them. I think it's a humbling experience to go through, it makes you realize you are part of a bigger picture.
I take the values that were instilled in me and try and make them shine through in my music. I want people to get a sense of where I'm from what my struggles are about. In fact the first video I dropped got me an article in a National Canadian paper because it put a positive light on a part of Toronto, when the city seemed to be going sour in general. Toronto has been flooded with negative and violent news in the last few years so I guess it stood out. That coupled with the fact that it was one of the last places you'd expect hip hop music to come from. Its called "Out For Papers," which in part is making reference to obtaining immigration papers.
You have crafted a pretty successful mixtape series called Well-Made Bars. What did you want to present with these mixtapes?
A few years ago I took a hiatus from writing for a long while. I never really had an affordable spot to put my music together til my boy Mike (shout out to Concept Productions) finally got his lab together. I was sitting on some beats I had picked up along the way from a few local producers. I thought I'd just craft one proper album and move on with my life, keep it as a memento so to speak.
I ended up spending close to a year in the lab on that project, putting in a couple hours a week. I sat back and realized that shit was sounding like an eulogy, like the last album before I died or something, which tripped me out. I redrew my plan and decided I had to hit people with different styles and slowly get to the center of Al Viz, instead of coming with too much too soon. Before I knew I was sucked back into the music and I started working on a new project.
For Well-Made Bars I took a bunch of beats, some new ones, and some I had collected over the last 5 years and just started writing. I was really paying attention to what the beat was telling me. Having never really put anything out to the masses all I did was focus on writing rhymes completely inspired by the sample or sounds at hand, and hoped that a collection of the stuff I was working on would come together cohesively by focusing on just that. Thus the title Well-Made-Bars came about.
Whenever I heard rappers spitting over sampled beats, I noticed the trend was to make a mockery of what the original sample was about. As an example, you get a 70's sample of some legendary dude pouring his heart out about his girl on a track, and then four decades later someone takes that sample and turns it into a tune about turning tricks out. Stuff like that irked me at the time about trends in rap/hip-hop, so I hoped if I just wrote well over the beats, my work would stand out on its own merit.
How does the second volume (The Well-Made Bars Mixtape Vol. 2) differ from the first volume (The Well-Made Bars Vol. 1)?
First and foremost I was getting better in the lab. My recording techniques were getting better. In the first volume I didn't even really do any overdubs. I starting getting to the point were I was one-taking my verses, which is where you have to be. I started collaborating with a few emcees on that one as well, whereas the first installment was completely solo. Whenever your collaborating there's always a tendency to come harder then usual, so I feel naturally that Volume II has a little more edge. I cut down the length of the tape as well, made it a little shorter and sweeter. People's attention spans are not what they used to be. A lot of the songs only have two verses total.
One of my favorite tracks from The Well-Made Bars Mixtape Vol. 2 is "Let It Be." What was the concept behind the track and who developed the concept for the video?
Thanks man. That tune is one of the older ones I recorded from that first tape I was working on in the lab. I guess it stood the test of time. Basically I think every emcee goes through a phase where they feel like no one knows who they are, yet they feel like they were destined to be a great emcee. So that song comes from that place. There is a lot of ego on the line in hip hop, and sometimes that makes people spiral outta control. It's very easy to look like a cornball as well. That record was about me taking it down a notch, and just telling people this is what I'm doing, this is what I'm about, you need to "Let It Be." Also, "Let It Be" is a great lyric from a massive Beatles song of course.
I pretty much co-directed the video. I like to pick locations that I have an attachment to so that naturally the video has a little meaning. I also think of certain shots that symbolize things on their own. I have them in my head, and that's what kinda makes for the skeleton of the video before we go and shoot. Then we run out and start shooting and we try and catch other interesting shit on the fly. In "Let It Be" were in the heart of down town Toronto on a roof top catching the city in its waking hours. That song is really about living a dream, and catching the city at that time is like watching possibilities unfold to me. Shout out to Ed Wong, he's my go to video guy.
Are there any plans to work on a third volume?
I think that Volume II is my last in the Well-Made Bars series. I feel like the first two were exercise for me and now I'm hitting my stride. The next solo mixtape I'm putting out will be called Vizioptherapy Vol 1. By now, the listeners that I have know where my heart is, and have a sense of what I'm about, as do I musically. So those listening to my music know it provides a certain kinda therapy and release, and now its really time to bring it all together on the new project. Its gonna be a lot more cohesive, a lot more comfortable and will probably bring in a bunch of tunes from that first project I set aside, rerecorded of course. Some of those tunes are irreplaceable to me.
Describe your writing ritual. Do you have deadlines from your songs?
Truth be told I've never knew how to properly write a bar down on paper. I haven't really written a rhyme down since I was a teenager. I think this has its pros and cons, but overall it makes for a more natural feel which is what I aim for. I feel like you can completely sink into the timing and feel of the beat when your just rapping out loud. Usually it starts by me stringing bars together sitting at my computer with a mic. Later I'll be walking laps around the park spitting out loud with my I-Pod in hand, really getting it down. I feel like there's so much repetition and memorization behind that, that it makes me sharper as an emcee all around.
I got a lot on my plate these days, so I squeeze the music in as best I can. I agree that people end up doing a lot more when they have less time, so its all good. No deadlines for songs really, unless I'm collaborating with people. I do put deadlines on projects though. In terms of collabs, if you don't get on top of those quickly they can fall apart all to easily. I always respect someone that delivers on a collab. It's a different breed of artist that takes their craft seriously.
In terms of beats, they really have to say something to me for me to get excited about them. Usually it just starts with even one sound in the beat that strikes a cord with me and then the feelings and thoughts start flowing. These days I strongly believe if a tune cannot work its way into a persons life, then its not worth working on i.e., this is a record they will listen to when they're going to the gym, this is a record they will listen to when they're pissed off, this is the what they would pump in the car with the top down, etc. These are the places where the average person listens to music and if a song doesn't enhance their life experience while they are doing what they do, it won't make their play list.
What projects are you working on in the future?
In the immediate future, like 2 months down the line, me and a local emcee that goes by Fillfy are dropping a project called The Bridging the Gap Mixtape. He's a younger emcee in my area, but he's got an old school flavor much like myself. The way we converge on a track, "Briding the Gap" just made complete sense as a title. Stylistically, we are almost polar opposites in a lot of ways. Were bridging generations with that project. Even to our surprise, the final product is turning out to be ahead of our own expectations. The production we selected for that is very cohesive and will play more like an album. We got a couple tunes together on my Well Made Bars Volume II mixtape if you want a preview. Its been a fun process and were just about done. We're having fun with it and really pushing ourselves in the process.
What artists/beatmakers would you like to work with in the future?
I'm finally getting access to the kinds of beats I used to wish I could have, man...so it's a blessing producers are starting reach out. I got a few of my resident beat makers that I'm good with already. Scarlem D, Euhponic, Fat Count, my buddy Dima from Platinum Vibes, and most recently esQribah... a cat from Mozambique. Me and esQribah have been making some really ill tunes and have our own small project in the works. I love international collabs. It reminds you that music is universal.
In terms of who I'd like to work with? Any of the legends. Right now I'm really trying to get my name up and get respected in this crowded game. If I ever got a Primo beat made just for me, that would be a sign of respect in the game. Other then that, I'm slowly working my way up the ranks in Toronto which is a deep and hungry scene. I'd like to work with Rich Kidd, hes got some banging production. Look him up.
How can the masses stay connected with you?
On Facebook look up Al Viz. Other then that, My Official Website. You can download my mixtapes there. Check out my YouTube or my Twitter. Also check out the Bandcamp.
Any Final Thoughts?
Thanks for paying attention to what I'm doing! I'm putting in work...and we shall collab soon...peace!