The past year was a wildly successful one for Jon-C, Brooklyn and Charlie Fettah—better known as the hard-hitting aboriginal hip-hop group Winnipeg’s Most. The high point was undoubtedly the Sixth Annual Manito Ahbee Festivals’ Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards (APCMAs), at which the group won in all six of the categories in which they were nominated: best duo or group, best producer/engineer, best music video for “All That I Know,” best album cover design for GoodFellaz, best rap/hip-hop CD for GoodFellaz, and single of the year for “Don’t Stop.”
Despite their success, Winnipeg's Most haven't escaped a troubled past. The group's label, Heatbag Records, gets its name from a slang term for a gangster, and within weeks of this interview Brooklyn was arrested for breaches of probation and assault charges, and at press time remains in jail awaiting a court date. Jon-C has a drug charge he still must answer for, and third member Fettah (who is not native) recently served time. In a profile of the group on the CBC documentary series 8th Fire (see below), filmmaker Wab Kinew observed that "they can't shed the heatbag image; it's not clear they even want to."
Were you surprised to get all those awards at the APCMAs?
Brooklyn: We took six out of six! We never thought we were going to get six out of six. We would have been happy with one.
Jon-C: It’s the people who voted for the awards. It’s great to have support in our aboriginal community. If you can’t make it at home you can’t expect to make it in someone else’s city. During the shows, we’re out there taking pictures with everyone and giving autographs. We’re still the same guys we were, watching hip-hop acts coming through Winnipeg—it’s just that now we are also up there rapping.
What is it like to be an Aboriginal rap artist?
Brooklyn: Don’t get me wrong, I love that I am an aboriginal rapper, but we don’t want to box ourselves in. We want to make rap for everyone. We hope all Canada’s indigenous and nonindigenous people will have a chance to hear our Cinderella story. We are a voice for Canada.
Jon-C: Our aboriginal leaders are standing up and taking a stand with organizations such as the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Our leaders need to stand up and fight for who we are.
Can you tell us about Heatbag Records?
Jon-C: It is our Winnipeg local label, which we put together.
Brooklyn: We are being thought of as the next Wu Tang or Slaughterhouse Records. Jay Mak and Stomp are our producers, and without them Winnipeg’s Most wouldn’t be here. Much love to those guys.
What do you say to artists who might want to become a rap artist?
Jon-C: It’s 95 percent hard work—
Brooklyn: And five percent play.
Jon-C: It’s amazingly hard work. We taught ourselves everything and we have been independent from day one. We love making music, and that’s what it really comes down to.
How do you write your songs?
Brooklyn: We have literally stopped eating to write something. When you have a passion for your music.…
Jon-C: I have jumped out of bed at five in the morning, and I have jumped out of the shower to write down lyrics. It’s in your head, and it’s in your thoughts at all times. It’s almost soothing, you know?
Are you surprised by your success?
Jon-C: It’s mind-boggling; it’s still a shock to hear the responses that we’re getting at every show, in every city we go to. We can’t go anywhere without being recognized, that is an amazing feeling. We are out there personally on Facebook, and when we say thanks, it is directly from us.
Brooklyn: We sit there and answer everybody’s messages. Do you know how many hours that takes?
Can you talk about the track “Gonna Be Alright”?
Brooklyn: I wrote that song when I was in jail. Jon-C has helped me to grow up—he said to me, “We are better than that.” Without this dude beside me, honestly I would’ve fell off, for real. He’s been telling me what direction [to go] and has been keeping me on the right face, for real.
What about the track “Winnipeg Boy”?
Jon-C: It explains who we are. The hook came from a verse of “All That I Know”—I’m a Winnipeg Boy, that’s who I am; every tattoo on my body proves who I am. I have a lot of tattoos about Winnipeg. We are definitely inked-up.
What would you say to elders who may not understand hip-hop?
Jon-C: It is something to embrace because it is a new generation; it is a new world. We express it, we suppress it—we are doing a lot with it. It is hitting people’s hearts, and that is why we have people listening. It is taking their stories. As far as the elders, it’s always 100 percent respect. I just say it is not a bad thing. It’s soothing the soul, like any other genre of music.
What is next for Winnipeg’s Most?
Jon-C: This is just the start for us. This is only school day two. We’re just going to keep pumping out music.
Brooklyn: And we hope some real people hear what we’re doing out here.
Jon-C: We are an aboriginal-owned label, and we’re just doing our own thing.