For the last dozen years, Josh Classen (Radio and Television ’96) has given Edmontonians their daily highs and lows as CTV’s chief meteorologist. But a recent music video serves as a reminder that Classen’s original career goals involved a much different use of the mic: as a rapper.
925, which was produced and directed by R. J. Cui (and edited by NAIT grad Ben Lirag, Digital Media and IT ’15), is a posse track about day jobs featuring 5 local artists whose income comes mainly from outside the world of hip-hop. Of these, Classen’s face is the most recognizable, thanks to his years on the TV weather beat – and his faux-news report that opens the video only makes his verse in the song, as Mr. Suit & Tie, all the more surprising and effective.
Classen grew up in Lloydminster and started rapping when he was still in high school. He recently spoke with techlife about his other career, finding the right name, and why you won’t find him rapping the 5-day forecast anytime soon.
I was a rapper before I was a weather guy. That’s all I wanted to do. I picked up a tape at Zellers in Lloydminster, and I said to my mom, ‘I want you to buy me this tape, please.’ It was Run-DMC, Tougher than Leather. And at the Record Hound in Lloydminster I bought Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet. That was really the album for me. It sounded so different from anything I’d ever heard.
When I worked in Saskatoon [doing weather in the late ’90s], I used to do shows every couple of months. Then I met up with some guys from the States, and we did an album together. We were called the Worldwide Wordsmiths, because there were two guys in Canada, two cousins from New York, and my buddy from Chickasha, Oklahoma. That was when everyone was on [early instant-messaging program] ICQ, and that’s how we shared beats.
I don’t know how to describe my style. I’ve had people compare me to Souls of Mischief, and I’ve had other people say, ‘No, you sound exactly like Kool Keith.’ And Kool Keith and Souls of Mischief don’t sound anything alike. I think my voice is fairly distinctive. One of the producers I worked with really early on hammered into me: ‘Sound like yourself. Sound like yourself. Sound as much like yourself as you can.’
"As long as you can rap, it shouldn’t matter what you do during the day."
I started rapping as joc, which was a nickname I had in high school. Back in the day, every rapper used to have an acronym. So joc was Juggling Omnipotent Content. That’s what I went by for the longest time. And then Yung Joc had a hit song in the early 2000s, right around when the Wordsmiths were putting out our album. Because I wear a suit and tie all the time [at work], I adopted Mr. Suit & Tie. And then Jay-Z and [Justin] Timberlake go and steal it [for their 2013 song “Suit & Tie”].
When I was trying to make a career out of this, I used to force myself to sit down and write every day. Most of my writing used to take place at 3:00 a.m. Now, I write when something strikes me. I’m not up, generally, at 3:00 a.m. anymore. It’s tough to do radio at 5:30 a.m. when you’re writing rhymes at 3.
One of the comments on YouTube [for “925”] was, ‘F---ing yuppies.’ I mean, I can’t argue with that. That is sort of what my life has become. I live in the suburbs, I have a wife and 3 kids, and I have a day job. But by the same token, as long as you can rap, it shouldn’t matter what you do during the day.
People say, ‘You should rap the weather one day!’ No. I like the weather, and I like rap, and I respect both of them too much to ever mix them. That said, I have a song called Atmospheric Avenger that I did when I was first starting out in Lloydminster, that’s about this superhero who can control the weather and forecast super well.
Every afternoon I do something [on the CTV website] called the Weather Blast. I try not to use [rap] every day as a background because I don’t want to run into copyright problems. But I went a week where I played a different Action Bronson instrumental behind them, and someone sent it to him, and he retweeted it: ‘This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. This white weather guy in Edmonton is doing weather over top of my instrumentals.’ I was just like, ‘Please don’t sue me.’
As told to Michael Hingston