Edmonton rap veteran Arlo Maverick pays tribute to the grind on new album, Blue Collar

Some of the best in Edmonton’s hip-hop scene, including Maverick’s Politic Live comrade Dirt Gritie, are featured on the album being celebrated with a show Oct. 21

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Arlo Mavierck is accustomed to the hustle. The Edmonton rapper and filmmaker released the well-received documentary on the city’s history of breakdancing and hip-hop culture, Untouchable Crew, in the summer and is now capping off the year with the release of his second album, Blue Collar.

He’s quick to credit a small team that’s assisted him in recording music and filming but admits to a “lot of sleepless nights” in bringing these projects to fruition. 

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Blue Collar finds Maverick exploring his status as the city’s elder statesman of rap. Bragdocious raps of the past have now evolved into confident discourse, with Maverick reflecting on life lessons while imparting guidance to those following in his steps. The concept of Blue Collar finds Maverick drawing on personal experiences to delve into the misery of the relentless 9-5 grind; we work and suffer to try and succeed in an economic environment that conditions us into thinking material things will bring happiness.

The genesis of the idea behind Blue Collar came in 2017, says Maverick, who found inspiration while working in some less-than-ideal environments while also taking into account the experiences of others.

“Life events that kind of forced me to write something that becomes a social commentary on something I feel needs to be talked about,” says Maverick. “When Kanye West released College Dropout, he was looking at post-secondary education and some of the societal pressures that we have with it. Sometimes we may not be ready for it and sometimes we take on debt just to make people around us happy.”

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Lead album single Night Shift is a bopping examination of shift work’s impact on mental health. Maverick sings about missing out on family moments, sacrificing sleep while downing energy drinks just to make it through the shift, all while being stuck in the cycle of not being able to afford to quit. “Working that night shift/I just want to go home,” goes the refrain.

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Maverick and his team aimed for a more mature sound on Blue Collar. Soul music meshes with trap drums and bleary synths across many of the tracks, creating a tantalizing sound that’s familiar yet contemporary.  

“In order for this album to really reflect advice of the people in the field I felt there had to be something soulful,” says Maverick, who considers soul music a representation of the working-class population, such as Mowtown originating in the blue-collar city of Detroit. “We have a bit of gospel on the album, trap, bossa nova, Afro beats and hip hop. We took all these genres of music and made them work within one body of work but still made sure the soul was there and that it touched (the listener) because the lyrics cut through.”

Album track NOV has Maverick examining the headspace of a worker pushed to his breaking point. A shop floor supervisor’s abuse sends the worker into a spiral. “NOV/nothing of value” echoes over a contemplative piano backing track. Retail Therapy delves into UK drill, with a glitchy bass beat underscoring Maverick’s rapping about the empty thrill of obtaining material goods.

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Edmonton’s Arlo Maverick will be releasing his new album, Blue Collar, on Oct. 20.
Edmonton’s Arlo Maverick will be releasing his new album, Blue Collar, on Oct. 20. Photo by Aaron Pedersen /supplied

Maverick credits Blue Collar’s varied, yet unified sound to the team of people he assembled to work on the album. A majority of the behind-the-boards work is credited to Aristóteles Canga, Cameron Browne and Enoch Attey, who enabled Maverick to explore musical territory outside his comfort zone.

“The push was to get me to sing on songs where I wanted to get other people to get featured,” says Maverick, who stretches his musical chops beyond rapping to try his hand at vocal harmonizing on several tracks. “It was very much a collaborative process in the sense of having people who I trust dearly critique the music “

Blue Collar is a solo album but features a plethora of talent from Edmonton’s hip-hop scene, such as Selassie, KazMega, Just Moe and Oozeela. Maverick’s Politic Live comrade Dirt Gritie jumps on the track On Me, which begs the question: When will fans see the return of the seminal Edmonton hip-hop group?

“Really, from time to time, I’ll be able to pull them off onto a show,” Maverick says about the other Politic Live members, DJ Sonny Grimezz, Bigga Nolte and Gritie, and there’s an offer on the table for the group to produce a new EP, but nothing concrete yet. “Ideally I would love to do another project with them.” 

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Second album single Day Ones pays tribute to the people who have lifted up Maverick throughout his career. The accompanying music video features members of Politic Live, as well as other illustrious members of E-town’s hip-hop/R&B scene, such as Kreesha Turner, K-Riz, Mouraine and Aliby. Archival photos and footage (pour one out for Breakfast Television) highlight the city’s history of rap music, which Maverick is steadfast in preserving. 

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“The introduction for me to hip-hop music was through an older cousin of mine,” recalls Maverick. “He had a cassette tape that had UTFO song Roxanne Roxanne on there. We just kept playing that over and over again.”

As covered in Maverick’s documentary, Untouchable Crew, Edmonton’s small, but vibrant hip-hop community in the 1980s had connections that would pass cassettes and VHS tapes featuring the then-nascent musical form to eager Edmontonians.

“A lot of the earlier tapes that were coming through are ones that somebody would bring in from New York or Toronto or LA. And all of a sudden now it’s like we’re hearing stuff that other people are sharing because it’s making its way around and that in itself I think helped cultivate a scene,” says Maverick.

Based on the positive reaction to Untouchable Crew and the current crop of up-and-coming rappers, Maverick sees Edmonton’s hip-hop scene in a burgeoning state.

“You want to be able to allow for there to be innovation and new ideas brought to the table … (but) we have to maintain the foundation of what the culture is,” says Maverick, who prides himself on bridging the creative generational gap through assisting fresh talent. “With a lot of the younger artists I tried to do as much mentorship as possible. I try to learn from them when possible, but then at the same time, I also try to give them guidance in the sense of OK, like I get this but let’s make this into a solid. Let’s make this into something that can stand the test of time. 

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“I try to be the big brother that I would have wanted within my life when I was growing up as far as creating music. I had a lot of people who mentored me, but a lot of them were people I had to seek out. I think that we are in a position now where there’s been generations that have gone through it, that we should be able to be present for them.”

Maverick is currently working on two more documentaries, one about Edmonton hip-hop trio The Maximum Definitive, and the other about the local cricket community, which Maverick says will have musical ties, including to Canadian rapper Saukrates.

Blue Collar comes out on Oct. 20. Maverick will also be holding an album release party on Oct. 21 at the Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre.

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