Entertainment
Writer Laura Wan interviews Sean and Matt Sinclair on the roof of Gauntlet HQ last week.
Michael Grondin/the Gauntlet

Chief Navaho

Calgary hip hop duo to kick ass and take names at That Empty Space

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Let's face it-- Calgary isn't exactly known for hip hop. Our most famous exports are more along the lines of indie and folk darlings Chad VanGaalen, Feist, Tegan and Sara, and, more recently, Braids.

But that isn't to say that Calgarians don't know a thing about rhymes and beats. Local rapper Transit broke the cowboy stereotype with his single, "Calgary," this spring. Now we have the brothers Sean, AKA Tiberius Kirk, and Matthew "Casper Buddy" Sinclair, two University of Calgary students working under the moniker "Chief Navaho." With small beginnings in 2008, the pair have recently released a bounty of tracks and videos on YouTube for which they are quickly gaining recognition, being invited to join Transit on two tour dates this fall.

Though primarily fitting in to the genre of hip hop and rap, the two certainly don't want to be labeled as such.

"I hate categorizing [our music] as hip hop, because it's definitely something different," says Sean. "We've always loved hip hop, but I started out as a singer/songwriter, listening to John Mayer and John Legend."

You might not be able to pick up on those sounds now, but you can expect to hear some R&B and soul influences in the near future.

"Right now the most hip hop part of [our sound] is the drums," says Sean. "We definitely want to start incorporating different sounds into it."

The brothers have extremely different tastes and backgrounds, with Matthew writing poetry since an early age and Sean getting his start singing R&B and pop song covers on YouTube.

Main rapper Matthew describes his influences as both old- and new-school, saying, "I like both-- I used to listen to old-school rap growing up, [but my influences are more new-school] now." Their early lyrics are more reminiscent of the Beastie Boys: fun and creative, describing '90s-kid phenomena like Pokemon cards and Nintendo 64.

But this duo should be taken seriously, as they've got big plans for themselves. Rather than aligning themselves solely with music, they've dubbed themselves an artistic collective, much like OFWGKTA and Broken Social Scene, and are planning to branch out with collaborations with other artists, friends, and even a clothing line, called Reggie Leonard. "[We decided on that name] because our uncles are twins, and their middle names are Reginald and Leonard," explains Matthew.

Friends are as integral as family to the brothers' work, too-- ttheir closefriend Callum McCormack shoots and directs all of their music and Josh "Prom Night" Makarto is their co-producer.

Chief Navaho has taken an interest in working with local band Pico Tera, an acoustic/indie group from the other side of the musical tracks. It's obvious that the brothers are always striving for "something different." They're making some real efforts to separate themselves from the sounds of other Canadian musicians.

"We wanted to show people that not every rapper that comes out of Canada sounds like Classified," Sean says.

"We don't really want to be like anyone else," he continues. "We could care less whether or not people like it. We just want to do what sounds cool to us and what we like."

This unrestrained attitude certainly sounds a lot like that held by controversial hip-hop artists Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean of Odd Future, both of whom serve as inspiration for Chief Navaho. "Seeing them succeed gives us more faith," explains Matthew. "They were just putting out music that they loved," adds Sean.

It's this artistic outlook that translates into Chief Navaho's still-to-be-released EP, Lofthead, named for their loft studio they record in. Chief Navaho brings in a motley blend of beats and samples on current tracks "Fries and a Milkshake" and "Intergalactic Shit," the latter of which pays homage to (you guessed it) the Beastie Boys' 1998 Grammy-winning jam "Intergalactic." Some might say the warped tones and drums sound weird, but to them, it's a good thing.

"Weird is good," says Sean of their music. Being called "different" or "new" has the same appeal. It's what they strive for, something next-level and unheard of.

"We're always trying to evolve," Sean says.

Expect a lot from Chief Navaho in the near future, as they put out their EP sometime in November. But they still have room to grow, and Matt and Sean won't be stopping anytime soon.

"My brother and I will always do stuff together."

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