Hip-hop fans in the States may not realize it, but Dan-e-o is one of the most successful independent artists of the past fifteen years. He’s been releasing music since the mid-90s and one of his songs has a video with overseven million plays on YouTube. The reason his accomplishments aren’t so familiar in America is because he’s from our neighbor to the North, Canada, and far too little Canadian music makes it into the States. This week RapReviews caught up with Dan-e-o to find out about the Canadian music scene and how the government is involved with it. Dan-e-o also opened up about some of his career defining moments, his latest project, which is J Dilla inspired, and a few of his endeavors outside of music.

Adam Bernard: The Canadian hip-hop scene is one American audiences SHOULD know more about, but despite only being divided by a handful of slightly angry individuals at the border, Canadian hip-hop rarely makes it onto American airwaves. Why is it that your scene stays so close to home? Do you have to be on Degrassi to cross the border?

Dan-e-o: Ha, I know, EH? I’ve always felt that Canada’s close proximity to the United States has been more of a detriment to our entertainment industry than it has been a benefit. Unlike so many other first world countries on the planet that border each other, Canada and the United States share the same language. As a result, we do not experience a culture that is communicated differently through an exclusive language as French is to France, Spanish is to Spain, Italian is to Italy and so on. Therefore, Canadians can easily consume American culture as if it is our own because there is no language disconnect. Everything Americans consume by way of television, film, and music, Canadians do, too. The only difference is that this doesn’t work the other way around because our tiny population by comparison – ten times less – has never been able to afford the marketing and promotion budgets needed to get our television, film and music any love south of the border. To be straight up, Americans are pretty ignorant about what goes on in Canada. If they’re still having a hard time figuring out that it doesn’t snow up here 12 months out of the year, how are they gonna be convinced to check out our movies and music? It has been nearly impossible on an independent level. They outnumber us so greatly, that they generally don’t care about our art anyway. That is, of course, until a Canadian gains mainstream recognition in the U.S. Name any Canadian actor – Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Ryan Reynolds – the list is endless… they all became Hollywood superstars by actually LEAVING Canada. They could appear in every Canadian-made movie ever and they’d still be as famous as my high school janitor down south. It’s a sad truth Canadians are all faced with. Find success in the U.S. and Canada will consider you successful, as well. Case in point: How did people first come to know of Drake as a musician? Most cite his affiliation with Lil Wayne among other American acts.

AB: I know in Canada you have some pretty fantastic support of the arts from your government, including regulations that Canadian radio stations must have a certain percentage of Canadian artists in their playlist. Has this helped the hip-hop scene at all, or has it really been all about Justin Bieber?

DEO: Because of everything I just stated, the Canadian government has taken some strides to support its homegrown talent. There are generally no businesses, be they labels or what have you, that are willing to invest money into our artists, so the artists are forced to invest in themselves. Since radio plays predominantly American music – trust me, OUR radio stations sound like YOUR radio stations – it is pretty much insisted upon that Canadian content be included in the playlists. Believe it or not, without this regulation, you may never hear Canadian music… in CANADA! This has helped Canadian artists somewhat, but sadly our funders generally lean towards favoring artists who don’t really need the money, the Justin Biebers of the world, versus the indie acts who desperately need the funds because they are all forced into the work world to pay the bills.

AB: Moving from the general to something a little more personal, you’ve been recording since ’96. What have been, in your opinion, some of your career defining moments?

DEO: Actually, I’ve been recording since I was in elementary school. It just so happens that 1996 was the year that I first got a record out. When “Dear Hip-Hop” was released in ’96 it was a blessing because the song got licensed to a big compilation album that jump started the careers of many dope artists including Kardinal Offishall and Choclair. I got to go on a nationwide tour with Choclair and the video for “Dear Hip-Hop” was in steady rotation on MuchMusic. The tour was definitely a career defining moment, but it also provided a huge slope for me to slide down. Reality set in when I realized that regardless of how many people knew and loved the record, no recording deal was imminent. My career, thus far, has been defined by my relentless work as an independent artist. Co-creating One Rock Records with my crew, Monolith, and dropping The Long Awaited… EP in 1998 was a bigger achievement than most realize. Subsequently releasing two more solo albums independently was also big, and this was all before the advent of YouTube and the social networking sites that everyone uses to push their projects now.

AB: Speaking of YouTube, your video for “Kama Sutra” has nearly 7.5 million views. What’s the story behind that?

DEO: {*laughs*} Bro, I honestly think that the song’s title has more to do with its millions of views than anything else! But it’s all good. Anything that helps the world check my music out is cool with me. I’m sure there are a lot of disappointed horny cats out there looking for some sex tips online only to find my fairly tame music video. {laughs} The next video I put on YouTube is gonna be called “Beyonce In Hot Three Way With Christina Milian And Halle Berry!”

AB: You just released a project titled Dilla Pickles. Can I assume it’s the melodic meshing of J Dilla and Snooki from Jersey Shore declaring her love for her favorite food?

DEO: Oh God. Shame on you for mentioning J Dilla and Snooki in the same sentence! That’s sacrilege. Dilla Pickles is an all-out tribute to one of the most inspiring and innovative hip-hop artists of all time. J Dilla helped create the last true soul-meets-funk hip-hop of the modern era. Every track is done on a Dilla beat and the entire project is presented in both album and mixtape form in one FREE download from my website. The format itself was inspired by J Dilla who has released albums in both vocal and instrumental formats. The project kinda started by accident. I was so disenchanted with what people were calling “hip-hop” these days that I was in a mental funk with respect to writing. I naturally listen to Dilla’s music often and come up with concepts and rhymes for a lot of his instrumental work. One thing lead to another and one song turned into sixteen within the span of about ten months. The project contains some of my most heartfelt material because Dilla’s music brings that out in me. I touch on topics ranging from my relationship with God to heartbreak to my (sometimes) crazy sex life. Dilla’s music helps me to be comfortable expressing all sides of me. As humans, we are not one dimensional. We are not happy, or sad, or angry all of the time. Life is a crazy collage of all of the above plus more. I visit this range of emotions on Dilla Pickles as I was inspired by the various Dilla beats that seem to convey them. From the melancholy “Already” on “Dilla Says Go,” to the overtly abrasive “Locked” on “Oh Oh,” I love rhyming on Dilla’s music, man. His passing is truly a huge loss for music.

AB: What are you working on now, musically, and what directions are you hoping to go in that you haven’t gone before?

DEO: Currently, I’m working with Promise on the debut album from Perfeck Strangers. It’s due out in the new year and already we’re pushing our “Work to Do” single on radio up here. The version featuring Drake is out now for FREE download and it’s beginning to make a lot of noise. This project itself is already a sign that I’m taking things in a new direction. Along with Promise, I’m in the midst of creating my best material yet. This album is a real combination of lyricism and soul. I was brought up with soul and funk music being at the heart of what inspired me to become a musician. I’m completely not interested in hip-hop that lacks soul. So yeah, I’m definitely taking my music in the direction of exploring ways to touch the listener on an emotional level. Music is supposed to be emotional. It’s the reason why people choose songs as a soundtrack to their lives. People choose wedding songs, unmarried couples choose “their” song, we remember songs based on what we were doing when we first heard them. Our connections to music are undying and I want to create music that people can have long lasting connections to. The Perfeck Strangers joint is on a whole new level.

AB: In addition to music you are also a pro wrestling fan. When did your love of pro wrestling start and talk to me about your involvement in it today.

DEO: I’ve been a fan of music and entertainment my entire life. I was singing and dancing before I can even remember according to my parents. So naturally, as soon as I could select what I wanted to watch on TV, music videos, sports and pro wrestling all became part of the line up. I’ve pretty much been a fan since the first WrestleMania. I wrote an A+ essay – thank you very much- in university about the multi-dimensional nature of pro wrestling. All at the same time, it’s a sport, a television program that follows a soap opera-like narrative, a live theatre event and subculture with it’s own language. I guess it was inevitable that I would train as a pro wrestler for three weeks to shoot my “Corrida De Toros” video in 2000. The video features former WWE Superstars Sinn (Kizarny) (future WWE Superstar at the time) and Jason Sensation. Today, I’m the co-owner of ThaOShow.com and the co-host of a weekly internet radio show called Tha O Show. We don’t see it as a wrestling show, though. My business partner, Big Daddy Donnie and I refer to it as “Locker Room Radio” as the format is literally just dudes talking shit for a couple of hours with pro wrestling and mixed martial arts as the foundation for the conversations. Talk of sports, music, pop culture and chicks is all thrown in there, as well. Nearly 200 episodes deep and nearly a million worldwide listeners as our fan base, Tha O Show is one of my most successful ventures to date.

AB: Your thespian skills are also about to be on display with Anything Goes and the A&E show Breakout Kings. Tell me about those projects.

DEO: Anything Goes is a dope-ass Canadian indie dark comedy written and directed by Bruno Marino. It’ll be out in 2011. A bunch of things get outta hand when a dude looking to impress his girlfriend by “saving” her from a hostage situation goes completely awry. I don’t want to give much away, but I have a small yet significant role playing a dude who gets caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Breakout Kings is a new A&E series that will also debut in the new year that’s written by the same writers as Prison Break. I play a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role in the second episode. I’m really proud of it, though, man. I’ve been wanting to build up my acting chops for practically my whole life but only started taking it seriously within the past five years. I’m really looking forward to getting involved in more projects in bigger ways. I’ve been paying my dues in music for a long time and I have no problem paying them within the acting world, as well. Both shoots were a blast.

AB: Is there an overarching theme, or goal, with everything you do artistically?

DEO: Yeah, dog… reality. I’ve been in many music arguments over the years and the one thing that stays true is that real music lives on while substanceless fluff dies out after a huge shot to the top of the charts. I’ve never been able to not write from the heart, so generally the argument is about what sells vs. what’s good. It’s not easy being a hip-hop artist, let alone a Canadian hip-hop artist, who takes his art so seriously. You compromise a lot of potential success by staying so true to your guns, but it helps you to maintain a die-hard following. At the end of the day, I want to be proud of what I’ve created and how I’ve achieved my success. I’m also willing to accept my shortcomings as a result. Just know that when you hear Dan-e-o, you’re getting the genuine article. Real lyricism has always been the name of the game for me and I don’t see how that is ever gonna change.

AB: Finally, and this is something I need to know, how is it that Canada makes women that are so damned hot? Seriously, dude, is it in the water?

DEO: {*laughs*} I don’t know, but as long as they keep drinking it up, I’ma keep sinking it in!!