Jonny Sootentai takes the stage and a new label

By Falice Chin

Imagine being 19 years old and starting up your own record label while promoting your own shows. It requires a lot of dedication and hard-work, and Calgary’s own hip-hop crew Jonny Sootentai is up for the challenge. With four emcees and one producer under the name of Top Shelf Records, the group is determined to animate the local underground scene with their enthusiasm and talent.

"We started in [junior high] with freestyling," says J.S.’s Phasma. "Our songs were pretty shitty back then, but some people liked them. We kept going and got more serious. After being more involved with the Calgary scene, we see a lot of problems with the local shows."

The local scene seems to lack both organization and effective promotion. Often times, even popular underground artists suffer small audiences in local venues.

"We’re putting things on our own hands now and trying to give ourselves our own name," explains Lingo, another of J.S.’s emcees. "We started hanging out with Planit last year and decided to start up Top Shelf Records."

Collaborating with an older and more experienced hip-hop emcee Planit, Top Shelf Records was born earlier this year in the basement of a house shared by members of J.S. There they developed a studio with top-quality sound equipment and a range of musical instruments. With the transformation completed, many local artists like Cam the Wizard, Dragon Fli Empire, and Virtue have already dropped by for recordings.

In a matter of months, J.S.’s reputation skyrocketed as they accomplished more. Last month, J.S. and Planit shared the mic for an opening act for Swollen Members at the Sun Centre. Planit and J.S. will come together again for a double CD release party at the Den on Sat., Sept. 4.

"We’ll have all the elements [of hip-hop]," say Phasma and Lingo. "There will b-boys, graffiti art and all the cream-of-the-crop rappers from Calgary."

While hip-hop related music continues to top the charts, Top Shelf Records hopes put out songs that are more experimental in production and conscious in lyrics.

"Many of our influences are local [artists]!" Lingo exclaims. "We’re also influenced by people like Josh Martinez, Pigeon John, and even K-os."

"We’ve definitely explored the more melodic side of hip-hop," adds Phasma. "But we still do the old hard-core rapping. Hip-hop is a mish-mash of many genres, and we draw our inspiration from everything."

The Top Shelf Records CD release party will be a lot of fun, as new university Rez students come in on that same day to explore the wonders of the Den. Hopefully, the show will promote the local scene by showcasing it to a more diverse crowd.

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