"Whoever is not with me is against me; whoever does not gather with me, scatters,” – The Book of Luke, chapter 11, verse 23.
The verse is the mantra of Regina hip-hop group Rezofwar Dawgs (R.O.W.) and one they play close to the chest. The group is all about believing in one's self and empowerment. For the members of R.O.W., that means speaking no bullshit and taking no bullshit from others. Their songs are all written from experience. They are adamant that if you didn't live the words being spit over the bars, there's no point in saying them.
It's a gloomy March afternoon in Regina's North Central neighbourhood when four members of R.O.W., clad in black and covered in tattoos, sit down to discuss their music. North Central is a long-storied and stigmatized section of the city - once branded “Canada's Worst Neighbourhood” by Maclean's Magazine. It's also the place they call home.
Terrorize, G-Face, Misfit and Sirda all roamed the streets of Regina throughout their lives but it was only within the last few years that they came together to create music.
R.O.W. is the brainchild of founding member Terrorize. Originally from Regina, he made his way out west when he was 18 years old. Terrorize met many other freestyle rappers walking the streets of New Westminster, B.C. It was during that time he honed his skills through collaboration and competition before making his way back to Saskatchewan with new found inspiration.
“I was a small fish in a big pond,” he said.
That was in 2000. Sixteen years later, they're still making music. They've been recording professionally since 2005.
“Back then, we used to record on a tape deck. We had one take,” G-Face said.
Through the years, he met the rest of the group who he called brothers, and started making music.
“It was a movement we could all agree on to help us move forward. The idea of unity, to speak to the positive side of natives,” Terrorize said.
“Not only the positive but we also influence a lot of negative actions in our music. It is who we are. We don't filter our music for nobody,” Misfit added, speaking candidly.
The subject matter of R.O.W.'s songs are varied. Some songs are deeply personal, such as “Still Lost,” in which Sirda and Misfit spit over a beat about the loss of parents. There are songs about racism and discrimination faced in Saskatchewan, a province that's over 85 per cent white. Their songs address politics, colonialism, violence and sometimes just good old party-bangers.
“That's who we are, that's what we are, that's what we do,” Sirda said. “We're trying to show the brighter side of life, that there is more, yet we are here doing what it is we doing.”
“You ever see a pack of dogs feast on something? We hungry,” Misfit said.
“Within those 15 years, it started out as just a couple of people. We progressed as a group, we started adding new members as it went along in life,” Misfit said. “I'm basically the newest member of Rezofwar. I left the group and came back.”
“We accepted him with open arms. He'll always be our brother,” G-Face said of Misfit's return to the crew.
As new members of the group are added, a lot is learned from rap game veterans such as Terrorize.
“When Terrorize first found me, I was a shitty ass rapper, man. I didn't know much of the fundamentals about hooks, verses and bars. I was just a freestyler, and I still am, but he taught me lots,” G-Face said.
There are 14 members all together. Sirda calls R.O.W. a coalition.
“There's at least 10 people behind every member, and 10 people behind those members,” Sirda said.
Other members include CeMike, Swagga Rich, Murder Mike, Cashwoe, Nate Dawg, Don't Sting, Joe Crow, D.E.V., K Money and B-Bang.
“Free K Money! Free Cashwoe!” is shouted as they listed off the members.
With so many members, the influences are diverse. R.O.W. Is influenced by rappers such as 2Pac, Ice Cube and Eazy-E, but also Elvis Presley, George Jones and Johnny Cash.
As performers in different stages of the rap game, they've had every reaction from a crowd you can name.
“Beautiful,” Sirda said of some of the reactions.
“We get people that dislike us for some of the content. We got people that f--kin' love our music because they're in the same situation,” Misfit said.
“People that love it just because it's real,” Terrorize said of their music. “One way or another, we did that.”
Misfit said realism, love and the bond they share as brothers makes R.O.W.'s music what it is.
“We can argue. We can fight. We're still brothers,” G-Face added.
“Blood makes you related but it's the blood you're willing to share that makes you a brother,” added Misfit.
Three of the four are members of the Crazy Indians Brotherhood. Misfit is the captain of the Regina chapter.
“I'm always trying to convert the rest of the members,” he said.
The Brotherhood's main objective is to help others and defend the natural laws of the nation, which include respecting traditional First Nations beliefs of community, belonging and respect.
“If we can do what's in our reach, we'll do it. If you need a voice, we'll be your voice. If you need somebody to be strong for you, one of us will be strong and stand up for you. It's all about reconnecting with our roots and getting back on that old trail,” Misfit said of the Brotherhood.
Misfit emphasized that the Brotherhood is not male-centric.
“If someone needs food or diapers, if we can do it at the time,we will. I'll ask all our brothers to pitch in, whether it is five bucks, two bucks, it all adds up in the end.”
Return to the Stage
Together, the four of them performed as a group at the annual Sakewewak Artists Collective Storytellers Festival.
It was their first show since 2011 when they were slotted to perform at the 306 Hip-Hop Sk8 Shop, opening up for west coast rap giant Xzibit. The show did not end well.
“We had to pay to do that show,” Misfit said. “That pissed us off.”
“We got shown the door,” Sirda said, reflecting on that night before correcting himself. “No f--k that, we walked out. That's the last time we did a promotion for that particular guy. A lot of anger, a lot of emotion that night.”
It was that experience that made them stronger. After a long break, they still performed together like they didn't miss a day.
“We were always a group but we decided to go out and do our own thing for a time,” Misfit said. “Our patch will always be on us, always be Rezofwar.”
The group has released four albums so far: R.O.W. Vol. 1, Most Hated, R.O.W. Vol. 2 and Out the Cage. The group has no plans to stop any time soon. They'll continue to release more music as time goes on. Some of R.O.W.'s music can be found on Reverb Nation.
Still, they describe R.O.W. as a work in progress.
“At the end of the day, we're not going to put out bullshit. All of us have to be happy with our parts. That way we know we have it,” Terrorize said.