When Derek Christoff plays Long Winter as D-Sisive on Friday (Jan. 10), it will be his first live gig since he performed at his baby shower in July. If everything goes as planned, it will mean a break from what the rapper calls a “super string of bad luck.”
2013 brought Christoff the birth of his first child, but some major setbacks reared their heads to blight the road ahead. In May, an idyllic rental agreement he and his girlfriend had locked down for a new apartment literally went up in flames when a fire gutted the building, and just over a week before his daughter’s first Christmas, across-the-board layoffs at work left Christoff without a job.
Just two days after he was let go, Christoff dropped Raging Bull, a new EP with production team Tone Mason (Jay Z, Drake), and as Christoff explained in an interview recorded at a Hero Burger just before rush hour on Jan. 3, “the timing [of the release] couldn’t have been better.”
A collaboration solicited out of Christoff by Tone Mason’s Mellenius two months prior, the record is a concept release inspired by the career of retired professional boxer Jake “The Raging Bull” LaMotta, and as per Mellenius’s suggestion, finds Christoff using the story of LaMotta’s struggle – as well as inspiration from Toronto-born former heavyweight champion George Chuvalo – as a conduit to vent his frustrations about his success as a rapper, the climate of the Canadian music industry, and the legacy he’s creating for his newborn.
Christoff was quick to explain that he is “not a sports fan,” but he finds something he can relate to in the struggles through which these athletes persevered.
“A friend of mine that’s a well-known music journalist here, he put it in this perspective – because I will vent to him all of the time, too – I can’t remember verbatim what he said, but it’s just along the lines of, ‘You’re like a boxer, and you’re taking out all of these guys, but the guys in the top tier don’t wanna give you the title shot,’” Christoff explained between sips on a milkshake. “That’s how I relate to the Raging Bull story. Jake LaMotta, this guy is just struggling, fighting bums. It’s just like the line in ‘That’s Entertainment’ [the opening track on the new EP]: ‘I’ve only went toe-to-toe with bums, and I’m tired of knocking out these homeless fucks.’”
Christoff acknowledged that he has had the privilege of receiving press throughout the years, but dwelled heavily on the fact that critical accolades – Christoff has earned Juno and Polaris Prize nominations for his work as D-Sisive – are often not enough to convince the labels to take chances on talented acts, especially in hip-hop.
“It’s not like I’m sitting here saying I should be fuckin’ superstar, but it always eats at me that I can’t live off music. That’s all I want,” Christoff said. “If I could make the same amount as at my nine-to-five but I could make music and tour and all that, that I would love.”
Don’t read the regrets as indicative of artistic exhaustion, though. With his newfound unemployment and the free time that’s given him, Christoff says he’s purchased a white board and started plotting out not one, but 10 new albums: a full album (again with Tone Mason) he sees coming out in February, and another project called Two Weeks Before Christmas he hinted might be dropped as a free release. He also says he has books in mind for his plague doctor mask-wearing character Orville Knoblich, something he’s been in talks with an illustrator friend about.
“I just can’t stop. I can never turn it off and I’ve had people tell me that that’s my biggest fault: ‘you put out way too much music.’ But I don’t agree with that. Who cares? What else am I gonna do? And if people like what I’m doing, I can’t see that being a negative thing – unless I start sucking.”
Interview and photo by Tom Beedham