There have been a number of defining moments in Cquel’s life and music career.
When he was a child, there was the influence of his sister Tara Kalyn, who is seven years older.
“My sister was a big part of me finding hip hop,” he said. “Anything she did when she was a kid I thought was cool. She got into skateboarding in the ’80s when it wasn’t trendy. People hated skateboarders and didn’t want them in their parking lot.
“I would steal her skateboard t-shirts and stuff. I was always trying to be different, too. She liked a lot of punk rock music and I found a tape she had of the Beastie Boys, and all of a sudden I loved the Beastie Boys.”
Cquel (pronounced Sequel) laughs when he says a music store helped him out as well.
“I went to the mall when Circle Park first opened and Music City was in there. My friend watched my bike and I went in and stole a Run DMC tape.”
Honest, his life hasn’t been about stealing things. Besides, there must be a statute of limitations on swiping a tape from Music City 25 years ago.
Cquel, who was born Evan Thompson in Prince Albert, has lived in Saskatoon since he was two. He made his first music using a couple of ghetto-blasters. Then it was four-track recorders.
“Now anybody can go online and download a program and make everything sound super crisp and clean. It’s changed the way kids growing up do this compared to how we did.”
Cquel has been selected to do a performance showcase next month in Toronto at Canadian Music Week. He’s the only hip hop artist from west of Manitoba to be selected for the festival.
It was the summer before he went into Grade 11 when Cquel started rapping more seriously. He laughs at that memory, too.
“I wrote a couple of verses and kept doing the same verses over and over again because I only had two.”
A friend gave him some advice.
“He said, ‘Man, if you are going to do this, you’re going to have to freestyle.’”
Cquel was reluctant to try improvising while rapping. Finally, he relented.
“I tried and they said, ‘Man you’re great at this.’”
He said freelancing is a measuring stick as a rapper.
“It’s getting lost with the new generation. It’s always been a thing through the ’80s and ’90s and 2000s. If you’re going to go out and write songs about how you are the best — there is a lot of bravado in hip hop — you better be able, on the spot, to come off the top of your head and make something up. If you can’t, someone else, in front of a bunch of people, is going to do that to you and attack you while they are doing it.
“Hip hop is very competitive in that way and that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with it. I gravitated to sports and always tried to be the best at whatever I did. It’s like sports. You always have to think you’re the best. If you don’t feel like you’re the best then, you know what, why are you playing the game?
That being said, there is a point where you have to be humble, too.”
Remember talking about influences on Cquel’s career? A baby girl, who is now five, played a huge role.
“She changed my life a lot. I don’t want to say she made me pursue this as a full-time career, but she really lit a fire under me. If I am going to try and do this, it’s now. It’s now or it’s not happening.”
Before her birth, Cquel quit drinking and using drugs. He said he made the decision to stop drinking after he fought two guys in a bar one night.
“God guided my fists where they had to go,” he said with another laugh.
When he went home he put all the alcohol in his apartment in the hallway.
“I put a sign on it saying, ‘Enjoy Yourself.’ I wasn’t a heavy drug user, but I was smoking weed and played with hallucinogens a little bit on weekends.”
He was dry and clean, but life’s problems continued to pile up. One day, while in his apartment, he prayed for help for the sadness and depression he was feeling.
“I didn’t realize I was a man of faith at the time, until I was asking God for help. I must believe in Him. I started going to the church down the street. I’d go when I knew nobody would be there.”
He dug deeper into his music.
“I just make songs about it and it’s kept me sane. I prayed for everything to be all right and to stick to my guns and stay away from drugs and alcohol.”
There is irony in the fact Christian hip hop had been an influence in Cquel’s music long before he found faith.
“What blew me away about some of these guys is they were Christian rappers who were more talented and could go to battle freestyling against some of these guys that were the gangster rappers during the gangster rap movement. They were better than they were.”
The messages in Cquel’s music are positive.
“I have separated myself in a sense – I don’t swear, I try and have positive messages because I don’t want my kids, especially my older kids, to hear me talking about drugs or degrading women.”
He has daughters that are 19 and 15, as well as his five-year-old. His partner has two daughters as well.
He has performed with the more stereotypical rappers, but doesn’t see it as being hypocritical. It’s his chance to send positive messages to the same fans.
“You know what, every time I do I have people come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed it. So if I can get in front of that many people and start touching more and more of these kids to the point they take my music home, and realize this guy isn’t talking about what this guy’s talking about . . . and it’s all on a positive note with kids, that would be a dream come true. It’s more about touching the people than anything.”
Cquel had a six-figure job selling cars when he decided to pursue his music full time.
“A lot of people would say I was stupid, but it was the greatest thing I ever did. I’m happy now. Having that kind of money doesn’t make a guy happy.”
He said there is nothing like performing in front a crowd.
“It’s awesome, man. When you know you are touching them like that, it’s something else. I’m somewhat of an introverted person but have learned not to be. It’s still more natural for me to stay home.
“It was no different when I was selling cars. The last day I was selling cars, even that day, to walk up to a stranger and shake his hand, I had to take a deep breath and go, ‘OK, nothing bad can happen. I have done this thousands of times.’
“I don’t get nervous to rap in front of hundreds or thousands of people anymore. I get more nervous if I am in a room with two people and they say, ‘OK, let’s rap.’ C’mon, like really?”
There is a story behind his name.
“I spelled it the way I did because I wanted a five-letter name because I was a graffiti artist. A graffiti artist, a lot of the time, wants three-, four-, five-letter names. I didn’t want to have a long one . . . Cquel is the continuation of everything I have been doing — the second chapter.”
It’s going to be a busy year for Cquel. He has two albums coming out. The first one, Aud Man Out, will be available for pre-order on March 30, with the official release April 13.
He plans to tour extensively in Canada and the United States. There was a year when he did 70 shows in about eight months.
“Breaking into the U.S. was really big. I want to concentrate more on getting down there. The second half of this year, I’ll be concentrating a little more on the U.S.”
He loves what he is doing and has no regrets about pursuing music fulltime.
“As long as my kids are taken care of, the bills are paid, then I’m happy.”
For more information, visit cquelmc.com.