The Get By
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The Get By

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When the intro’s horns erupt and Justis delivers his first two bars, you get that rare feeling that this is going to be something special. The Kitchener-Waterloo rapper and producer gets everything right on his debut, finding a delicate balance between personalisation and audience inclusion. On “I Am Hip Hop,” he raps, “Despite asthma, I rip mics and write chapters.” Whether he is making a good point (“Try’n To Live,” “Music For A Rainy Day,” “Cocaine”) or just having good time (“Down,” “Get it Right,” “Weekend”), Justis has the cadence, lyricism and production skills to make him a defining voice in Canadian hip-hop. Just Is is just one of the best rap debuts in recent memory. (Do Right!)
- Exclaim! Magazine

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‘A Tribe Called Quest changed my life. All hope of me having a normal existence was over after I heard The Low End Theory.”

Hailing from Kitchener-Waterloo, Justin Vail was raised on a musical diet consisting of his dad’s jazz and his mom’s soca and reggae, but he fell for hip-hop at the age of 10. MCs like Common, Nas and Black Thought (The Roots) also inspired him as Vail began to turn his poetry and short stories into rhymes.

Speaking from his home, Vail explains that he was also hugely influenced by regional hip-hop acts including Fraction, Pro-Logic and, in particular, Embassy.

“I was taken under the wing of a group called Embassy,” he recalls. “When I was a new jack, like 14 or 15, they’d have shows and tell me to come up and do a song or two.”

A decade later — after the recording experience of contributing to an Embassy-led CD compilation titled The Northern Horde — Vail has released his debut solo album, Just Is.
He wrote the album over a number of years, including during a period when he was a student at Ryerson and then at Trebas, and had taken the initiative to hand out free four-track EPs to anyone who would listen. T.O. hip-hop heavyweight DJ Fase was impressed enough to pass a copy to Do Right Music label boss John Kong, who released Justis’ Jazz Music EP mid–last year. Response was strong.

“To tell you the truth, I was just geeked to have vinyl,” laughs Vail. “I never thought I’d have a record out so I definitely spent a couple of hours scratching my own voice and indulging in that.”

Jazz Music, which features the playing of jazz band Ace Kinkaid, immediately signalled that Justis was coming with something a little different for hip-hop created in the late 2000s. Just Is follows on that promise, with much of the album’s production — courtesy of Mantis, Hajah Bug and Justis himself — bringing forward jazz samples and atypical beats. I wondered if Vail had any concern that the jazz leanings might pigeonhole his music?

“A little bit, but at the same time, I had fear for the whole album,” he admits. “I’m not afraid to say that I was terrified releasing this. If you spoke with Mantis, he’d tell you that I almost had an anxiety attack when I gave John the album, thinking that some of the tracks are a little older — they weren’t recorded in the last six months — so I started to worry, ‘Does it sound dated?’ I don’t want to be one of those guys that everybody says ‘This would have been wicked in 1994.’ I definitely had a big fear of that, but at the same time, it’s jazz. How can you not love jazz? I love the freedom of it. There are so many different places you can go to in jazz.”

To these ears, Just Is sounds entirely of the now. It may be a descendant twice removed of hip-hop’s mid-’90s glory period, but the beats and feel are entirely contemporary. Vail also scores points for his cadence, flow and ability to balance thoughtful, introspective rhymes with more playful party material. His current single “Try n to Live,” produced by France’s Drum Brothers, is as hooky as it is heartfelt and filled with life lessons.

“The music I do is very cathartic for me,” says Vail. “I’m really honest with what I try to say. I’m just telling people about myself and I want to be relatable. I find there are a lot of people in hip-hop who tend to almost rhyme at you or even rhyme down to their audiences. I’d much rather converse with listeners and make quality music that speaks to people’s lives.”

“You know,” Vail continues, after I ask for his take on what listeners are responding to in his music, “Some people may just really like the production, others may really be listening and like how I write and what I’m saying. I know I’ve been getting very good feedback on shows I’ve been doing, with or without the band. I try to be very energetic. I love being onstage and having fun with the audience.

“It’s hard to pinpoint what draws people, but whatever it is, I’m glad it’s there.”

- Eye Weekly

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If you aren't as old as some of us around here, you'd likely be forgiven for not knowing there was once a very strong and very active connection between Jazz and hip hop. Not to say that some connection between the two doesn't remain, but once upon a time the biggest acts in the game, like Tribe and Gangstarr made Jazz a pretty regular, and overt, part of their sound. And the biggest names in Jazz took an interest in hip hop as well, with some even doing some collaboration, like the Branford Marsalis-helmed project I mentioned in yesterdays OSM, Buckshot LeFonque, which featured DJ Premier production, and rhymes from rapper Uptown.

But hip hop has changed (for better of worse depends on what side of the ridiculously large, iced-out medallion you reside on), and I, for one, had assumed that the connection between hip hop and Jazz was a thing of the past. Well, it seems I might've been wrong about that. There are signs that jazz is making a welcome return to hip hop production. Last week I reviewed Dragon Fli Empire's new album, Redefine, and there was jazz influence aplenty to be found there. There's even more jazzmatazz this week, as I bring you the sounds of young Canadian rapper Justis and his full length debut from last year: Just Is.

Somehow I missed Just Is when it dropped, but I'm certainly glad it was brought to my attention. Although still relatively young, mid twenties from what I gather, Justis has the charisma and flow of someone that's been doing this for a long time. He's adept at uptempo tracks that celebrate hip hop, like the three songs that open the album: I Am Hip Hop, Down, and Get It Right. But like many of us, Justin Vail also uses hip hop as an outlet to escape the monotony of his day to day, as thoughtful, passionate songs like Tryin' To Live, Power of One, Music For A Rainy Day clearly show.

Those are all solid songs, but it's the aptly-named Jazz Music that I'd have to tab as my highlight. It has a cool, dark-sounding intro but once the keys come in it becomes a sunnier ode to the Jazz musicians Justis clearly has an affection for. And I buy it, it doesn't just sound like someone dropping Jazz-names - it sounds like a real appreciation for the genre. There are other highlights too, like I Am Hip Hop which is a rundown of Justis' devotion to hip hop over a solid beat with some nice horns on the hooks, it sounds like a sped up version of something Tribe might've done. Get It Right is another nice beat, with thick drums and some female vocal snippets, it also features a verse from Mantis, who Justis will be doing a collab with for his next release. Just rocks a doubletime rhyme scheme on Let It Ride that, if I'm being honest, isn't my favorite, but the track has a nice beat (that I know I recognize from somewhere), and he slyly references the Outkast song ("Got up, got out and rocked something") that blew up on the hill recently.

There's a lot to like about Just Is, not the least of which is how listenable it is - it goes down pretty smooth. If I had any complaint, it would be that things get a little same-y by the end of the album - it would benefit from a bit more variance in the types of beats and lyric content. But that is really small potatoes, as the songs stay pretty strong all the way through from one to fifteen, and that is impressive in today's hip hop climate. So there you go, jazz in hip hop isn't a thing of the past, and one of the best examples is from a hungry young Canadian MC. Have to like that.
- Hero Hill

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(I'm a big fan of this album cover... reminds me of Little Brother's The Listening ... maybe its just the colour scheme...)

If you're coming across BM for the first time this is where I introduce a hip-hop album by explaining that I used to be really into hip-hop, but am not really plugged-in any more... but, really, 3 of my last 4 picks of the week have been "urban" (for those of you unwilling to click on the link, its Stanley from the Office): K'naan, the Tor/Suf Stevens Mashup, and now Justis.

So, anyways, usually my obligatory "when I was a kid..." intro is followed up by how said new hip-hop artists, in this case Justis, reminds me of someone that I used to listen to. Who does Justis remind me of? Well, the soul beats/jazz samples/live instrumentation(?) remind me a little of 9th Wonder (who started with Little Brother, but has produced for EVERYONE now - Jay-z, Beyonce - and has put out a couple of stellar remix albums God's Stepson and Black is Back), but I can't really put my finger on what Justis' actual flow(?) sounds like... again, not really plugged-in any more...

Like most hip-hop albums, it follows along a pretty standard schedule of songs: song about how real the rapper is to establish credibility, song encouraging bitches to dance, song about how they are strugglin', etc., but I guess that would be an issue if I felt like it was over the top, trying to rip someone off, or otherwise - I think the term is 'biting' - someone elses material.

Regardless of what Justis is saying (although there are some great punch-lines), the topics he covers, the combination of his flow and over the jazzy, often Stevie Wonder-esque beats, left me with my head nodding for somewhere around an hour...

Check out the interview with Justis & 'PAID TO BREATHE TV' at Justis' CD Release Party for 'Just Is' - Paid To Breathe TV

NXNE 2009- Justis, Mantis & Pangea (The Get By) performed at Revival Nightclub alongside some of Toronto's most popular hip hop groups. AUX TV was there to film it and included the footage/some interview footage in their show.

*Please note this was when The Get By was known as 'The In Crowd' - Aux TV

This is the first video off of Justis' album 'Just Is'

This video is still on high rotation for both MuchVibe and MuchMusic - Revolver Film Co.

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Possibly one of Canada’s freshest offspring of the love triangle between funk, soul, and hiphop, rapper/producer Mantis is the essence of urban music personified.” -from Mantis‘ Myspace

Highly melodic beats bump as Mantis deftly spits his intelligent yet accessible lyrics with the skill of a seasoned veteran. From the opening bars of Still Life it’s clear there’s a new force in Hip Hop coming to us from north of the border.

“Born on the 16th of September 1984, Mantis embodies the love of music passed down to him from his father, a guitarist in a local blues outfit and organizer of many celebrated jazz, blues, and funk festivals in the Southern-Ontario city of Kitchener/Waterloo. First picking up the drumsticks, then the microphone, then finally mastering the art of music production at the Trebas Institute in Toronto, Mantis represents the finest in hiphop culture in all that he creates.” -from Mantis‘ Myspace

Having already produced tracks for the likes of JD Era, Shad K and Point Blank, Mantis is no newcomer to the up and coming Canadian hip hop scene. His track “I Don’t Like To” was the lead single to Shad K’s 2008 Juno Award nominated album – The Old Prince. With guest appearances on Still Life supplied by Rufus John, Justis, Hajah Bug and others there’s no doubt that Mantis in the middle of the freshest hip hop coming out of Canada today. Unfortunately for Mantis and his collaborators, Canadian hip hop still faces a huge challenge when breaking into the American market. Only a few Canadian hip hop artists such as Kardinal Offishaal have achieved any success in America.

Though firmly rooted in the present Mantis‘ sound is more mid-90’s new school than current day. His combination of live instrumentation, soulful samples and melodic flow fit more closely with The Roots than Lil’ Wayne. His Lyrics are thoughtful and well crafted without becoming overly wordy. Mantis is clearly steeped in hip hop history and has an amazing sense for blending the past and present. Likewise he carefully toes the line between indie and mainstream referencing and even partially quoting Jay-Z while also sampling Common. From the classic soul samples of “You Don’t Know” to the musical layering on “Bounce Back” Mantis displays production talent to match the best in the industry. Combine this with his cool melodic flow and you have the best up and coming rapper/producer since Kanye West.

Mantis has already opened up for Canadian hip hop’s biggest star Kardinal Offishaal as well as the K-Os, Jeru the Damaja, and CL Smooth. His talent is undeniable and his craft is clearly honed and ready. The question is whether or not the hip hop world is ready for Mantis. The answer is yet to be determined, but one thing is clear: It is time for American hip hop fans to look to the north and embrace our Canadian neighbors.
- IODA Marketing


2010-The Get By EP
2009-Mantis "Still Life"
2008-Justis "Just Is"
2006-The Northern Horde Mixtape
2002-The Berlin Experiment Mixtape



For years now hip-hop has slowly been segregating its self. Today, the divide between fans of mainstream, more marketable hip-hop and those claiming to be "true school heads" has never been as large. Caught between these 2 hip-hop alter egos is a generation of people who can appreciate the positive aspect of both, but are disillusioned with mainstream hip hop’s lack of substance and its disposability. At the same time, these fans are also disheartened with the attitude and exclusiveness of the underground. Paving a new path from the middle of this crossroads is the The Get By. 2 emcees, 1 DJ and a nation of hip-hop lovers left in limbo. The Get By is the amalgamation of Justis, Mantis, and Pangea Delphi. For nearly 10 years each of these artists has been perfecting their respective crafts as solo artists. Fresh of the releases of their acclaimed solo album "Just Is" and "Still Life", Justis and Mantis decided to combine their efforts for stage shows. Recruiting renowned Radio and club DJ Pangea, the trio very quickly earned a reputation for having one of the most entertaining, energetic and tight live sets in Canada, with the captivating, honest and innovative music to match. It is this reputation that has already had The Get By travel across Canada sharing stages with the likes of Talib Kweli, People Under The Stairs, Rapper Big Pooh of Little Brother, Asher Roth, Kardinal Official, Classified, Shad, Scratch from the legendary Roots and many more. As solo artists Justis' “Just Is” was an international release from Do Right! Music. The album was successful in Canada, charted on the earshot! Top 20 of 2008 for hip-hop on Canada wide collage radio, and gained a large following in markets such as Japan, Germany, France and the UK. Mantis’s “Still Life” has also made waves across Canada and currently has singles charting in the top 10 on many American college radio stations. The two Emcee/Producers and their DJ have been long time friends, collaborators and have always shared the same view of Hip Hop. And at long last, they have decided the time was right to realize that vision. Their goal is to create a home in the middle. To bring hip-hop to the point where people aren’t mainstream or underground. To create timeless music that is honest, soulful and represents who they are and who they want to be. To give people who demand more out of hip hop something to connect with. As the group works on their debut group effort, 2009 – 2010 has already been shaping into a good couple of years. With videos, touring and an album all on the horizon everyone is soon to discover what The Get By is all about. Fresh as a new shirt and cooler then the other side of the pillow, The Get By is what hip hop has been craving for.