Imagine the embarrassment: You hear this fresh new sound on the radio. Something you've never heard before - a rap tune free of gangsta posturing, with a little rock thrown in and a catchy hook on top. Pedal to the Metal, it's called, apparently a song about driving fast. Can't get enough of those. It sorta sounds like a less-obnoxious Kid Rock.
"Cool," you think. "Who is this guy? Kazzer? Never heard of him."
You excitedly tell your friends about this great new talent - especially Joe, who has a veritable shrine of black rap stars plastered on his wall. Pausing his 50 Cent CD for a moment, Joe promptly informs you that this Kazzer guy is a complete poseur, a sham, a pretender to the great legacy that is rap music. Are you aware that Kazzer is a middle-class white guy from a small town in Southern Ontario who happens to be a judo champion? There goes your street cred, dude. In short, he sucks.
Oh, the shame ...
The preceding is based on an actual conversation. In a phone interview to advance his show at the Powerplant tomorrow night, Kazzer says he has no idea why he'd get dissed by a posse of wiggers from Edmonton - "Was I supposed to have gone to jail?" - but he must've known he'd get flack. More than one track on his debut album, Go For Broke, addresses his critics, though he didn't have any when he made it. Maybe it's a pre-emptive strike.
"I don't think I need to talk about that anymore," the rapper says. "It's off my chest. It's more about writing songs, and I know there's a lot of songs on Go For Broke that could stand the test of time."
He adds that he welcomes strong reactions. Whether they're strongly negative or strongly positive hardly matters. Indifference is death in the music business.
"I'll tell you this: When I was making this record, I was living in a van and doing judo on the national team for four years and I wasn't making a dollar. I was dishing out the beatings. I was getting the beatings. That was paying my dues, you know?"
These were legal, sanctioned beatings, of course. Whether he can get some sort of "dues equivalency carryover" into show business remains to be seen. He at least knows about competition. As an athlete, Kazzer points out, when you win, people love you. Lose one fight and you're the Vanilla Ice of competitive martial arts. Kazzer coulda been a contenda, but it was his failure to make the Canadian team for the 2000 Olympics that set him on the path to music. "I needed a break," he says. Kazzer initially claims that judo has little to do with music, other than getting his body in shape for effective breakdancing, but he later states that "everything" in his life relates to judo.
"You're constantly trying to better yourself, trying to get stronger, in better condition, have more discipline and have more technique. I'm already a workaholic and I think judo installed (sic) that in me. Not a lot of people can write songs, let alone put out a record. It takes a lot of time and effort. I'm a perfectionist, so I have to be very disciplined. It all comes back to doing judo and being ready to go."
Let's talk about street cred. "What the hell is street cred?" Kazzer asks, rhetorically. The 26-year-old rapper grew up in Binbrook, Ont., just far enough outside of Hamilton to disqualify it from suburbia. One fine country day, big brother brought home a recording of Walk This Way by Run DMC, the first example of mainstream culture embracing hip-hop (or was it the other way around?) - and "That was it. I was in." Here we have the first of the many trials of Hercules, as it were. Imagine being into rap, breakdancing and all the other stuff that goes with hip-hop while all your friends are into Rush and Led Zeppelin. Mom didn't understand, either.
"She was just really worried about the people I was hanging around with," Kazzer says. "I grew up in the country and I started hanging out with inner-city kids and discovering the hip-hop subculture that was in Hamilton. I would start writing songs, breakdancing, recording. I'd bring home demos and say, 'Check this out, mom.' She'd say, 'Why are you rapping? That's just a fad.' A lot of people thought rap was a fad, especially in southern Ontario."
Of course it turned out not to be a fad and now we have to live with it - including being tolerant of white rappers who may have just as much credibility as black ones.
In hindsight, Kazzer figures, it may have been a good thing that he didn't make the judo team.
"There's definitely more of a career in music," he laughs. "Judo is not exactly the most high profile sport. And music is a lot easier on your body. I really hope that I can fight again and I think in a perfect world I'd sell a lot of records, be able to have a big tour and bring some judo guys on tour and train and be able to still fight."
Judo guys as roadies, eh? Note to self: Don't heckle Kazzer. By the way, judo involves grappling, holds and throws. There is no such thing as a "judo chop." Just thought you might be interested.