Tapas is the name of a new hip hop trio in Ottawa, but they’re anything but rookies. The group consists of two of Ottawa’s finest MC’s—G.Grand, and Hyf—along with locally-renowned producer Jeepz behind the beats. Together they are a force to be reckoned with.
What’s so special about a hip hop crew like this getting together?
I would argue that good chemistry is more crucial in hip hop than more than any other type of music. Not only do the styles and flow need to weave together well, but each MC also needs to offer something different to the music. Think of Wu Tang Clan, El-P and Killer Mike, Talib Kweli and Mos Def, Andre 3000 and Big Boi, Q-Tip and Phife—all the great groups have a push-pull dynamic, working off each other’s style while contributing to the larger work. While each MC is undoubtedly extraordinary in their own right, in the case of hip hop, the sum is greater than the parts.
This is the case with Tapas. Individually, G.Grand and Hyf are well-respected in the music community and considered examples of intelligent, talented MC’s in Ottawa. Hyf is the stage name of Sergio Guerra, an accomplished Salvadorian-born MC, poet, and producer who is also part of the slam poetry/hip hop ensemble called Missing Linx, along with well-known artists Just Jamaal, Cannon2x, PrufRock Shadowrunner. He is also the co-founder of the local avant-garde label, Nationaless Mind Records, which has an impressive roster of artists and continues to push traditional boundaries in the music industry with a progressive agenda and mission. Hyf is also a two-time Canadian Festival of Spoken Word finalist, and has garnered local praise over the years for his broad lyrical vocabulary and sharp phrasing and flow.
G.Grand grew up in London, ON, listening to soul, R&B, and rap as well as a diverse group of musicians with whom his father worked as a manager in the 1990’s. He moved to Ottawa for university and started cutting his teeth as an MC recording tracks throughout his undergrad at UofO. While exploring his new path as a musician, in 2010 Grand was introduced to producer and future collaborator, Jean-Paul Tyo—better known in the Ottawa/Gatineau music community as Jeepz.
Jeepz is, by far, one of the most proficient and versatile producers in the Ottawa area. His style is informed by the smooth, groovy beats from the golden era of hip hop in the 1980’s. Drawing on the methods of game-changing producers from this time–notably the late J Dilla–Jeepz has constructed a sonic bridge for us to experience hip hop in the same way that listeners of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and The Pharcyde might have in the past.
His tracks give off an air of perfectionism, in the sense that each layer and each tone is intricately fine-tuned to create a truly “vintage boom-bap” sound. As a multi-instrumentalist, Jeepz started working on beats with his first drum set in grade seven, learning the ins and outs of rhythm while continuously trying his hand at new technologies by which he could make music. Over the years, he continually pushed himself to be better, and now he is two-time Ottawa Beat League champion.
Call it fate, or luck, but this chance meeting of ingenuitive minds was the start of a partnership that truly unlocked the skills and potential of Grand, Hyf, and Jeepz.
“The things that never change are an appreciation for quality and craftsmanship in the music and the understanding that hip-hop culture is always evolving,” explains Grand. “Making sure that we stay open-minded to new elements of the culture while still being able to call out aspects that we think are less positive has become more important as we’ve grown up with hip-hop.”
The trio that is Tapas is therefore a well-oiled hip hop machine, with plenty of years of experience behind them. Their self-titled album transcends any specific style and flow of hip hop, dipping into the vintage-era sounds and samples on tracks like “Loop it Up,” but also tracks like “Gotta Love It” that touch on modern-era methods that favour sub-divided hi-hats, heavy kicks, and layered synthesizers.
“The sound is just a natural extension of making the music we want to hear right now,” says Grand. “We didn’t force anything, but we wanted to make sure that we were pushing our sound forward and challenging ourselves to try new things.”
“I hope people recognize the work that we put into this in terms of pushing ourselves lyrically and especially on production side to make a quality project. We also hope that people see that we’re proudly representing the Ottawa hip-hop community because our scene doesn’t get enough credit for producing some very dope artists.”
This article appears in the January edition of Ottawa Beat newsprint in the OSBX column.