Panther & the Supafly head to a new home
If everything had gone according to plan, Vancouver-bred hip-hop ensemble Panther & the Supafly would be long gone from the West Coast by now. In early August, the genre outfit billed a headlining performance at the Biltmore Cabaret as its goodbye show before packing up and heading to the land of poutine and Maudite beer.
Clearly, the relocation plans have been put on hold, as it’s a scorching-hot late-August afternoon when the Straight catches up with still-Lotusland-based vocalist Josh “Panther” Matumona in a local park. He isn’t too concerned about the delay in what’s meant to be a career-boosting move to a new postal code, though, feeling that the band will head into overdrive once it lands out east.
“What we’ve done here in two years we can do there in six months,” Matumona explains. “We’re very confident about that.”
Making this statement a bold one is the fact that the singer and his bandmates (guitarist Leon Feldman, drummer Duncan Truter, bassist/synth jockey Nate Drobner, and keyboardist Dave Pimental) have never actually played in their soon-to-be adopted home. Panther & the Supafly already has a handful of gigs lined up in Montreal, and the group is excited at the opportunity to play a ton of bigger cities like Toronto and New York, as opposed to ones on the smaller and spread-apart West Coast circuit.
While Matumona speaks as if the Supafly is an aged institution, he and the crew are still relative newcomers to the hip-hop game. The MC only began rhyming two years ago, and had previously cut his teeth playing guitar in the now-defunct melodic hardcore act Hats Off, Gentlemen. The group’s members, all in their early 20s, met as music students at Vancouver Community College, and united to bring together the worlds of head-bobbing rap and smoothed-out synth jazz, among a myriad of other genres.
A two-year writing period produced last December’s seven-song Nkazi EP, which runs the gamut from the crunchy-guitar-and-boom-bap-indebted “Swaggapuff” to the downtempo dub-pop gem “Diamond in the Africa Rough”. The world-beat ballad “Black Angel”, meanwhile, has Matumona balancing muscles-up raps with soulfully sung motivational-speaker lines like “You won’t get far unless you reach for the stars.”
Just a few months after Nkazi dropped, though, the frontman temporarily stepped away from the group to release a solo EP, Blood & Joy. The bulk of that record features programmed beats prepped by Matumona himself, though two tracks include production work from Supafly pal Pimental. The keys-and-drumbeat-driven song cycle plays rougher than Nkazi, with the rapper swaggering hard on the title track and the B-boy banger “Real Men”.
“The stuff we play with the band, whether it be derivative of a beat or whether we just wrote it as a band…usually there’s more musicality to it,” Matumona says. He explains his softer Supafly moments with: “It gets me to write hooky choruses.”
Blood & Joy, however, let him cut loose and refine his MC and production skills.
“I wanted to test myself and get to a point where I can understand what the dynamic is between my rapping and my beat-making. It’s easier to rap on your own beats because you understand them fully. You know what you want to hear on them.”
Matumona concedes, however, that it’s just as easy to rap atop Pimental’s oscillated Knight Rider synths on “Endgame”, and the keyboardist’s other contribution to Blood & Joy, “Slapstick”. While the MC’s rhymes with the Supafly offer up dewy-eyed optimism, “Slapstick” has him calling out his rivals as “flaccid” and “wack shit”.
“ ‘Slapstick’ is just attitude rap,” he says with a smirk. “We wanted to get playful with it, so the rhymes that I’m writing in that are very attitude-oriented. You know I’m not serious. I’m fucking around.”
Despite such diversions, Matumona, along with his Supafly cohorts, clearly has a serious work ethic. The group is already at work on a full-length, part of which has been recorded at Nanaimo’s Bird’s Nest Studio. One of the upcoming cuts is called “Bucket List”, and while Matumona doesn’t have a copy handy at the park, he does manage to drop a few bars from the hook: “Tell me what’s on your bucket list/What’s the last thing you hope to experience?/Are you okay with regret or will you chase your dying wish?”
With the move to Montreal just a few weeks away, Panther & the Supafly is getting ready to cross a major goal off its own bucket list. Matumona, meanwhile, knows it’ll be quite some time before he conquers either side of his rap game. He’s still finding his footing, and he’s totally fine with that.
“I know a lot of cats that have hit a plateau because they think they’re really good,” the rapper says. “If you maintain the mentality that you can always get better and always learn more, then you always will. Otherwise, you just fall in a rut of doing the same thing, and no one gives a fuck about that.”
Panther & the Supafly plays its final hometown gig on Wednesday (September 12) at Republic.