So Loki relishes its freedom

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      Vancouver and Toronto might be two of Canada’s coolest cities, but they’re poles apart. Toronto is all about business, while Vancouver is all about yoga. Toronto is metropolitan, while Vancouver loves nature. Toronto is chock full of rap stars, while Vancouver… Yeah.

      Devoid of a Drake or K’naan to pioneer hip-hop culture, Lotusland’s rap groups are overshadowed by the meteoric rise of the city’s up-and-coming artists in other genres—look at the growing success of indie groups Dear Rouge and Mounties, for example. With hip-hop firmly relegated to the fringes of local music culture, the average Vancouverite couldn’t name one single resident rapper. So when a talented MC and producer finally pop up, it’s time to start listening.

      Experimental rap duo So Loki have been working together for just over a year, but they’ve already solidified their status as one of the city’s most innovative partnerships. Releasing their debut album, V, this month—the follow-up to February’s well-received mix tape Supermanic—producer Geoffrey Millar and rapper Sam Lucia have achieved a cohesion often missing from experimental projects.

      “Supermanic was a smorgasbord,” Lucia tells the Straight over a large coffee. “It was one of those things where we wanted to do it all and try everything. That record was all about me and Geoff figuring each other out, building trust, and understanding our boundaries.”

      V is really different,” Millar chimes in. “We had to cut down about 20 options to 12 for Supermanic. For this album, we knew what we wanted to put across from the get-go. We picked our favourite aspects and worked on them, rather than just blindly writing everything. That gave us the grounds to still be playful and creative with it, but to make it much more consistent.”

      Despite achieving their goal of a more uniform sound, the two never compromise their signature experimentalism on their new record. The new single “Birthday” links haunting synth chords and distorted samples with multilayered vocals, while album track “Say Too Much” features jazz-trumpet melodies and broken rhythms. Deftly weaving Lucia’s rhymes into the rich tapestry of noise, Millar creates a cinematic soundscape that’s full of contrast, drawing on multiple musical traditions.

      “Our goal was to keep things inventive on V,” the producer says. “The hip-hop scene in Vancouver is not like Toronto. That city has a really defined sound—Drake’s sound. Here, there are little pockets of people doing their own thing. There’s not a push towards everyone making the same kind of music.”

      “No one knows what Vancouver’s rap scene is going to end up looking like,” Lucia agrees, “which allows us to do what we want freely. Once one of us makes it big, though, that artist will likely create Vancouver’s sound—so right now it’s a battle of innovation. Whoever does the best thing first will hold the keys to the city.”

      Drawing on a palette of influences that differs wildly from most rap groups, So Loki already has a head start in the race for originality. Blending the best aspects of different genres, the duo synthesizes everything from specific production techniques to musical ideologies into their work.

      “I’ve recently come to the realization that it’s possible to write half as many words, and say twice as much,” Lucia suggests, “and that formula has come from listening to singers, not rappers. We’ve started using the voice as an instrument and meshing it into the track, rather than just letting our raps sit over the top. We take inspiration from a lot of old ’80s music—Teena Marie, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone—which combine multiple vocal layers to make a gospel-esque sound. Then we put our own spin on that.”

      “I played in a punk-pop band before I got into production,” Millar remembers, “and I was really into screamo and hard rock. People say that So Loki is a departure from that, but I think it’s very similar. Punk has a lot in common with rap. They should both be very aggressive and radical, and that’s what a lot of rap is missing—that pure energy.”

      Lucia and Millar practise what they preach. Fresh off a wild performance at the Victory Square Block Party—a show that saw a big crowd moshing at the front of the stage—the duo continue to hone their live set while focusing on creating new material.

      “What’s next for us?” Lucia asks himself. “The moment we’ve finished and released an album, we start on the next one. We just have a compulsion to write. Of course we’re still into the material for the live set and love playing it in front of people, but we’re already focusing on new music. And the next record is going to be the big one. We’ve talked about how much we love this album, but we know we can already outdo it. It’s an exciting time.”

      Various tracks from So Loki’s V are available to stream on major digital platforms.