In an age where print journalism is becoming increasingly irrelevant, Rodrigo BascuÃ±Ã¡n has managed to carve out a noticeable niche for himself, while doing exactly what he wants. Having moved to Toronto at 13 months of age from Santiago, Chile, he chose to follow his love of hip-hop and media, in lieu of building on his formal education. His stalwart-yet-laid-back work ethic has resulted in Canadaâ€™s premiere rap magazine- Pound- and the Governor General Literary Award nominated book, â€œEnter the Babylon System.â€ His colloquial, humorous, and razor-sharp style of discourse is helping break down the walls of ignorance regarding gun culture and rap music, and redefining what an academic should look and sound like.
â€œNo oneâ€™s gonna tell us what to do. Because Pound is free, we can put virtually anything on the cover, and still move all the issues.â€
Format: How and when did you decide to synthesize your love for rap music and journalism?
Rodrigo: I had varying interests in high school and university, and got into DJing when I was at [The University of] Western [Ontario]. I moved from being a fan of the two, to becoming involved in 1997/1998. I was in my third year, organized and brave, but extremely naÃ¯ve; it was a ridiculous plan. A friend lent me $500, which I used to buy a cell phone, my work line. In April 1998, I sat down with Christian Pearce, Andrew Cappell, and Kostas Pagiamtzis. We went through a list of about 100 names, and Pound stuck.
Our pilot issue was launched that month; our first issue was December 1999.
Format: What has influenced your literary endeavors over the years?
Rodrigo: I had studied biology, and everyone assumed I was gonna be a doctor, but media was what I excelled at. I was interested in reading magazines, and there were hints there, but it didnâ€™t become obvious until later.
Format: Congratulations on 10 years of Pound. Any big plans for this year?
Rodrigo: Thanks, but our real anniversary will be December 2009; April â€™98 was our pilot issue.
Weâ€™ve never been self-congratulatory. Itâ€™s good in one respect, but bad in another.
We try to let people figure [the magazineâ€™s merit] out for themselves.
Format: The current issue of is aptly titled, â€œThe MC Issue.â€ Who are your personal favorites?
Rodrigo: Iâ€™d have to say Rakim, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Q-Tip, and Eminem. People always make fun of me for saying Q-Tip [laughs].
Format: Unlike other rap magazines, Pound examines the entire spectrum of the genre, from up-and-coming rappers and producers, to the resident kings; from backpack rap, to NOLA bounce. Why did you choose such a broad scope?
Rodrigo: Our business structure is different from that of magazines like XXL. The people who run those magazines on a creative level are not the same people who run it on a business level. No oneâ€™s gonna tell us what to do. Because Pound is free, we can put virtually anything on the cover, and still move all the issues. We didnâ€™t want to look at the magazine in popular terms, weâ€™d rather cover what we like. Thatâ€™s why you might see Madlib and Ghostface in the same issue.
Format: What are your thoughts on rapâ€™s general representation in the media? What do you think works and what would you like to see changed?
Rodrigo: Those with history in the industry are not that happy. There is a universal feeling of imbalance. We are bombarded by styles which are not [wholly] representative of the genre, as well as over-the-top materialism, all in the name of the â€œblack experience.â€
In rapâ€™s Genesis, there was an unspoken philosophy about not respecting the power structure. Now, the message has turned capitalist, endorsing the same mindset that was once considered the oppressorâ€™s. So yeah, Iâ€™d like to see that changed.
Format: Which artists do you think encompass the genreâ€™s current and/or future direction?
Rodrigo: There are new artists and sounds coming out every day. A year ago, Iâ€™d paint you a murkier picture of the situation, and probably say something like Kanye [West] and Lupe [Fiasco], but the fact of the matter is that Kanye is about 30 years old, and he doesnâ€™t really represent the new generation of rap listeners. Artists like Wale, Jay Electronica, and even Lil Wayne are very experimental with their music. Sonically speaking, they incorporate synth and techno elements, which make them more appealing to the hipster crowd as well.
Format: Which artists do you think propagate the worst of rapâ€™s qualities?
Thatâ€™s hard to say, because at a later date, I can find a redeeming quality in any artist.
Take Soulja Boy for instance. On the surface, his music is idiotic and simplistic, but on another level, what should we expect from a 17 year old? He made this track in his home, and it blew up. Heâ€™s a rapper who doesnâ€™t represent hip-hop, but, again, heâ€™s 17; heâ€™s young. Older artists like Prodigy [of Mobb Deep] and Dipset who revel in their own ignorance should know better, as theyâ€™re constantly representing violent images in their works. Like I said though, Iâ€™m ambivalent. I still listen to a lot of Mobb Deep.
Those who approach rap strictly as a hustle-a business-are also propagating its worst qualities, because when you have no respect for the game, it breeds all sorts of permutations of what I was talking about.
Format: Have you come across any heavy-hitters whom we should be on the lookout for, but are yet to grace the pages of Pound?
Rodrigo: With its long leads, print journalism has become the second wave of construing information. We can provide perspective, but itâ€™s getting harder to break news, like, â€œwhy donâ€™t you tell me,â€ you know? When we first started the magazine, yeah, I was getting advance copies of records two, three, four months before everyone else, but since everything started leaking on the internet, thatâ€™s no longer the case.
Format: The digital age has undoubtedly helped rap to reach every market imaginable. Do you think this has helped the culture grow, or bastardized it?
Rodrigo: Itâ€™s hard to measure. Statistically speaking, record sales have obviously gone down, as people download shit for free. This has been a problem for the industry, as it has made it a much more democratic one. Culturally speaking however, it has been great.
Format: The four elements of hip-hop are extremely well represented in Pound. How relevant do you think these still are, in todayâ€™s sense of rap culture?
Rodrigo: When we first started the magazine, we tried to represent breaking, turntablism, graffiti, and rap in a subtle way. Turntablism has died off now; DJs are still prominent, but they play a different role, for the most part. It was not easy to cover b-boying, either. Now we deal with graffiti and rap, predominantly. Every year that goes by, more of these ideals get lost; theyâ€™re a product of time.
Format: Your fashion spreads often nod at local retailers, such as Goodfoot and 155 John St. (nÃ©e Lounge). Why choose to showcase indy retailers over the factory-direct route?
Rodrigo: It is largely a utilitarian thing, and usually a product of using a particular stylist. Distribution can be choppy [in Canada], and oftentimes, a store will have clothes before a distributor does.
Format: Your co-written book, â€œEnter the Babylon System,â€ is really quite remarkable. Could you explain its thesis, and how it is related to the magazine, for those not familiar?
Rodrigo: For our third issue of Pound, we decided to come up with a politics section, though we didn’t have the time or experience to make an in-depth one, so we made it stats-based [laughs]. Jokingly, I suggested we call it “Babylon System,” as it is a vaguely evil and thought provoking title, and an old school Rasta term. When it came to the book title we combined the name of the column with the name of the Wu-Tang’s first album, Enter The Wu-Tang, and ended up with Enter The Babylon System.
Format: In â€œBabylonâ€¦â€ you talk a little about gun reform in England and Australia. What measures do you think Canada should be taking to curb gun violence?
Rodrigo: Pushing for a handgun ban, as they are doing the most damage. Shotguns and rifles are out there, but they are not the real problem. The only way to change things in Canada is to change things in the United States. There is a ton of trade going on, major border issues, and on the international level, a great deal of political sensitivity. I donâ€™t think we can change much on the supply side, weâ€™re better off focusing on demand.
Format: During the course of your research, you were denied inquiry to some of the deeper recesses of the gun industry, specifically the goings on at the Para-Ordnance plant in Scarborough. If you had one question or comment for them, what would it be?
Rodrigo: What really bothered me was their use of American mentality to defend their work here, by using the guise of â€œfreedom of protection,â€ while selling to a largely American market. I guess my main questions would be: â€œWhy donâ€™t you just move to the USA, where is your moral responsibility to the community, and what have you done to heighten your security [after 95 unserialized handguns, 14 unserialized long-barreled guns, hundreds of magazines, and 500,000+ rounds of ammunition were stolen from the facility in 2001]?â€
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