Hip-hop producer Factor is the Saskatoon equivalent of Carmen Sandiego — you just never know where in the world he’s going to be.
Playing shows in Japan, mixing instrumentals in Xzibit’s Los Angeles mansion or spilling drinks on your shoes at a Saskatoon hip-hop show — it’s always a mystery where the elusive Factor is hiding out.
Factor recently reunited with Oakland, Calif. emcee Kirby Dominant — together, Factor and Dominant are known as Paranoid Castle — and on Aug. 30 they released their latest album, Champagne Nightmares!
Although Dominant is Californian, he calls Saskatoon as his “second home.” It’s where he met Factor roughly a decade ago.
“The reason I wanted to come to Saskatoon in the first place is because it’s the birthplace of Joni Mitchell. I’m a big Joni Mitchell fan,” Dominant said over the phone from New York.
Dominant recorded verses on the producer’s debut studio release, Time Invested. Two Paranoid Castle albums later and the twosome are still collaborating on a litany of projects.
Dominant said he has enjoyed watching Factor progress as a musician.
“He’s grown. I’ve known him since he was 18 with pimples and shit,” he said.
Champagne Nightmares! might just be Factor’s best studio release to date. The album has been in the works for nearly half a decade. It all began with Factor emailing Dominant an instrumental in 2006. That beat became the lead single and first music video of the album.
Rhyming at unfathomable speeds one minute, then altering and singing the next, Dominant’s flow and intelligent lyrics give him style and substance. Factor’s production efforts on Champagne Nightmares! match Dominant’s impeccable lyrical ability.
The album also features a decent cross-section of Saskatoon musicians. Factor reached out to Reform Party musicians and former Volcanoless in Canada bandmates, bass player Enver Hampton and guitarist Levi Soulodre. Saskatoon turntable guru The Gaff can also be heard scratching on “Orca” and homegrown vocalist Kirby Criddle appears on “Some Place Else.”
Tracks like “The Audacity of Me,” “D.U.I.” and “Stacey is Doing Way Too Much” feature heavy synth and upbeat drums and reveal Factor’s electronic side.
“That’s probably one of the most electronic songs I’ve ever made,” Factor said of “D.U.I.”
Though neither Factor or Dominant have been charged with intoxicated driving, they’re hoping “D.U.I.” will enlighten listeners.
“I’ve had lots of friends who have had [citations] so I just kind of do the strict rule of not drinking and driving,” said Factor.
In “Weed Man,” Hampton’s bass melds beautifully with Factor’s old-school hip-hop drums and Dominant’s satirical angle on purchasing marijuana.
Dominant injects “Weed Man” with a healthy dose of irony, scrutinizing the lazy, unreliable pot dealer archetype. Like in “D.U.I.,” Paranoid Castle strays away from glorification. Rather, it pokes fun at marijuana culture.
Despite its heavy party content, Champagne Nightmares! has its share of laid-back, poetic selections too. Although Dominant and Factor partake in their fair share of partying, when their time in the spotlight is done, they know it’s not always glamour and glitz.
“It’s kind of the double play that champagne isn’t always bliss when you’re on it,” explained Factor. “There’s the champagne and there’s the nightmares and its both sides to the story.”
This concept behind Champagne Nightmares! speaks loudest on the track “Feeling Inside,” in which Dominant has a magic mushroom-induced epiphany at the edge of the ocean.
“Over the last year I’ve been dealing with family dying and shit,” said Dominant. “I lost both of my brothers, my aunt passed, my grandmother passed.”
This is the true essence of Champagne Nightmares! — embracing the bittersweet.
Brilliant in every possible way, Paranoid Castle’s Champagne Nightmares! is packed with enough potential to emerge as a classic album of Saskatoon hip-hop.
photo: Stuey Kubrick