Editor’s Note: This is the third profile of artists nominated for an East Coast Music Award in the Indigenous Artist of the Year category. The awards show will be held in Halifax on May 3. This interview has been edited for length.
Shelby Sappier, also known as Beaatz, has been to award shows before. When he was a member of the rap group, City Natives, they won a total of ten awards.
Sappier, 26, is now in competition with his former bandmates for a 2018 East Coast Music Award. He’s nominated in the Indigenous Artist of the Year for his first solo album, Love | Hate.
Sappier, who is from the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, has toured across Canada to opening for artists like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Raekwon from Wu Tang Clan, SonReal, RiFF RaFF.
In December 2017 , he took part in a workshop in Fredericton alongside other Indigenous artists such as Lido Pimiento, Cris Derksen + Jeremy Dutcher, Damian Rogers in the New Constellations: A Nation(s)wide Tour of Music
Reporter Karli Zschogner recently spoke with Sappier about his new solo career and latest ECMA nomination.
KZ: Like your song, Small Town, tell me about your experience growing up and how that has shaped who you are today?
SS: I’m coming from a small place and I’m trying to make it in a big world. For me, I feel like that shaped me into the person I am now. I came from pretty much nothing with a big family in a small place and to come where I am now it’s kind of an eye-opener. If I can do this for myself, then I can probably influence someone else in that small community to become what they want to become.
There is a big world out there to explore and discover. I feel like that’s what it did for me that there is more to this world than living in a small town.
KZ: Can you tell me about your Indigenous background and how this identity has shaped you, including in your music and interaction in the music industry.
SS: My mother is Mohawk and Mi’kmaq and my father is Passamaquoddy and Maliseet. It’s a beautiful thing for that to be my background because not only do I have a place in Maliseet territory to call my own but I also have a place in Mi’kmaq territory that I can call home as well. I can relate to a lot of people and where they come from. I feel like I am a voice for those people.
I feel like I take a lot in, just be that person, and what that has done for my music. Far and wide, it has grown a lot of respect from a lot of territories. When you come from one place, they support you in that one area, but where I come from and my background, I am supported by many more people than just one community. It’s a beautiful thing to feel because it just shows the love and respect and the support you get from your own people.
KZ: Why were you drawn rap/hip-hop over other genres?
SS: I was the youngest of three boys, well there is four of us. My oldest brothers, they really enjoyed listening to hip-hop music. Back in 1995, for me, it was NWA, Bone Dogs and Harmony, Public Enemy. For me, it was being drawn to that sound, the lyrical presence, the way of rhyming. There was a lot that drew me to hip-hop.
The one thing that had me from the get-go was the beat. That’s why I have the name that I have because I’m just so infatuated with beats, and that’s what drew me into hip-hop from day one. The lyrics that you put over those beats, you’re not only sending a message but you’re telling a story. That is what I’ve found is the most important part because not only can I tell my story but I can influence a lot of people with my music.
There is not a genre that I am not a fan of. I really respect all artists that are doing all types of music because there is a lot of creativity that goes into making music. Nobody outside of music really understands the process and what it takes to make music.
KZ: What are the things that inspired you to get into producing music like your song, Love | Hate?
SS: Like any artist, when you first start, you’re not really the greatest. For me, I was going online, just grabbing beats offline and record to them. I felt like it wasn’t really paying off for me, because I was just grabbing beats that didn’t belong to me and then I had to pay for them. I think what it was for me was to try to do it on my own and learn. So that way I can cultivate my own sounds and what I hear. I have a great ear for music, especially production.
For Love | Hate, I produced every song on that album and that’s why that album is very important to me. For me it was just important to release a body of music that resembled who I am and my sound. It took me a few months to do all the production and I recorded every song myself. It takes some time to gather some sort of professionalism. It took me about two to three years to finally start making quality beats. It took some time but the wait was worth it.
KZ: What is your motivation for making music as a career? What makes you tick?
SS: My motivation, first and foremost, is my daughter. My daughter is my drive because there are times, like any person, you just want to give up. But when I see my daughter, she just motivates me to do what I do. There are a couple songs on my album that she showed me through YouTube, “Daddy you should make a song out of this”. I sampled it, made a beat out of it, recorded the whole song in one night. It’s the song that is most popular on my album “Where Are You”. She is the one who curated that.
Outside of that, it is to make genuine music that people can relate to. If I can send a message that someone can relate to and maybe I can help, then I feel like my job is well done.
KZ: What does the ECMA nomination mean to you as an Indigenous artist?
SS: It’s honestly an honour because you’re not only being recognized as an Aboriginal artist but you are getting recognized by industry awards, and I feel like for me that is an accomplishment. I’ve won many of these awards already with (City Natives) but for me to go my separate ways and make an album on my own without expecting it to be nominated.
You know I just made this with the intent to put out quality music that I want to make. I wanted this to resemble my life. At the time of making this album I was in a love-hate feeling with music, but at the end of the process, I genuinely loved every single song that I wrote and produced on that album.
For me, it’s very important for me to have this. Not only is it a reminder to keep going and keep doing it but it’s truly an honour as an Aboriginal artist to be recognized for my music. That alone has set the stone because there are a lot of Aboriginal artists on the east coast who are trying to accomplish this one goal of getting nominated let alone win an award. For me win or lose, it’s still an honour to be recognized.
KZ: What is next for you?
SS: What I am working on now behind the scenes, I’m working on a documentary on missing and murdered women with a company here in Fredericton. I’m doing the music for the documentary and will probably be writing a couple songs too for the project. That will come out later this year. I’m working on a lot of music right now, putting out music videos. For me, there is no real rush right now because I am going to school for business and that right now is my main focus. I’m kind of juggling the two, just really staying busy, musically, creatively.