Just like the title of his latest album, Midnight Sun, might suggest, North Vancouver hip-hop artist Kyprios appears at first glance to be a walking contradiction.
He is a fiercely independent solo artist who first gained a name for himself in the hip-hop supergroup, Sweatshop Union. He's a Juno-nominated rapper who writes stage plays on the side. He caught the attention of a major label by adamantly refusing to compromise his socially conscious content and artistic integrity.
In short, Kyprios, born David Coles, represents two sides of the same coin, and it's that duality he's tried to convey in his third solo album, Midnight Sun, which features instrumentation from The Chaperones.
"From the title, it's two juxtaposing ideas, and the record's kind of like that: it's dark and it's light," he explains. "As opposed to a verse and a chorus, a verse and a chorus, I like tunes that have an intro, a verse, a pre-chorus, a bridge, an outro, so I really tried to step up my songwriting and flesh out these tunes."
These days, Kyprios is something of a pillar of the Van City rap renaissance, and credits his career's development to one of Canada's most celebrated hip-hop collectives, who would gain fame in the early 2000s for their earnest, politically-minded lyrics.
"You couldn't just put out anything (with Sweatshop), it had to be balanced with the other music that was coming out, and we all really took care of that name and that brand," he says. "Sometimes as a solo artist there is no filter, there's no one saying 'Do this or do that.' And sometimes when you're left to your own devices, or if you've just got 'Yes Men' around you, you're putting out stuff that's not quality."
But the gifted lyricist seems to be doing quite all right on his own, never content with resting on his laurels no matter what creative endeavour he puts his mind to. On top of his decade-plus in the rap game, Kyprios has waded into the waters of several other art forms: acting for the stage and TV, performing his introspective spoken word pieces, doing voiceover work for MTV and EA Sports, and writing two successful plays, including the musical Ash Rizin, which detailed the struggles of its eponymous main character, a graffiti artist who struggles to balance his newfound fame with the gang lifestyle he grew up surrounded by.
The inexhaustible rapper isn't worried about stretching himself too thin creatively, however, and credits all of his diverse experiences with pushing him further as an artist.
"I was listening to Joni Mitchell talking about her paintings and her music, and it's funny how linked they are — I mean they're completely different languages but they both end up helping one another in the end," he says.
"I just think over the years, all of the art I've done has always helped everything else. The more I understand music and the rhythm of music, the better my timing got in theatre. These things are really inextricably linked."
Kyprios caught the attention of Sony in the early '00s after he sent the label an unsolicited package of his material, including a few of his early solo tracks and a video of his controversial, poetry-slam winning spoken word piece, Hate. Still, even with the pressures that came with signing to a major, compromising his art never once crossed the mind of the Vancouver artist.
"Would I like a broader fan base and more fans? Sure, but does that mean I want to change how I express myself or what I'm saying in order to get that? No, I've never once thought that that would be the way to go about doing it," he explains. "I try to become a better songwriter, I try to become better in the way I articulate myself, but I just think I've never spent too much time — and probably to my detriment — on really focusing on the business side of things. It never appealed to me."
With a long rap career under his belt, Kyprios feels the responsibility to mentor some of the up-and-coming artists he comes across, like Whistler's own Animal Nation, who have accompanied the MC on his most recent tour.
"I will impart as much as I can," Kyprios says. "Whatever wisdom I can say that I've received from this life and this career I'm more than happy to share if people want it."
Catch Kyprios and Animal Nation at Tommy Africa's Friday, April 11, at 9:30 p.m. Animal Nation also opens for De La Soul the next day at Skier's Plaza.