Music Interview: Sweating unions and politics

By Kyle Francis

Sweatshop Union. Not a conglomeration of Argentinean factory owners funded by a treacherous alliance between Nike and Reebok, but rather a Vancouver hip-hop crew rhyming about the perils of blue collar life and social problems. They’re coming to Calgary to show this city they’re about more than clever irony.

Lately, Sweatshop Union appears to be more about success. A year after the release of their first album in 2002, they outdid themselves in almost every respect with their second release. With their third release planned for next year and back on tour, Sweatshop Union is bringing their blend of political and soulful hip-hop to the entire nation.

These days it’s a trend for musicians to get involved with politics. Although Sweatshop Union has mixed politics and hip-hop for quite some time, one of the lead emcees of Sweatshop Union, Metty the Dert Merchant, sees the group approach as a bit different from the norm.

“We don’t want to fall into that ‘music with a message’ thing,” insists Metty. Although Sweatshop Union wants to draw attention to social inequity with their lyrics, they encourage listeners to find their own solutions. “Who are we to dictate how people should do things? It would be pretty presumptuous of us to think that we have the right idea about everything.”

Their lyrics have a genuine concern for the blue collar everyman, the Union isn’t too far from those they rap about. Known throughout the international hip-hop scene, Sweatshop Union is a clear indicator that success and blingage success are different things entirely.

“Some guys are into it for the bubblegum masses, you know, just about making money,” explains Metty. “If I could give one piece of advice to new emcees it would be to do it for at least five years for yourself. We did this for at least six years before we put out our first CD, and even now we’re not making any real money with it.”

Metty believes the new album will blow everything else out of the water, and they may just get that bling after all. Sweatshop may appear to some to be taking a stylistic step backward by focusing on beats created within the smaller groups featured on the first CD. With one of Sweatshop’s biggest emcees, Kyprios, putting out a solo album, some fans may be worried about Sweatshop Union breaking up completely.

“Sweatshop definitely isn’t breaking up,” says the mighty Merchant of Dert. “It’s not like we were all ‘fuck Kyprios, he should be down here eating shit with the rest of us.’ We were happy he was able to do that and we all hope we get the same opportunity.”

If history teaches us anything, this new CD will kick more ass than a baby fighting a rhino. Or something like that. Regardless, it may not seem possible for Sweatshop Union to top Natural Progression.

In the meantime the crew is on the road to the big time. Wherever that is. As much attention an Argentinean sneaker-making conglomerate coming to Calgary would attract, Metty the Dert Merchant and his rag-tag crew with their mix of mad rhymes and politics are probably the only Sweatshop Union turning any heads in the near future.

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