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The fruits of their labours

Sweatshop Union hit the road again

Matthew Stefanson
Sheaf (University of Saskatchewan)
Online Exclusive

I had forgotten about Sweatshop Union. Even though I had been a fan of their music, after 12th grade — when I moved out of my parent’s house and could no longer afford Internet, cable or records — they really fell off of my radar. If you’re like me, you’ll need to refresh your memory.

The Vancouver group got together in 2000 and was made up of Dusty Melo, Mos Eisley, Kyprios, Marmalade, Conscience, Metty the Dirt Merchant and DJ Itchy Ron. In 2002 they released the album that most people will remember, Local 604, which featured the single “The Humans’ Race.” Two things may have brought this album to your attention: one, it got a lot of play on MuchMusic and mainstream radio stations; two, it lacked that big, black parental advisory label that got so much hip-hop banned from suburban bedrooms.

Since then, the group has been busy. They’ve toured extensively throughout Canada and the U.S., sharing the stage with groups like Jurassic 5, the Black Eyed Peas and hip-hop icons Blackalicious. The years of hectic touring schedules show through in the group’s live shows.

“We’ve been doing it for the last eight years now so we’ve kind of got them down to a science,” explains Dusty, one of the group’s core members. “We try and amp the crowd up wherever we go.”

Since Local 604 they’ve released three more albums — with one more on the way — and have wracked up a load of nominations and awards, as well as the acclaim of the general hip-hop community.

One of the best aspects of Sweatshop’s music has always been their penchant for creating fun and enjoyable music, mostly absent of the tired tough guy attitude of mainstream rap.

“If I was focusing on bravado, that would kind of be false,” explained Marmalade. “I’m not really that kind of person. We try and make the music fun and we try to make it ironic. We try not to take ourselves too seriously.”

So they’ve focused more on their craft than their attitude, an approach more similar to Jurassic 5's than G-Unit's.

Dusty and Marmalade also record under the name Pigeon Hole. The difference between working in a collective and working in a small group, as Marmalade sees it, is in the planning.

“When we make a Pigeon Hole record we’ll come together with an idea of how we want the finished product to sound from start to finish.”

Marmalade says that collaborating with Sweatshop Union yields something that “you take pride in, but, as a whole sometimes the album is shaped by coincidence rather than by premeditated thought.”

According to Dusty, the next album is going to be an evolution for the group. “It’s gonna go in a lot of different directions just for the fact that we’re all working on different projects right now.”

The group is starting a Canada and U.S. tour on the Oct. 15, playing shows in Regina and Saskatoon on the way. Dusty says that Saskatchewan is old territory for the group. “It’s one of the nicest provinces to play in. It’s got an awesome music scene.”

“It’s hard to get out to,” Marmalade added. “It’s not that often that you get out there, ya know?”

It's the curse of the prairies.

Sweatshop Union plays at The Exchange alongside Def3, Pimpton, Yung Freeze and Murky Waters on Oct. 18. Tickets are $10 in advance and are available at Head2Head Shop , the Exchange or by phoning 306-581-4572.

About John Cameron