Monday, July 22, 2019

The Beat: William Russ

In The Beat we check out producers who craft beats with our apps. Join us today to find out about William Russ, a producer, father, and actor from Haida Gwaii, British Columbia.

William Russ been making hip-hop beats since after secondary school and played a lead role in Edge of the Knife , a film with a script completely in the endangered Haida language recounting a traditional story. Since the film's premiere in September, it has won several awards in Canada, and internationally. Although there are many musician/actors, William's story is different than most-- he grew up on a Native reservation in British Columbia, Canada called Haida Gwaii. The Haida people have an ancient and rich culture which has informed William's art since childhood. I had the opportunity to chat with William about his inspirations and recent work.

First, I wanted to know how Haida culture affected his music writing. William told me, "Haida culture has four rules that one must follow, Respect, Ask First, Make It Right, and Everything Depends On Everything Else. So, all acts must be done with respect, all acts must be done with consent, if an act is not done with respect or consent, or is witnessed, you must make it right, and take only what you need, because if you take too much you can destroy the balance of nature. So those responsibilities created the perfectionist side of my character. I used that to learn and work at being the best Hip Hop producer that I could be.”

After listening to traditional Haida music, which is very different from hip-hop, I couldn't help but wonder what elements of the culture shined through in his own music.

"Haida people are very much a strong-willed nation willing to stand up for what's right and fight the powers that be -- and Hip Hop, when I first got into it, had the same energy.  It shared the same stand up for yourself and your people vibe that was ingrained in me... It was another way of self-expression that I had never heard before. And it was real. We as Haida people are taught to keep it truthful (keep it real) and that made Hip Hop so much better than anything else."

William told me that, although hip-hop is one of the main genres of music on Haida Gwaii today, when he was growing up this wasn't the case. However, when he did discover hip-hop, he became obsessed.

"My great grandmother was half Haida and half Black, and she was my favourite person in the world. She had this loving and caring nature that was infectious, so I looked for ways to connect with that part of my culture and found Hip Hop. It was like having audio books, and history books for the ears. So I would spend all of my money from after school jobs on as many Hip Hop albums as I could get my hands on. I would have to wait weeks for my special orders to come in from the city, and I would be impatient as hell going to the store every day to check if they had come in yet."

After being encouraged by his girlfriend and coworkers, William reluctantly tried out for the Edge of the Knife. Without any previous acting experience, William impressively got a lead role in the film. He told me that once he got the role, "I made it a personal goal of mine to kill it every time I had to get on camera and do my part. I spent hours and hours of sleepless nights working on the language on my own and with the elders who speak Haida fluently to get everything just right." After proving to himself that he could accomplish great things, William returned to making music after over two years. Now, with the iMPC Pro 2, he is constantly making beats that sound pretty damn good. I asked him how.

William on set.
"Man, coming back to Hip Hop music has been such a blessing. Before the movie, I had several downs in my life and the inspiration to make music wasn't there anymore, I was tired of my programs on my PC crashing and losing beats, and I wasn't in the headspace to make music anymore. I lost confidence in my product and it faded away for at least two years. I thought I was done forever with music and tried to move on with my life. Then a friend of mine told me about iMPC Pro 1. I had always wanted an MPC, so I purchased it and started hitting the pads. From there, iMPC Pro 2 came out with full song making capabilities.

I opened up the iMPC University program and realized what a powerful D.A.W. this program really is. I banged out my first complete beat called “ MC ” in about 25 mins, and like Hip Hop and I, it seemed like the perfect fit. The fact that I could hit pads made me love making music all over again. In only a short couple of weeks I've completed a full instrumental album and working on my second. Hopefully soon I'll start writing rhymes again and have a full Hip Hop album on the go.”

You can get the iMPC Pro 2 on the app store for iPhone and iPad.

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