Vancouver has never been a rapper’s town. While our Californian west coast neighbours have fathered G Funk (Dr. Dre), revolutionized gangsta rap (NWA), and still continue to put out some of the best artists in the game today (Kendrick Lamar), Vancouver struggles to get its hip hop scene on its feet.
But as the indie aesthetic spreads to rap and recording becomes easier, more and more Vancouver youth are starting to pick up the pic and break out the sampler. Sometimes it’s just a passing fancy; but in the case of hip-hop duo Thoughtwatch, it’s a passing fancy that blossomed into a full-grown rap concept.
Composed of rapper Simon New and producer Max Maier, Thoughtwatch is a few leagues ahead of your average teenage rap crew. Maier, formerly an electronica musician, sets up effective, lush beats that perfectly fit New’s flow and delivery. On their upcoming mixtape, Sketches, tracks like “Check it Out” show off what New and guests can do over what sounds like a marriage of boombap and Madlib’s Pinata. “As I Crawl” opens with a menacing wave of synthesia before a College Dropout-esque vocal sample kicks in. New, who seems to revel in adapting to any kind of beat that Maier throws him, switches between rapid-fire monotone flow and delayed, menacing delivery that brings to mind A$AP Rocky. If Thoughtwatch can put out this level of tape now, it’s scary to think about what they’ll be able to do in a year or two.
So, without further ado, we’d like to introduce you to Thoughtwatch.
What’s going down with Thoughtwatch right now?
SN: We are about to release our first tape. It’s out there on Bandcamp, it’s gonna be released on Monday.
How are you guys feeling?
SN: We’ve got a collection of a lot of different sounds on this tape.
MM: We actually called it “Sketches”. It’s got a lot of diverse styles on it, from boombap to kinda trappy stuff.
How did you guys meet?
SN: Oh man, we’ve known each other since like grade seven, back in elementary school. And this kid started making electronic music.
MM: Yeah, I had some stuff going around grade eight.
SN: And then I started listening to rap and I was like “Oh man, I gotta get in on this, I gotta start writing.” Turned out that I was good at it. He started making beats and we did it big.
What’s your writing process like?
MM: Normally, I’ll just make a short, rough loop and I’ll send it to Simon, and let him write whatever he wants. And as we progress with the song, I’ll advance and add more stuff to the beat while he’ll write more, and once he’s written everything we’ll record it and I’ll make it so the beat moves well around his words.
SN: It’s a pretty typical process.
Max, you talked a bit about the diversity of style in this mixtape. Who were some of your influences?
MM: Definetly Madlib, and Clams Casino, or at least that’s where the boombap and the trap influences come in. It’s not really hardcore trap influenced stuff.
So Simon, what rapping styles do you draw from?
SN: I try to write as many rhymes as I can, then start sandwiching rhymes inbetween rhymes until it’s really, really dense. That’s how I like to do it.
Kinda MF Doom style.
SN: Gotta have those multis in there, man.
Max, aside from being a producer, you’re also the drummer for a band called Ghost of Gwyneth, right?
MM: Wow, yeah that’s true!
What’s going on there?
MM: We’ve been writing some original stuff, we have some gigs coming up in June! I’ve been drumming in that band for like four years now.
Does being a drummer affect the way you approach a beat?
MM: Oh my god yeah, it helps a lot with arranging all the drums that go on within the beat. I find it really easy to have variations in the drums too.
A lot of bands and artists go through a lot of bad names before they find one they want to keep. What’s the worst name you’ve ever performed under?
SN: Awww man, that’s a good one. The thing is, I’ve never actually had like a proper rap moniker, so I have to go with my own name, which is Simon New [laughter] but that’s also my best and worst because I’ve never had anything else. I’ve had some really cheesy ideas, that’s for sure.
MM: The stuff that I’ve produced for hip hop has always gone out under the name Brainwatch, but some of the earlier electronica stuff that I made in grade 8 went out underneath the moniker “Evolve”.
SN: There was another one.
MM: Friendly Chemicals.
SN: That’s it. Oh man, for me, there are a whole ton about my last name. So like “New Kid on the Block” or “Ginger Beef” [laughter]. “The Gingerbread Man”? Nahh. I’m trying to find something where it’s not representing what I look like or who I am as a physical person, I’m trying to represent my body of work, you know what I mean?
Shout out to all the redheads suffering from Simon’s problems out there.
SN: Ginger rappers, we really out here.
Do you guys have any gigs planned with the release of the album?
SN: We’ve got a gig booked for August 21st at Astorino’s with the Safe Amplification Site Society, so that’s gonna happen.
MM: We might have some other little gigs here and there, just some stuff to get our music out there.
Who are some other Vancouver rappers we should be looking at?
SN: Well, I gotta say, we did a track with K-Rec not too long ago ago, and he’s an insane DJ.
MM: He did some scratching and work on our album too, he’s featured on there. We played a show with him last year too.
SN: In the summer we’ll probably keep recording and try to take a different approach to our music, see if we can come up with a more cohesive EP.
MM: After the tape drops we’re gonna get our focus on.
SN: We just gotta keep making music and just never stop. We’re going for it here.
MM: Balls to the wall.
SN: Balls to the wall.
Click here to check out Thoughtwatch