Merry Waxmas

Wax Philosophic members, in front from left, Derek DeSa (aka D-Cyphur), Bryan Johnston (aka Jenero Sanus) and Jarret Schilke (aka MC Reach) celebrate 20 years together with their annual Waxmas concert at Crocks at NV tonight.

TWO MCs and one DJ. They (still) be getting down with no delay. What does 20 years of beats, rhymes, shows and brotherhood look like? It looks like Wax Philosophic.

Three friends whose longevity, chemistry and artistry is standing the test of time. And what would the Thunder Bay downtown live music core be at the holidays without the 20th annual Waxmas anniversary show? Not the same at all.

This year is sure to be a banger as Thunder Bay’s premiere hip hop group Wax Philosophic celebrate 20 years of creating music as well as their 20th live holiday event, appropriately titled Waxmas. Joining them at Crocks at NV are locals Auditor General, Luke Warm and the Cold Ones and DJ Wurlwind with proceeds going to local charity.

The show will feature the Wax Philharmonic. The six-piece ensemble brings the live band element accompanying the group’s DJ, Jenero (aka Bryan Johnston) for what promises to deliver a stage full of friends and positive vibes.

It’s a three-way WhatsApp interview with the illest of MCs Derek DeSa (aka D-Cyphur) and Jarret Schilke (aka Reach). Their respect and appreciation for each other as both friends and long-time collaborators is undeniable. The laughter and joke cracking ensues and it’s clear that Wax Philosophic have concocted the (Crystal) brew for perseverance and resiliency. So what is it?

Explains Schilke, “We’re all close and we love the music. It’s played to our strengths.”

DeSa agrees that it’s sappy, but true.

“We get so much enjoyment out of performing, that’s the motivation,” said DeSa.

The guys had a hectic personal year, and even though they do not reside in the same city, the trio still managed to rap at four weddings.

“If we’re together we’re doing something musically,” said DeSa. “Even if it’s freestyling at an Airbnb, it’s always going to be part of what we do.”

After two decades of life in the Bay, the musical landscape has indeed shifted since 2000. The MCs make several jokes about feeling “old”, but the truth is they’ve been around long enough to feel the impact and watch hip hop evolve from a minority to the mainstream.

“We’ve adapted,” said DeSa. “It’s gratifying to still be standing after all these years. We’re still alive.”

Schilke touches on the aspect of self-promotion via social media, which was virtually unheard of when Wax was forming.

“We shot our first video on 35 (millimetre) film, no one does that now,” said Schilke. “We toured Canada using landlines and calling people up. How crazy is that? We’ve managed to keep our heads above water regardless.”

As far as genre labelling goes, Wax has always struggled with the idea of placing their music in a box.

Leaning more heavily towards conscious hip hop, the group remains relatable due to the realism of their song content.

Says Schilke, “We didn’t look for other people who were making the same music as us, we looked for people making music we liked. It’s more accessible. We weren’t trying to be something we aren’t. It’s honest. We hold ourselves to that standard. We’ve been accepted more than anything.”

DeSa adds that the golden era of hip hop has been a huge inspiration sonically for Wax Philosophic. He’s seen the full circle that vinyl has made, contributing to their distinctive sound.

“Jenero’s beats are classic hip hop and he uses vinyl samples to produce them,” said DeSa. “It’s a nostalgic sound. He keeps pumping out beats, he’s the backbone of the band. It keeps us inspired.”

Every year DeSa manages to travel home for Christmas and is met by what feels like a giant high school reunion aka Waxmas. The Port Arthur Collegiate Institue graduates remember their first gig fondly. At the Apollo in 2000.

They’re pleased to announce they’ll be performing new material, 20 years later. The wax is clearly still burning.

DeSa reminisces about their decade spanning musical career,

“The tough thing is the speed of life,” said DeSa. “We stay hungry and keep writing, it’s a craft and a skill. You never know when opportunity can arise. Take risks.”

Wax Philosophic with the Wax Philharmonic play Crocks at NV tonight with Auditor General, Luke Warm and the Cold Ones and DJ Wurlwind.

(Angie Valente is a freelance journalist based in Thunder Bay.)

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