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Kay the Aquanaut’s latest album showcases the best in local hip hop

By in Culture

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   Living in Saskatoon has given Kay the Aquanaut enough inspiration for six full albums. However, for his seventh album it was the unfamiliar surroundings of Taiwan that ultimately produced the 18 tracks that became Nickelodeon Ethics.

   “The early writing for the project was more therapeutic than anything else,” said Kay, real name Kristian Palowski. “And, unlike the writing process for any of my other projects, this one was definitely a bit more overwhelming for me.”

   Living in Taipei, with a population of nearly three million, was definitely a change of pace for the prairie MC.

   “At first, it was very intense and hard to be focused creatively but in the end I think it was a blessing,” he said.

   Once he started channeling his energy into his music, it took only a month to write the album. It is a collection of dense, witty tracks with equally tight production. In the past, Kay usually worked with a single producer for a whole album but this time around he enlisted the help of three separate people, Joe Dub, M.phasis and Factor.

   “For me, I see production as a reflection of the producer’s personality, and all of them inspired me in different ways on this album,” he said.

   The different approaches are audible on Nickelodeon Ethics but come together surprisingly well as one album. From the booming “Who Needs Enemies” to the carnival sound of “Nickel and Dime” to the wistful “Variety,” the album is a diverse soundscape.

   Kay also invited many friends and local MCs to collaborate on the album. In fact, the entire Saskatoon hip hop scene is tightly-knit and supportive of each other.

   “Saskatoon has one of the most dedicated hip hop scenes in North America,” said Kay. “To a lot of touring acts this is one of the most appreciative and supportive fan bases that you can get, especially in comparison with the rest of Canada.”

   It is also in Saskatoon that Kay developed his musical tastes and ultimately his musical style. He describes growing up in a musical family and being exposed to all sorts of sounds as a child. But when he started refining his own tastes, he was drawn to the dynamic world of hip hop.

   “It was way more cool and original than a lot of the post ’80s drab that was passing as pop music on the radio and it clearly captivated me. The whole culture of meshing different art styles — like rapping, graffiti and dancing — to represent the people was refreshing for me and more in touch with the essence of music as a way of life.”

   Growing up in a place where hip hop was not the dominant style of music sometimes made it challenging for Kay, but the dedication of Saskatoon’s scene made it possible for him to still partake in the culture.

   “Kids take the Internet for granted these days and don’t realize the struggles of trading mix tapes, radio shows and vinyl that existed in the ’90s. It was this unity of the fans that made this scene so attractive for me.

   “There was just a lot of dope people and talented artists coming together through the music here, and I got inspired.”

   If growing up in Saskatoon has affected Kay’s music in any significant way, it may be the way in which he eschews the obvious boasting and self-aggrandizement that comes with being an MC. Instead, there is a strong emphasis on the cerebral, for example, by promoting “brain over brute force” or lamenting, “My generation loves money more than their brain.”

Kay says this theme in his music is borne out of his frustration with the “George W.” phase of the last decade in which “ignorance and idiocy was regularly promoted and on display by the most powerful players in the world.” This celebration of ignorance bled into popular music as well, leading to bands like the Black Eyed Peas dominating the charts.

“If the success of ”˜Lady Lumps’ is an accurate representation of the youth and the attitude of North America’s future then I stand corrected,” said Kay. “But, I do think that this success is more a result of the corporate war on the consumer and has less to do with… the youth’s musical tastes.”

He continues: “In time, the music will win out and we can finally end this era of embarrassment.

Kay the Aquanaut’s clever style will be on display Jan. 7 at Amigos where he will perform with Kid Kriss and Post Modern Hippies.

Music Video: Who Needs Enemies?

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