Hanging With Cyber-Rap
I'll be the first to admit that I thought DJ Cyber-Rap was a hoax. So when he agreed to meet me at The Second Cup in The Annex, I jumped at the opportunity. I expected some young kid to show up, ready to fess up and let me in on the joke. I surely didn't expect seeing Ron MacDougall AKA DJ Cyber-Rap walk through the door and straight up to the counter. Only after ordering a large Hot Chocolate did he finally look around the room. I waved him to my table and turned on my recorder. "I haven't done many interviews" he says as he takes his chair.
Zach: Tell me a bit about yourself. Your family history and growing up?
DJ Cyber-Rap: Holy Ritz Crackers, where to begin!?
Well, I was the second born in a family with four children. My sister Margaret was first, then Ronnie, then Barbara, and finally my little brother Dean, who I pray for on "Dear God" off my record. But we had what the sociologists call a double-nuclear family; that's 2 children from each gender. What else? The MacDougalls were one of the first settlers in The Annex, and I still live in the old place today. Dean's got his own crib in Little Italy, not far away, and my sisters live together in the city now, we're not really that close anymore. So in the MacDougall manor it's just me and Brendan, and of course Bren's got his own life, so it's mostly just yours truly these days. Ladies, send me an e-mail! Heh, just kidding. But don't let that stop you!
As for growing up, Ron always had to fight to get noticed. Maybe that's why I've always been drawn to being an entertainer, even when I worked in insurance, I'd dream of wailing on my guitar next to Bon Jovi. Anyway, at the MacDougall dinners - especially the big family dinners and luncheons dad liked to put on, this would have been in the late 50s, mind you - I'd have to ask for someone to pass the corn on the cob numerous times! Just as an example, here's my imitation of me, as a child, asking to pass the corn on the cob: "Hello! Could somebody pass the plate of corn on the cob? I've already requested it over three times, and it looks so sweet, dripping with hot melted butter!" But that was just the way it was back then - most kids had a hard time obtaining corn on the cob. But anyone my age, especially from The Annex, will tell you that.
Releasing your debut album at 59 can't help but make people wonder: why now?
Well, I'd been in a rock band in my 20s you know. Political rock, content about how the Vietnam War wasn't hip and so on, and I thought it was pretty good... but you know, the hipsters in this city have always been hard to win over in terms of warming up to your groove. you feel me? So anyway, we had a big blowout show at The Horseshoe Tavern back in the days when the bar was just a mess, a real dingy place, and a place where you could get into a fight just for buying some bourbon for another guy woman while he's in the toilet, even though it was an accident. What was the question?
Why release an album now?
Oh yes, right, I was getting to that. So we had our band, The Anti-Nammers, and I'd be up there, singing some pretty inflammatory stuff you know, we had tracks with names like "This War Is Square" and, you know, "Stop The Merciless Brutality Happening In Vietnam", we really meant it. But people started throwing bottles at us, and our bassist just stopped playing and left the stage as a result, so we had to finish the set without Bruce. Then The Toronto Star's little blurb on it came out the next day, and I think they said something about the music sounding a little too Neil Young-inspired, and I won't tell you what they said about my lyrics. So I thought I was finished with music, and I pretty much was for the next 20 years. But you know Zach, that creative mojo was always building up in me -- and anyone who's picked up the record knows DJ Cyber's got a lot on his noggin. So when Tom Lahey brought up doing a proper record, well, that was like turning the ignition.
What's harder, being a minority as a white rapper or as an old rapper?
Good question, good question. Well, The Slim Shady, that's Eminem for all you non-rap listeners, really paved the way for caucasian MCs such as myself, Fat Joe, Buttermilk C, Paul Wall, Bubblesparks, Kevin Federline, the list goes on. But as a senior ripping the mic, it's been no Sunday afternoon drive to Sault Ste. Marie, I'll say that. I've learned, no one is less welcome at a hip-hop open mic night than an older gentleman such as myself. Last November I had a bouncer shoving me out of a club that will go unnamed, telling me "this isn't karaoke, you know, this ain't karaoke, grandpops." Can you believe that donkey shit? I wanted to tell him, excuse me but I know what's karaoke and what's not karaoke, you imbicile! Also, urban radio and print press has been really unreceptive to Funeral... I got a really discouaging e-mail about my tunes from someone at Flow radio, and XXL and The Source are not returning my calls. Would hustling my raps be this hard if I was an Afro-American teenager who grew up on the streets? It's a question Ron wonders about a lot.
Your new album, Funeral is generating a lot of buzz. It was reviewed in Eye, and the Star and has been the center of discussion on Torontoist and Stilepost. What do you think of the kind of attention that you're recieving?
Holy Marv McMurray... it's incredible. I mean, The Star article number one, completely made up for what they'd said about my songwriting during the protest rock days, and as for Funeral getting four stars in Eye, and Chart saying my record was better and more danceable than MSTRKRFT's, Carl Wilson's coverage in the Globe & Mail and on his blog, it was all just, wow, you know? But what I can not agree with is all this hoopla and speculative balderdash that I am not who I claim to be. So I just want my fans to know, I'm Ronald "Robert" Marie MacDougall, nothing more, nothing less. Everyone in the media who's helped make me the king of both Toronto's indie rock and underground rap scenes, I really appreciate it, but please -- and pardon my Belgian -- but, stop disturbing the shit by drumming up all these rumours. The name's not Lindsay Lohan, OK?
Torontoist is asking "who is DJ Cyberrap"? Who is DJ Cyberrap?
DJ Cyber-Rap is the only artist in the city making quality hip-hop music. And I will stand by that until I D.I.E. -- who's feeling Ronald?
Why rap? Why not something more suitable for an old white man?
I guess Ron's never really played by the regulations, and me rapping no different. Plus, lookit: in a three-minute rock ballad, you don't really have the time to say what's really on your mind -- you gotta be real economical with the words. It's limiting. It's why all rock songs are the same "I love you, yeah, I want you to move back in with me, I apologize, I miss you, I want you, I miss your soft hair, your hair smells like delicious apples" and then the track's over. But hip-hop as a medium really lets me say what needs to get out there, uncut, live, and direct, straight to your dome-piece.
Tell me about your video.
It was just something we threw together one day after Funeral really broke through. Michael from the label, RHEA, kept saying we should get my face out there because people are taking this record as a joke. So I got together with the girls from Old Simon, who are also on the label, and the energy was really right. It just sort of came together, and I'm glad to have the chance to represent myself visually, just so there's none of this "is he real?" quackbabble.
Which song are you most proud of and why?
"Sawdust" really was important to me, just to get that story out there. You know, you might see me dancing up a storm in some of these Richmond clubs, but Ron's really an introverted piece of crabcake at heart, so it's not easy for me to... excavate these memories that haunt me, you know? But Tom just came with the right beat, and I dunno, I feel like the track really says what happened, and explains why I really do this music thing.
What message would you like to give the kids today?
Wash your hands as often as possible. Bacteria is everywhere! If you could see all the bacteria that's currently on your hands, you'd go "Ew! Gross!" And then right after, you'd say, "You were right, Ron! Pass the Palmolive!"
What music do you listen to? What's the newest CD to catch your attention?
I listen to everything, from Wolf Parade to The Arcade Fire. Actually, I really dug the new Sam Roberts album -- actually, maybe I shouldn't say this, but Tom's been talking to his people, and he really digs my tunes, so there may possibly be a Sam and Cyber collaboration in the future. I don't wanna say it's 100%, but it's close. I'm just amazed that he's interested in the project at all. I also dig the MSTRKRFT record, and I'm just sorry that Funeral stole so much of its thunder. You guys did a wicked job!
Walk us through a typical day in your life.
Well, at 8 am every morning I get my bones rattled to life by my old-school-style CD-changer clock radio. Most of this summer I've had the Metric album Old World Underground, just a masterpiece, by the way, if you haven't heard it... but anyway, I've been waking up to Metric. Then I go for a walk, I usually pick up some free literature, Metro or 24, the city's got plenty of good rags. I come home and have some toast with rhubarb jam, some coffee, and some celery or carrots and spicy ranch dip, and watch Live With Regis and Kelly... I love The View. Sometimes I'll eat a whole bag of mini-marshmallows (my favorite treat) while watching Barbara and the crew. When I get bored, I head down to the net cafe to see what my stillepost.ca posse is up to, and during the school year, sometimes I'll visit Brendan at UTS, sit in on one or two of his classes. Lately I've been doing a lot of meditating before bed. It's been really relaxing - but sometimes, too relaxing... OK, I'll just come right out and say it: since I've started meditating, I've urinated in my bed twice. First time that's happened in over four decades! But, as with a lot of the junk life tosses your way, it's a trade off.
Why did you decide to work with Laura Barret, Wes Allen, etc.?
They begged me! Heh, no I'm totally yanking your jinglers. I worked with Laura, Wes, Ninja High School, Pyramid Culture, Major Grange, and everyone else, because to me, they are some of the coolest and most talented people in this city, along with a few others, of course Garbage Violence Enthusiasm, and The Riptorns are radical too. Death From Above 1979 also had a really heavy sound... when Tom, who's friends with Jesse, told me they'd broken up, no word of a lie, I wept. Then I played their album, and wept while listening to it. What makes their story sadder, too, is the fact that Chart said my record was better than MSTRKRFT's -- boys, don't hate me! I honestly wasn't trying to outdo you, Jesse Keeler! But I was very lucky to work with everyone who blessed me with an appearance. The people on my record are also in my will.
What was the most difficult part of making Funeral?
Keeping it real. Having the courage to be true to Ronald Marie. Having the intestinal fortitude to just be Ron, and to reach deep down into my life with my hands and resurface with some of the realest shit ever pressed to vinyl.
You did a vinyl run of the album?
No, I was just speaking figuratively. But the album is available at Soundscapes.
To get in touch with Cyber-Rap or to drop him a line, head on over to his MySpace page.
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