The It Factor:
Interview with Tosha Dash...
There’s a verse in the song “You Don’t Know” that goes, “I don't mean nothing to you 'til I'm something to someone else / I'm nothing to lose 'til you lost me to somebody else.” Rapped over a moody, syncopated beat that trips over itself, the haunting lyrics are all at once laden with attitude, fury, and disdain. It’s this kind of boldness and technical self-assurance that makes the Candy Coated Killahz an emerging group to watch.
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Decidedly eclectic (a listen to their current EP sampler, Bloodsugar: The Mixtape reveals a rollercoaster of rousing beats, heavy bass, and fusions of old school tracks laced with frenzied vocals that give way to smooth rhymes), the Toronto-based duo effortlessly blends hip-hop, electronica, and pop influences to form an innovative type of trip-hop for the ages.
Fronted by visual artist and emcee ICON the Anomali and producer Tosha Dash, the duo has been making music together for over a hectic year, and show no sign of slowing down. But the group almost never came to fruition – it was a chance meeting that led to the formation of CCK. “I really never ask people to collaborate with me because I find that I'm a perfectionist,” Dash (who, in addition to producing, also splits vocals with ICON), explains. But after meeting ICON and discussing their mutual passion for music, she just couldn’t resist. “I just said, why don't you come by one day and we'll see how it goes. The first practice that we had together, I think we wrote two or three songs. So we're like, yeah, this is going to work.”
Dash credits the group’s diverse style to early music influences that have stuck, including The Fugees and 90s dance music. “I've been a musician my whole life so I've been into a lot of different styles along the way. I started off really liking The Fugees and 90s pop, house and dance. And then I got into alternative. I listened to a lot of The Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana. Then I kind of got back into The Fugees, and that kind of sound always stuck with me. But the 90s dance and electronic influences also stuck with me. When everyone was kind of getting into trip-hop and Portishead, I never grew out of that. I really liked that kind of dark sound.” It’s this diverse mix of influences that has allowed CCK to cultivate their distinctly out-of-the-box style, which is most commonly compared to OutKast’s experimental sound.
“TLC and Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes, that's where I draw on my lyrical flow because I pretty much learned to rap from her,” Dash continues. “When I was a little kid, I used to memorize all of her raps, so that's something that's definitely in the lyrical vein. The Portishead slash more electronic stuff is definitely in the beats that I make. I play a lot of instruments but I tend to try to keep everything really synth-based when I produce. I don't sample a lot of my own guitar playing or piano playing, it's just usually all in the computer.”
And it’s in this computer where Dash creates most of the group’s sound. As producer, Dash is credited with the quick-fire beats and smooth lines that permeate in CCK’s sound. An interest in music eventually turned into a passion for a career in production, which has been going strong for over three years. “I've always played in a lot of bands. I played this instrument or that instrument. And then when I started university and moved away from home, I stopped doing a lot of the bands that I was in, but I didn't want to stop doing music. I just didn't know how to do a lot of the things on the computer, like the actual production side of things. For a bit I was doing singer-songwriter stuff, like me and my guitar, but I was getting bored of that because I really like the big sound – lots of stuff happening. So I hunted people down that already knew what they were doing and I picked their brains and got them to tell me everything they could tell me, and I just kind of ran with it.”
Being a female producer in a male-dominated industry can be both off-putting and empowering. “I think that being a female producer is actually a selling point for me. I think the music speaks for itself, so people hear us and immediately assume that [ICON] produced it, and then they find out that I did it and they're kind of like, ‘Oh!’ So I think it's definitely something that people remember and they take away from our shows. If people hear that I'm a producer before they actually hear our songs, I think I get something more like, ‘Oh, that's cute, a girl making music.’ They don't expect that it'll be any good. I definitely get a lot of reactions from it.”
But that hasn’t stopped Dash from honing her skills as a producer. The group has just put out a six-track EP sampler, Bloodsugar: The Mixtape, which is currently streaming on their website, as well as myspace, Reverb Nation, and Facebook. The EP was a labour of love for Dash, who worked on the album over the summer. “There were a lot of people who were asking for a CD, something to have to take home, and I thought, the album won't be done and I don't want to rush it, so I thought I'd do something like a sampler. Most of the songs [on the sampler] were songs that were really popular with our fans and people who come to our shows. The songs show the spectrum of who we are and where we're going.”
As for the next step, Dash is adamant about keeping the integrity of the music. “We're in a lot of talks with several people,” Dash says of CCK’s future home. In fact, they’ve already been approached by a lawyer representing G-Unit, who has signaled interest in their first album. But this doesn’t phase Dash. “I want to build a ground following before we go to the labels because I don't really want to be walked all over by the big label, saying do this or do that. I feel that if a group comes from a more indie perspective, you might be able to stand your ground a little bit more. I find that the electro-pop scene in Toronto is a lot more supportive. Fans really like the bands. I think that of all the music scenes that we have in Toronto, that one is probably the most supportive for independent artists.”
In addition to performing in live shows and promoting their newly released EP sampler, CCK also plans to release their first full-length album in February 2008. The album will feature two of Dash’s favourite songs, “Booty Bounce” and “Rich Kids.” The latter is a response to the current state of hip-hop culture that sees consumerism as a gauge of popularity. “’Rich Kids’ is saying, yes we can do hip-hop, we can still do things that are cool, without flaunting all this money. It's kind of in your face.”
As everyone knows, a song isn’t complete without a video, and Dash reveals that the duo plans to release two. “A friend of mine, Esmond Ruslim, has a production company called R-U-Slim Productions. He's done a lot of independent movies and he's feeling up to the challenge of doing music videos so we've been meeting once a week to kind of flush out ideas. I think one video will probably be for ‘Another Way,’ and the other one will most likely be for ‘Booty Bounce.’ It's going to be fun and with a lot of personality, not like a shiny, MTV-kind of music video.”
Dash is not only a poised, down-to-earth, and personable music maker, but she’s also a compassionate teacher. She fills most of her days by working as Head Producer at Beats.Mind.Movement, a government- and private donor-funded program hosted by UrbanArts Toronto. The program aims to teach its students the basics of music production. Beats.Mind.Movement has been running for less than a year, but favourable response, not to mention a cool instructor, has already prompted a visit from Michaëlle Jean, the Governor-General of Canada. “All the art agencies got together to talk about how we'd all do more of a co-ordinated outreach effort. We're all coming up against the same obstacles, like reaching the kids, getting funding, making sure that our programs are sustainable. The Governor General was really interested in that dialogue, so she came and specifically asked to see our program in action. I spent a couple of minutes with her, showing her how to make a beat. She's really interested and she's asked to be invited back.”
Utilizing her affinity for music and a degree in psychology, Dash runs four classes a week in fall and spring sessions. Students range in age from eight to twenty-four, and come from all skill levels. “We built portable stations, so there are eight of these big wooden cases with a laptop, a MIDI controller and some headphones, and they're all on wheels. So we go to four different locations and I run pretty much the same class at those four different locations. I structured the curriculum in a way so that kids who have no experience can start late,” Dash elaborates.
“The [computer] program that I use is called Reason. I find it's the easiest to learn when you have no experience, so on the first day I teach [my students] how to program a drum machine to make the beat that they want. It's all synth-based. They have a keyboard in front of them and a little drum pad so that they can play the drums. Really, they don't need anything else. I think a lot of kids steer away from making music because they think it's going to be hard or they don't have the money for it. It's really nice to be able to go out there and say, ‘If you have the computer, and you have the program, and you have a little keyboard, you can make anything that you want.’ At the end of each full session, I take the best beats that the kids have made, tweak a little here and there to get the sound up to recording quality, and make a CD for them.” In addition to the CD keepsake, Dash also streams her students’ songs at the program’s official website on myspace.
“I think it's a really nice outlet for these kids. A lot of the programs, especially arts programs, target younger kids because they're just easier to manage – you know, managing an eight year old versus managing a nineteen year old with an attitude problem. A lot of these kids never have any programs that are geared towards them, especially something that they want to do. So this comes in and it's music that they want to do, something that they've wanted to learn for a while. We sit there and have a lot of fun. It's better than them wandering around the neighbourhood getting up to mischief, which is what a lot of them would be generally doing.”
In such a short time, it’s evident that Beats.Mind.Movement has made an impact on the communities that it aims to help. Dash recalls an especially touching moment. “Some of the other youth workers cooked a big dinner in anticipation of Thanksgiving. We all had to go around the table and say one thing that we were thankful for, and two of the students actually said that they were really thankful for my program. They're not like the mushy kind of kids – they can be mouthy when they want to be – so for them to say something nice like that means that underneath it all, the kids really like it.”
Despite the positive impact of the program, resources are still scant. “I think we could reach a lot more youth if we had more people,” Dash says. “But obviously that's a funding issue. If we had more stations and maybe another Head Producer or someone to work with, then we'd be able to run two sessions per night. I only have four nights a week and I can only run one spot at a time so really, I kind of have to pick and choose what makes the most sense to run. So I think that, really, if we could get more funding, to get more resources, then we can access all the communities we want.”
A hectic schedule doesn’t leave much time for unwinding. When Dash isn’t working at Beats.Mind.Movement, she’s producing music or promoting CCK. “I've been really lucky in that what I do professionally is what I would do in my spare time anyway,” Dash says, smiling. Still, it comes as no surprise that this driven producer also plans on starting a two-girl DJ crew, tentatively named Big Booty Bitches. “The friend that I'm doing it with, she has no experience in DJing either, but both of us are musicians and are music-savvy. We're just getting our equipment together and getting a song list and learning from other DJs, that kind of thing. We're not in a hurry, that's more like a fun side project that we're doing. We're trying to learn slowly and build ourselves up.”
So what’s next for this multi-talented producer? “I would like to be doing the same thing, just on a bigger scale. I'm not the kind of person that's like hunting down fame or anything like that. I'd really like to have a solid international fan base, just because at that kind of level, you're flying under the radar just enough so that you can have artistic control of your stuff and you can always make sure that your albums are selling and that you have good support, and that's really what I'd like to be doing.”
And with someone like Tosha Dash, you get the feeling that the sky’s the limit. ¤ C.Ho.
For more information on the Candy Coated Killahz, including upcoming shows and album updates, visit their official website at www.candycoatedkillahz.com.
For more information about Beats.Mind.Movement, including session dates, locations, and class availability, visit www.myspace.com/beatsmindmovement or e-mail Tosha Dash at email@example.com.