Writing a song with Moka Only

At one point I was very interested in hip-hop and how it relates to spoken word and jazz. I had some concepts for songs I wanted to create and had some connection to David Ng, who had had some success as Snow's manager (Informer, etc.) We had a common associate in Bernie Walsh, who at the time owned Comfort Sound recording studio in Toronto.  So, David Ng and Bernie were talking about forming a record label which would release 52 vinyl singles in 52 weeks and would be hungry for content.  

Now, David Ng was busy flying to Hong Kong, Thailand and all over, setting up successful projects with artist like "Joey Boy" who was unknown here, but sold one million copies of his first release in Thailand.  Davis Ng was also busy with his New York company Mo Jam Records, so we were lucky to see him every few weeks for a day or two, even though he was trying to merge in some way with Bernie's Toronto operation.

Meanwhile, I was out there looking for some hip hop people to get involved with and I'm walking along Queen west when I hear this freestyling coming from the Bamboo parking lot.  There are these kids passing the mic around and rapping over beats in a freestyle manner.  Most of it was pretty weak, then this one guy gets on and does a very eloquent, confident, "rapping for all people" kind of diary thing telling about his life and what not.  I grab his number and he writes down his name as Moka Only.

  Now,  keep in mind, this was a few years before Moka and Swollen members had blown up.  Moka was working small clubs solo and as far as I know may have been friends with members of the Swollen Members guys, sometimes writing tracks with them when he was back in the Vancouver area.  After a week I start trying to contact him and it's like David Ng, where he's in a different city every 3 days, so I'd call the number someone gave me in Montreal and they'd say, "oh yeah he just left and is crashing with some friends in Toronto, it could be one of these three numbers.." Then I'd call Toronto and he'd be "on his way to Vancouver, try this number or he could be at his mom's in Victoria.."   This went on for months until one day he's going to meet me at a restaurant in Parkdale (Toronto) called the Northway.

Now I'm remembering that the Norhtway is a diner where I used to have lunch as a kid in high school but hadn't been there in thirty years.  So I get there and my mind is rushing with memories of french fries with gravy and a small coke for 35 cents in 1970 and how the waitress seemed like she was run off her feet and every table was sat with kids and really humble working people on a high energy lunchtime tip, and how our gym teacher was a bit of a fag and used to show us over and over again how to receive the ball from the other player under your crotch and smoking hash sitting on the steps in the apartment building stairwells after three of us would chip in for a nickel and go up to Rochedale to cop...all this flooding my memory as I walk up to the table where Moka is sitting alone.

So we spend five minutes getting acquainted, he's got his book of rhymes he's writing & considering, from which he likes to  freestyle on the themes.  The guy is prolific, feels more like a poet, kind of quiet and powerful.  It's one o' clock in the afternoon.  He tells me then he's got until 3:30  p.m., at which time he must be on a train to Vancouver, so I say "let's go right now" - we jump in my car and head for the studio.  

I begin to wonder why he is called Moka - because he's a light-skinned Afro-Canadain, kind of coffee like completion?  Later he tells me 'cause he smokes so much - like "Smoker - Moka" (or did I make that up - I can't remember) but anyway I'm thinking of what we're gonna do in one hour of creative time.  I have this track prepared based on how life can get you rushing about so much you can barely think, which was triggered partly by considering David Ng's lifestyle (and my own!) , and I had recorded some live bass, some drum samples and several raucous R n' B like guitars.  I had recorded tracks of the  sung vocal chorus  using the fabulous soul singer Amoy Levy.

We arrive at the studio and Moka gets out his book.   I ask if he has a theme that talks about rushing about and for sure he already has something, but he's like real rap - wants to flow on and on and I'm wanting to do tidy little verses with lots of singing in between to get a "radio" kind of structure, so I just let him go and all in one or two takes with a bit of discussion and editing back and forth he drops for me this  brilliant unbroken diatribe onto analog tape, rapped in sync with the basic bed I had prepared, with no room for the singing parts - then it's time to go.  So to thank him I drive him to Union station, we part very friendly with a bit of a rush from what we got done and I head back to the studio.

In those days my studio was just one big room about 1,000 square feet in a commercial building with no washroom (thank God for the "Coffee Time" next door).  I had an analog 16 track, a few sound modules, one sampler and a DAT deck,  Everything was synched up using smart FSK, or maybe I was discovering SMPTE about then,  but it was before the days that you could record direct to computer reliably, then just slide stuff around until it works.  So there  I was with this long diatribe by Moka and a song that wanted like three rap verses each about 8 bars long to work with this sung chorus idea.

Amoy's singing of the chorus I had written was shining,  (plus she added some wonderful ad libs in & out) and I very carefully, line by line edited the Moka freestyles down to create a concise 3 verses by flipping the lines over to DAT tape, then back onto the analog tape until things were working and came up with this beautiful track called "Agenda", which seems to me, told the story of what both David Ng (my intended target) and Moka were going through at that time.

Here is a sample of the track we came up with:


Here's where I began to learn a bit about what being a "Producer" is like.  I finally got David Ng to hear it, he says "yeah not bad" and that's the last time I remember seeing him.  Moka, I finally got to sign off on some paperwork about co-writing and my (limited) right to use his recorded performance after several mailings and numerous phone calls for a year.  Later he also said  it didn't really represent where he was going artistically.  After all that, the master recording just sort of sat around, and is still sitting around, but I still think it's a great track.

Several years later, this Moka guy is all over the radio and television , and even in fashion ads as a sort of guest member of  Swollen Members.  I'm curious what he would think of the track now,  but I can barely get to talk to him.  Short of formally calling his "people" and probably being treated like a fan or something, my main contact is his  mother's phone number from back when.  I've spoken to her but she's trying to reach him too.......