Hip-hop artist Ro Walker rents the small room up a narrow staircase in a building downtown. He records his music in the closet of this room. In only four months he’s made it cozy and more like an apartment than a recording studio. There’s a couch, a yoga mat and chairs. He has stashes of coffee and there’s a box of Mr. Noodles in the corner. The smell of incense spills down the hallways. “I wasn’t lying when I said I was poor right now,” he laughs.
But being poor is a sacrifice Walker made for music. “I wouldn’t say it’s something I do on the side, even though I guess I have a job that provides more of my stable income,” said Walker. He’s taking it more seriously than a hobby and hopes it becomes his main income source. He even cut back his hours at his day job to only a few a week to leave more time for music.
It’s been about two years since Walker started doing slam poetry at open mic nights. He realized that he loved performing and loved hip hop, so he decided to see if it could get him somewhere. “It feels like it could still take me places and that’s exciting. I always thought grad school would take me places,” Walker pauses, before laughing. “That’s mostly a joke, just for the record.”
Last year, Walker wasn’t telling many people that he was exploring music, but decided to send JD Francis his only recorded song, “Hip Hop Hates Me.” Francis liked it and asked Walker to perform three songs at the Pride Winnipeg’s Pride Forks Festival. “I didn’t really expect to be showing my music to the world yet, it just sort of happened,” said Walker, who thought he had better take the opportunity. And he hasn’t regretted it for a moment.
Walker was also asked to perform at Regina Pride last year and has been invited back to the stage for this year’s Pride in Winnipeg. He’s playing two songs this year and is struggling to decide what to play. He said with a three-song set, you could mix exciting songs with slow songs. “But with two, what do I do? Exciting song, sad song then leave you on a sad note? No! I couldn’t do that,” said Walker. When he decides, he’ll be keeping it to himself because he thinks it will be fun to surprise people. He promises that there will be something new and that he will be announcing the date his EP will be ready though he’s not sure yet which day he’s performing. “Whenever they need me, I’m ready!”
But he’s not quite ready yet. Walker plans to hit the gym before taking the stage. “The main difference between recording and writing and performing is you need to do a bunch of songs in a row. I need to get my cardio up,” Walker pauses to laugh. “I need to run.”
Walker is applying to other Pride festivals, including WorldPride 2014 Toronto, and hopes more will invite him to perform. “I think that Prides are a good place for me to start,” said Walker. “I’m still new to music. So new to music. I’m learning new things everyday.”
– Meg Crane is the books & movies and news editor of OutWords and editor-in- chief of Cockroach zine.