“We notorious,” goes the opening line in the Rascalz’ 1998 CanCon classic “Northern Touch.” Two decades later, that statement rings especially true for Canada. Whether it be the top of the Billboard charts or the sports world, the Great White North has found a new gear, producing more world-famous talent at a higher rate than ever. So we’re capturing a few of those rising stars before they go supernova. This is Northern Clutch.
The rap duo formerly known as The Airplane Boys and currently known as APB have a lot of love for the city of Toronto. And Trinity Bellwoods park. And their producers and friends and fans. Actually, they’ve got a lot of love for a lot of things.
That emotional generosity leads their punk-rock approach to R&B and rap that has grown even more poetic and energetic in their latest work, including ther latest single "Danger Zone." (Peep the music video for it below.) In founding member Jason Drakes’ own words, “nine out of ten sounds are just love.”
Love, rap, whatever, it sounds fucking cool and fun. Like a mosh pit of sonically-charged ideas. Like the auditory embodiment of Trinity Bellwoods on a warm October evening... with less bongo and more bass and snare.
Drakes and Mannie Serranilla have been friends since they were ten years old and making music together for just about as long. They gained acclaim early on as The Airplane Boys, booking a tour alongside Snoop Dogg and slots at Coachella and Osheaga.
Earlier this year, the best buds dropped their latest project, As We Speak, their first album since 2014’s Egos & Expectations and what they say is an exercise in the present.
In the latest episdoe of Northern Clutch, Complex Canada’s video producer Alex Navaez—who in a past life as a radio DJ used to play The Airplane Boys’ tracks on the air—took a video crew to the APB Bellwoods-adjacent lair to talk about coming up in TO, managing ego and friendship as a creative duo, and what fans can expect in the future. Check it out.
Let’s start off by talking about where we are and why this space is significant.
Mannie Serranilla: In the summer of 2017, our drummer and one of our best friends, Chino, moved into this place here in Trinity Bellwoods and it was a space where we just started chilling at, venting at, not even thinking we were going to create music here. And obviously being artists and musicians, as MCs and poets, we started writing, creating music here, and that's where we formed the body of work that we're going to release in 2020—here, the Trinity.
Jason Drakes: Yeah, man. It’s dope. The house is full of musicians. We're on the middle floor…. We'll walk for like three hours, come back in, and as soon as you put on the beat, as soon as we started jamming, the song would just kind of form. This whole, this whole place has been a place where we can kind of catch the vibe. You know, slept here, slept on the couch, slept on the floor and wake up in the vibe, turn on the computer, turn on the keys, and just watch as everything was formed. It’s organic.
I'm interested in your guys' trajectory, because I've known you guys like a decade now. What can you tell me about the evolution of Airplane Boys and APB. You guys were kids, for real!
Drakes: I think we came in very ambitious. And what was crazy was that our ambitions were matched with high-accolade things that were surprising to us to be receiving that early... So like, touring around the world, you know, doing a Coachella, Osheaga very early on, these things definitely, yeah, they felt great, but maybe we weren't in the most mature place to kind of understand what it was to sustain it. So we went through really high highs at a very early stage, but the last couple of years have allowed us to just look back and say, "OK, what could we have done here?"
Definitely taking a lot of time to study the business end of it as well. That's another side of it that we had a lot of help with in the beginning, but then we realized, “Yo, we gotta take it back.” So we had a lot of crazy experiences, but now it's like, "Alright cool, how do we gain control? How do we wear these other hats?” Cause it's necessary.
"The city provides a dope canvas. This park provides a dope canvas and our friendship and our connection with one another as human beings, man, they provide the ultimate colours that we throw onto that canvas."
Serranilla: Yeah man, all that. We used to reach for the clouds—funny, our name being The Airplane Boys—but what's helped us a lot is not rewiring, but adjusting our practices and habits. Cause when you're in the gym and you're lifting the heaviest weight but you don't have the right form, it could have some damages psychologically and energy wise that have nothing to do with the music even. And clearly we're still doing what we need to do because we’re showing the intent and we're operating from a pure place...
So one thing that we take pride in is that we did an escape to go exterior—we went further, deeper into where we started. And it started with the people. And then when we started collaborating with the people that we once loved and loved us and we felt ourselves again, then we started to create in a more lighter place. Jay and I went to our boys' cottage and we downloaded a free trial of Ableton with no pop filter, and we're accustomed to all these high-end studios because we were thrown into it and it was a blessing—we saw that, but this was the time for us to just unlayer, unwind, and just connect and engage with our art and what our voices were, what our mission was, not anyone else's. It’s a tough discipline, but once you find it, you just don't want to let go. And we found it. And man, I'm telling you, we shaped it to the best of our abilities and it's constantly moving. It's constantly working. And the city provides a dope canvas. This park provides a dope canvas and our friendship and our connection with one another as human beings, man, they provide the ultimate colours that we throw onto that canvas. And that's where we're at.
Let's talk about the new project. Tell me what went into creating it.
Serranilla: Our new project is called As We Speak and one thing in the past is that we would always take pride and put so much energy and curate our live show. But when it came to the music, I wouldn't say that it wasn't our fullest offering, but it lacked discipline in the sense that the key communication level wasn't at that full frequency that we would do at our live show. Live shows would be like, “Yo, what if it sounded like this?” And when we did art back then, we were low on funds and we would sneak into studios, or if we had to pay for a time, we would have to cram it. And so we taught ourselves to just express in this limited time. And after that happened, we started to realize that our strength is in speaking about our music and performing the music.
And if we want to elevate to our highest calling and what we believe it to be, then we got to go full circle and make sure that the records offer it when people listen in their car or in any state they're in, any world they're in, any place they're in; that they understand our intent and can shape whatever they take from it. And one thing that's helped Jay and I mentally lately is focusing on our spiritual growth and the only way for us to grow that was to be present… When I hear our music, it's nothing but our collection of stories of being present and how we talk to each other to heal, our self-healing owed to ourselves.
Drakes: Yeah, a hundred per cent, that's exactly what it is. It's definitely derived from the challenges of dealing with the deal, you know what I mean? Just life and being in the danger zone of what it is to realize your dreams and not realize your dreams. Lyrically, we're touching on these things and those really vulnerable places, as well as a bit of a political analysis... It's basically us kind of explaining how we've let go of the wheel. But it's still energetic and sonically there's a punk-rock type feel to it in certain sections, and then it does wind down into a more R&B, even and atmospheric type landscape. We carry the thread of being present and spiritual, and that is the answer as to how we elevate ourselves out of our stress and how we've overcome our challenges… Our producers have allowed us to just paint the canvases that they presented. It's just more tasteful and allows room for our voices to be heard and the message to be clear. So that's a big difference in the music now. And, yeah, it’s just love at the end of the day, you know? Nine out of ten sounds are just love.