Rob Crooks
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Rob Crooks

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada | INDIE

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada | INDIE
Band EDM Singer/Songwriter




"The Tribune Tapes Vol. 3"

A rising figure in hip hop circles for his work with Magnum K.I. and collaborations with everyone from Pip Skid to Birdapres (among many other projects), Rob Crooks’ last record, the Hearts EP, fits somewhere between his past and present. Bearing sonic similarities with everything from krautrock to hip hop to electro, the EP has a punk rock spirit, a constant sense of urgency amplified by Rob’s approach to using drum machines and samplers as instruments, and embracing the mindset of just going for it with or without the technical wherewithal.

Amid his Marathon of Dope Eurotour with Zucchini Drive, Rob found time to contribute to this month’s Tribune Tapes, a compilation comprised of jams from the Hearts EP, past collaborations and tracks by other artists of influence.

I called him the day after he got back from tour to talk about heavy books, sketchy roadside panhandling in Poland and the artists that helped shape his genre-defying sound.


ST: You just got back from Europe.

RC: Yeah. Last night.

How was your trip?

It was great. It was definitely a new experience… I need a bit of time to process it all.

I was looking at some of your video blogs and I noticed that you played in a venue in the Czech Republic that kind of looked like a spaceship, and it also looked like some absinthe might have been in the mix. Can you talk about that night?

Yeah, we were in Prague. I was really excited to play Prague – I’m really into Kafka. I got a chance to check out Kafka’s birthplace. It was really cool. That show might have been one of the worst shows on the tour. We played at this touristy bar where I don’t think a lot of the people at the bar were from Prague. The way that it was set up was there was the stage and then around the corner there was the bar where people would get drinks. The bar part was completely full and the venue part where the stage was had about a handful of people. We went on early, at like 11 or 12, and right after these DJs came on who were playing, like, really intense techno and they were backstage before the show doing all sorts of drugs in the bathroom. We finished that show a little disappointed that the show went so poorly, so we just said, ‘Fuck it. Let’s do some absinthe and go out.’ So that’s what we did. We ended up going to a couple of bars that were full of people being crazy and I guess because of all the absinthe we ended up fitting in.

Speaking of Kafka, I read that you like to get into one “heavy” book (literally and figuratively) on tour. What did you read on tour?

I was reading Paul Virilio. I think the book’s called The Logistics of Perception. I didn’t get as much reading done on tour that I would have liked because there was just so much moving around and I can’t read in the car – I get a headache. I brought about 10 books on tour with me and I would just read a passage whenever I got a chance.

You also experienced a very bizarre form of panhandling while you were on tour. What happened?

We were driving out of Poland and as we were driving on the highway we saw this guy who was in a pretty nice car, like a BMW. He was waving at us as we past him on the highway and he was flashing his lights and driving back and forth between lanes and we didn’t really know what that meant, so we all discussed it and just kept going. Then, not even 10 minutes later, there was a different car, another BMW that was doing the same thing. We kind of thought maybe we had a flat tire, I mean we didn’t really know what was going on, so we pulled over…then the guy that waved us down came up to us and he was dressed nice and he had two young kids in the car. Our car had a Belgium license plate and he said, ‘Oh you guys are from Belgium? I have family in Brussels. I’m just trying to make it there, but I think I‘m going to run out of gas. Can you lend us some money for gas?’ Based on how he was dressed and the fact that he had kids in the car, we were, like, ‘Well yeah, you know, we got a few bucks’ and we came up with like 5 euros, and he’s, like, ‘No I need more than that. I need 250 euros.’ At that moment we got very suspicious, and so I got back in the car and we sped off. Not even five minutes after, another car tried the same thing on us, so we kind of agreed that we weren’t going to stop until we were out of Poland.

Good idea.

Yeah, it was a weird experience.

I want to talk a bit about the Hearts EP. I like that EP a lot. I brought it to a friend’s on the weekend and we were listening to it and trying to identify all of the various styles that were coming into play and I felt that at its core it seemed to have this very punk rock energy. Was that something that you were going for?

It wasn’t something that I was going for necessarily, but I think that it has always been an element in all of the music that I’ve ever made. Even when I was making more traditional hip hop music, I think it always came across with a very punk rock vibe, especially when I perform live.

Even though I wasn’t strictly influenced by punk rock growing up, I was influenced by groups that had a punk rock aesthetic, like Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys, but also some local music, like this band called Alien Hybrid that used to put out music in the early ‘90s in Winnipeg. I was influenced by that whole DIY aesthetic and I don’t even mean it as an aesthetic, but just the idea that you should make music regardless of your innate capabilities. From the time that I was 12 years old, I was always into going to see live shows and I think that’s where the punk rock thing comes into play for me. I never really thought about how to get the cleanest sound, I just did it…As I get older I see how I’m kind of in line with a lot of the ideas and aesthetics behind punk rock.

When did you start writing songs?

I started writing songs when I was in grade four and the reason being because my older sister was in band, and so I would always see her in her bedroom practicing the songs that she was writing and that was something that I wanted to get into. When my sister would go out, I would sneak into her room and take her guitar into my room – and I didn’t know how to play guitar. I would just kind of, like, write out these songs on a piece of paper and I would do this thing where I would take one tape deck and I’d record the guitar part, and then I’d take another tape deck that would record the original tape deck playing the guitar part, and then I would sing the lyrics on the other tape deck so it was kind of like a two-track recorder.

So smart.

Not really smart, just a loner. I spent a lot of time in my bedroom.

When it comes to performing live is there a certain kind of approach that you appreciate in others that you try to apply to your own shows?

Yeah, definitely. I started doing the stuff I’m doing now with samplers and synthesizers on stage, because I would go and see live bands, specifically my friends from high school who were in a band called The Mouth-Boat. They were a three-piece band and they were so tight and so crazy and there was so much energy that they would give off, and that’s kind of what I felt I was missing. When I was just doing strictly hip hop music and rapping over pre-recorded beats, I think that I was missing that whole live element.

Were there any particular artists or albums that made you realize that hip hop could be approached in different ways?

One of the things that really blew my mind was hearing Buck 65 for the first time when I was 18. When I heard him for the first time, I was kind of confused by his music. This was before he got signed to a label and he was putting out stuff independently. I heard his album Vertex and it was such an interesting album, because it’s such a work of art and yet there’s kind of this mystery behind him. He didn’t really give away too much of who he was and I didn’t know where he was coming from. It took me so long to figure out where he was coming from and I remember going to see him live for the first time and expecting to see him live and understand him a little better. It might have been at the Pyramid or the West End, but regardless, he got on stage and he just had this one light bulb hanging from the ceiling and everything else was dark. He had his turntables in front of him and he didn’t say anything between songs. Songs would just play and he would do the vocals and he would scratch and juggle on his turntables and he was even more mind-blowing to me after that. I was like, ‘Holy shit, I have no idea what is going on here.’ It was just so intriguing to me.

There was also a group called Themselves. They were another group that made me see that hip hop could be so many different things that I hadn’t originally conceived. I got to play with their producer, Jel, in the fall and the cool thing about him is that he does all of the beats live. Just seeing that other acts are doing hip hop music live, bringing their samplers on stage and using their samplers not as computers, was really intriguing to me. They’re not just pre-programming music and pressing play, they’re actually bringing their samplers on stage and playing them like instruments.

What are you currently working on?

I have two songs that I’m hoping to get out on a 7-inch later this year and hopefully those two songs will be remixed a few times, so I’ll be able to put out a digital EP in addition to the 7-inch. I also have another album worth of songs that’s ready to come out. I have a lot of material that I’m just sitting on that I need to put out, so 2013 is hopefully going to be a year of putting out a bunch of new music.
- Spectator Tribune

"Rob Crooks - Hearts (Review)"

What, it’s September already? Well based on the speed in which I get posts up these days, I’d better start crackin’ on my “Records I Missed in 2012? posts if I’m to get any of them up. The first of these is Hearts from Winnipeg’s Rob Crooks.

I’ve had this album on my phone for months, and every time a song would come on I’d be like “man, I like this, I need to post this”, and yet it’s September and I’m only just getting around to it. Well obviously I suck, but this EP is the opposite of suck.

I’d recognized Rob’s name because he’s a member of Magnum K.I., a Winnipeg outfit I was also rather fond of. I had trouble describing Magnum’s sound accurately, and Hearts just takes that difficulty to a new level. It’s like a clash of indie rock, hip hop and some kind of electro punk, only described in some way that would make it sound good, which it is. This is made all the more impressive when you consider Rob constructs all the sounds on his songs from a sampler – if nothing else you should get this EP to hear first hand what a feat this is.

And that’s just on the musical side of things. Vocally, Rob delivers his very personal, often biting, lyrics in a manner that can range from straight-ahead singing to pretty-much rapping, all while managing to create some very catchy tracks. So, while this post may be very tardy, it turns out it is also very topical. Turns out Rob is mere days away from embarking on some Western tour dates, so get familiar with his EP and go see him (with Pip Skid & Dj C0-op) if he’s in your town. - Herohill

""Hearts" Reviewed"

Hearts, the latest solo EP from Magnum K.I. member/veteran rapper Rob Crooks, is an inspired amalgam of indie rock, hip hop and lo-fi electro that buzzes with urgent, nervous energy. Whether he’s rapping or singing, Crooks’ lyrics are raw, personal and bitingly blunt (see: Knows How To, about a girl who "knows how to fuck but doesn’t know much about love," or the aggressive Not Cool, which calls out posers). Recorded by Greg Arcade, the EP has a cool, cassette-tape indie rock feel; there’s definitely an emphasis on the high end, which sets it apart from traditional hip hop albums. Crooks’ sound is fresh, and Hearts has a strong pulse.
- Uptown Magazine

"Feel Hearts' strong pulse"

Like a lot of great albums, Hearts, the latest EP from veteran local rapper/Magnum K.I. member Rob Crooks, was the result of late-night, boredom-fuelled experimentation.

"Originally, the songs that ended up on the EP were never meant to come together as an album — they were songs I made in my spare time away from writing my hip hop music," he explains. "Hey! Hey! was the first song I wrote. I was home one night and I had a more sophisticated sampler that broke down. But I didn’t want to sit around, so I dug out my old sampler — my first sampler — and that song came out."

Feeling inspired by that initial session, it wasn’t long before Crooks, 29, had enough songs for an EP. "They were really fun to write and they’re fun to perform," he says.

That point could be owed to the fact that Crooks doesn’t use his sampler as a sequencer; rather, every sound is triggered live.

"I had friends in bands and I was always super-jealous of the energy they’d get at their live shows," he says. "I think a lot of hip hop lacks that these days — unless they can rap with a DJ or a live band. I really wanted to capture that live energy with these songs." (Indeed, Hearts is aptly named; there’s a distinctly human pulse that runs through the EP.)

The live element of Crooks’ solo setup — one voice, one sampler — does more than give the songs on the EP more energy; it also keeps the long-time performer on his toes.

"It’s nerve-wracking — there’s so much more to screw up than when I was rapping over a backing track," he says with a laugh. "This is a whole new experience. It reminds me of the nervousness I felt as a teenager when I first started playing shows. That nervous energy can translate into something powerful."

Hearts also marks something of a departure for the rapper. The EP borrows elements from indie rock, electronica, post-punk and, as far as songwriting is concerned, folk.

"It’s definitely different from the stuff I’ve done in the past," he says. "My friend (local musician) Greg Arcade recorded it, and it’s recorded like an indie rock album. Hip hop albums tend to have a lot of bass; this accentuates the higher end."

The new sounds on the EP are largely the result of Crooks’ ever-expanding musical palette.

"For such a long time, all I’d listen to was hip hop," he says. "There are lots of different kinds of hip hop but, in the last few years, I started listening to more music. I almost regret being so constrained in my listening — but it’s also easier now. When I was in high school, there was only so much money for records, so I’d stick with hip hop because it had proven itself in the past."

Crooks has no intention on completely abandoning hip hop, but he’s excited by the direction Hearts has led him in. He’s reached a new plateau in his career.

"Reaching a new plateau is a good way to put it," he says. "I never felt stagnant writing rap music but, towards the later years, I felt a bit constrained. Now, I feel like I’m excited to go back into the studio."

Rob Crooks’ Hearts EP will be available at the show or at as of March 20.
- Uptown

"Rob Crooks: breaking boundaries with Hearts"

By Kent Davies

Rob Crooks has been a music making machine since the fourth grade. He’s been rapping, battling, making beats and sampling before he even hit high school. He’s been an integral part of Winnipeg’s burgeoning hip-hop scene, having a hand in everything from collaborating with Pip Skid on his Skid Row album, to ripping up the stage with rap-act The Fucking Retards, to writing the bulk of Magnum K.I.’s acclaimed debut album. Whether he’s rapping in viral videos about Jets games or posting the next fresh piece of local music as a contributor on the witchpolice blog, there’s a chance you’ve been exposed to the infectious creative prowess of Rob Crooks. However, unlike his previous projects, his solo debut EP Hearts doesn’t fit in the realm of conventional hip hop. Armed with drum machines, samplers, keys and a commanding growl, he’s managed to redefine himself with a solo sound that can’t be pinned down. Combining groove-laden soundscapes and ferocious lo-fi post punk, Crooks has managed to create an EP that appeals to an audience beyond the hip-hop community. Recently Stylus interviewed Crooks before his EP launch at the Lo Pub on March 15.

Stylus: Your new EP is a really interesting mix of not just hip-hop, but indie-rock and pop. Was it important for you to not only stick to one genre with Hearts?
Rob Crooks: When I wrote the songs I wasn’t looking for a specific genre. It wasn’t what it was about. It’s kind of freeing that way. With Hearts I wasn’t so worried about pleasing anybody or sticking to any constrained formula.

Stylus: How do you differentiate your solo sound from your group projects?
RC: I’ve always been writing weird rock or pop songs just on my downtime. I never really took them seriously but with this one it was different. I was pretty much using the same methods to make the music I usually make. Sampling records, looping, manipulating the samples into my own sound and then putting it all together. The way the songs came out with Hearts was really organic. I wasn’t really thinking about should I have 16 bars and a rap verse here and chorus there and then another verse. The songs just kind of came out easily. I like the fact you can slow it down and have less words and be more vague. With rap or hip hop the tendency is to be really literal. With pop songs you can let people interpret it their own way.

Stylus: I understand that this has been a long process in creating Hearts. A lot of these songs were originally demos you had been working on for a while?
RC: The songs have been around for a long time but it didn’t necessarily take that long to put the EP together. I think I was a little hesitant to push them and put them out as an actual project. It did take a while for me to be confident in the project and to get behind it enough to actually put the time and effort and money into putting it out as a release.

Stylus: You’re known for doing more than a few projects at once. Was it difficult to take the time to do the solo thing when you have so many other commitments?
RC: Sometimes you have a solo project as default because you have other commitments. When you belong to a group some of those people have other projects too and other lives and they may not be around when you’re ready to go and make music. When I go out and make music with the other bands I’m in, it’s kind of like you set a time and hang out. The solo stuff I do is when I’m at home alone.

Stylus: Is the process more personal because of that?
RC: Definitely. I think there are no walls up when you work by yourself. It’s just very raw. I’m not worried about what other people think. You’re free to let yourself get caught up in them. You’re not really expecting the reaction you get once they’re pushed out. You’re the only audience.

Stylus: “Hey Hey” is probably the catchiest song from Winnipeg since “Taking Care of Business.” Are you interested in exploring more indie-rock and pop music with the success of that song?
RC - Stylus


"Hearts" - Rob Crooks, 2012



My name is Rob Crooks. I'm from Winnipeg. I make unconventional forms of hip-hop music. This is my bio.

My real name actually is Rob Crooks - Robert Andrew Crooks, to be more precise. It's a traditional name in my family. Another tradition in my family is music. I grew up in a house full of records, instruments and self-taught musicians. Music has always been an integral part of my home life, which is probably why I started writing songs when I was only in the fourth grade. By the time I was fourteen I was rapping. My first rap was about Louis Riel, who I had recently learned about in school. By fifteen I was making beats on an old drum machine that my friend found at a second-hand music store. I now have many years of experience on a wide range of vintage and contemporary samplers.

I used to enter rap battles - a lot. Before 8 Mile. I liked freestyle rapping. I had a lot of fun doing it, and I made a little bit of money too. But it was never what I was meant to do. I write songs. By the time I was 24 years old, I was selling CDs and traveling all across Canada performing them, from Victoria to Montreal. Eventually people started to notice the songs I wrote. Within a few years I had written songs for people like Canadian hip-hop veterans Ismaila Alfa (fka Mocean of Frek Sho) and Pip Skid. I've also written the bulk of Magnum KI's material, including half of their 2010 self-titled album, which was nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award.

Nowadays, I'd just as soon take my sampler up on stage with me and pound out beats from the pads, and rap my own songs - or sing them - by myself. Whatever it takes. And hopefully, when people hear the songs, they will feel the urge to get up and move around to them. And listening closer, they will realize that the songs are coming from me and my little box. And with any luck, I will hit the mark, and they will understand that the songs are about them.