Calgary's Dragon Fli Empire -- the DFE -- is def. They know it too. Hook-laden "D-E-F" is a local crowd favourite, the audience shouting along with emcee Tarik Robinson, a.k.a Teekay, as DJ Cosm spins in the back. But the big brassy emcee behind the DFE used to be a shy, unassuming high school band geek.
"I always made little beats on keyboards," says Robinson. "They were very repetitive beats that I realized, after a while, were hip-hop beats. I decided to start recording raps over them and I would show my friends these really amateur recordings and they would critique it. Instead of getting dejected, I would try and improve it on the flaws I could improve on."
Unabashedly Calgarian, Robinson and DJ Cosm found fame with 2004's "Mount Pleasant," an ode to the number two bus line running through the downtown core.
Before his big breakthrough moment, though, Robinson was inspired to perform by an experience gained while playing saxophone for William Aberhart High School's concert band.
"In grade 11 we took this trip to Cuba," says Robinson. "We reached this one high school that we were supposed to perform at and they were actually waiting for us to come. The high school was three or four stories high and they were packed onto the balconies to see this high school from Calgary perform."
It was at this moment that the normally shy Robinson decided to open up a little. He saw the kids jammed onto the balconies and decided to give them a little performance.
"I thought that I could do anything and these kids would go off to it," says Robinson. "So I put my arm up in the air and I screamed at the top of my lungs -- 'yeah!'-- and everyone looked at me strange, like, 'What the hell is this guy doing?' Couple of seconds later you start to hear this [yelling back at me]. It was pretty cool."
Later that night, after his performance, a large crowd of Cuban children began requesting Robinson. The performer in him bubbled up again and he delivered the exclusive first performance of what would eventually be one-half of Dragon Fli Empire.
"After [the concert band] finished playing our regular songs that night, the power went out and the kids started asking for me at the side of the stage. So I went to the side of the stage and I did that 'yeah!' thing again and they all went off. Then I started screaming my early hip-hop raps -- no microphone or anything -- and got everybody waving their arms side-to-side and going 'hooo! hey!' and everything. It was awesome."
So here he was, a young grade 11 student who had never rapped in front of an audience. It was this experience that informed him and helped solidify his love of performing hip-hop, which would eventually lead to the DFE.
"To come from nothing to 400 to 500 people -- it made me feel like, 'wWow, this hip-hop thing is something that I want to hold on to. Because it has the power to do this kind of thing and it was so much fun. It was my way to connect with people. It was destined to be."