By Jennifer Wood
Photographs by Tyler Warren Ellis
Luke Boyd, a.k.a. Classified, rose to major hip-hop fame over 20 years ago. The rapper, producer, emcee, writer and label owner from Nova Scotia has earned dozens of platinum and gold records, won countless awards and collaborated with some of the best in the industry. He tells The Maritime Edit’s Jennifer Wood exclusively why he finally feels comfortable with who he is and where he is.
Nova Scotia rapper, music producer, emcee and label owner Luke Boyd — best known by his fans as Classified — is many things but not what you’d expect. In a good way. During his multifaceted 20-plus years in the industry, he has released 16 albums, created a production label (Halflife Records), co-hosted the Juno Awards and produced music for and/or collaborated with Canadian and international musicians including Snoop Dogg, Maestro Fresh Wes, Buck 65, Ria Mae and David Myles. His song “Inner Ninja,” featuring Myles, is the biggest rap single in the history of Canadian music. Dozens of his singles have earned gold and platinum status and he has been nominated for and won countless awards, including one Juno Award, five MuchMusic Video Awards and three East Coast Music Awards.
His social media presence is nothing to scoff at either. His music videos have amassed well over fifteen million YouTube views, and he has over a quarter of a million Facebook, Twitter and Instagram followers. He keeps his fans in the loop, giving them regular updates on releases, tour dates, locations and the happenings of new artists on his label, and all of this from his recording studio, his car, his hot tub or his tour bus — from city streets or the middle of nowhere.
This music powerhouse was born and raised in Enfield, Nova Scotia, a community of 5,000 people located 30 minutes north of Halifax. It’s an unlikely spot to inspire one of Canada’s most successful hip-hop artists of all time. And while he has achieved commercial success that has far surpassed anything he could have expected, success that could afford him the opportunity to live anywhere, he continues to call Enfield home. This is where he is the happiest, surrounded by his family, his tightly knit group of lifelong friends and their growing brood of children.
As an artist he knows the good life, with promoters killing themselves to please him, screaming fans dying to meet him and the luxury and comforts that come with success. He’s a self-proclaimed habitual pot smoker and all-night partier, and he has seen and experienced a side of the music industry that some only dream about and the rest of us only see in the movies.
But he’s also the guy who cuts his own grass and regularly goes to church. He is a devoted husband to his wife, Kim Boyd, whom he has been with for over 20 years, and a fun, protective father of three daughters. At his in-home salon, which he jokingly calls Donnel’s (after his actual given name, Donald) he offers hair services — including ponies, pigtails and braids — for his girls. He volunteers at their schools, collects them from the bus and shuttles them to and from sporting events and princess-themed birthday parties.
Classified has used his voice and reach to speak out against light penalties for sexual offenders. His new album features the single “Powerless,” his most important single to date, which casts a much-needed light on the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women and on battered and sexually assaulted women and children. This bold song is a timely piece that speaks about the failure of our society to protect countless silent victims and the importance of speaking up.
The Maritime Edit was invited to experience a typical day alongside the music mogul to get a taste of the charmed life he has created for himself. We met for lunch at the Steak and Stein Family Restaurant, an unassuming hot spot located in a Halifax strip mall. Our meeting was held on the brink of many milestones for the artist, including a 40th birthday, an album release, the relaunch of Halflife Records, and the launch of the first artist named to the company’s label. Coincidentally, the insanely talented Elijah Will, an R & B and pop musician, is also from Enfield. Over juicy steaks and crispy fries, we talked about Luke’s life, career and his many accolades and accomplishments. After lunch we cruised around Halifax in Luke’s white Suburban (with car seat). We climbed a questionable staircase to reach the rooftop of a downtown recording studio and took in an incredible vista of the city’s skyline. As the day turned to evening we were invited to his Enfield home, a secluded and beautiful oasis at the end of a meandering driveway. There we met his lovely wife, two of their three daughters and a handful of his friends. We visited his recording studio, gawked at his gold and platinum records, hung meticulously on the walls, and watched in awe as he played some beats. We had a first listen of a track from his new album, and he played us a snippet of Elijah Will’s first single. For us as fans, the day was a professional and personal triumph.
THE MARITIME EDIT: Congratulations on your continued success. You have been in this industry, a tough one at that, for over two decades. What or who inspired you to make music a full-time thing?
CLASSIFIED: Thanks. A lot of people have helped me along the way. My dad was in a band and he was also their sound guy. They would jam at our house and after everyone left, all the equipment would still be there. Me and my brother Mike (Mic), who is also in the industry and someone I work with daily, would always run downstairs to the basement so we could work the equipment. I think having my dad and his bandmates around was a big influence. When I was 12 or 13 I really tuned into hip hop — I couldn’t get enough of anything new on the scene and would listen to it constantly. Nineties hip hop had a huge impact on me as did Joe Run, the godfather of the Halifax hip-hop scene at that time.
THE MARITIME EDIT: We learned that you were once laid off from a high-paying IT job and received a generous severance package that afforded you the time to focus on your music.
CLASSIFIED: That layoff was the start of it all. It was in 2003. I was 20 years old and making 42K a year, which was pretty much unheard of at that time. That job lasted a good year before the company was bought out and turned into other companies. But even before things really slowed down and I was offered severance pay, I would spend any free time I had at work writing rhymes and searching the internet to learn anything and everything I could about hip hop. The layoff happened and I thought, “This is perfect!” I was covered for a year, which meant that I could focus on my music. The day before I was due to leave they offered me another position, but by that time I was so excited about what was ahead that I just couldn’t say yes. My parents and my friends — everyone thought I was nuts to leave such a high-paying gig. But by the end of that year I was making enough money through music to support myself. I wasn’t making 42K or anything, but I was paying my bills and waking up every day doing what I love. I remember I had a notepad that would have scribbles in it, like $200 for a beat. I would think, “Okay, I have that $200 coming from that work and I’ll get $100 for that job. I can make rent and pay that bill.” It just kept growing and soon the income didn’t just cover the lights, my food and keeping a roof over my head.
THE MARITIME EDIT: At what point did you hire a manager?
CLASSIFIED: I did it all on my own until 2009. People around me were helping for sure, but they weren’t really in the industry. We were selling 25,000 records and our tours were successful. But unlike many others in the industry, we weren’t getting any record deals. Then two months after I signed with my manager, Jason Murray — who, in my mind, ranks in the top five managers in the country — we got a record deal and a booking agent. Initially there was a lot of stubbornness on my part. I had my back up about handing over 10 percent to a booking agent, knowing that I had spent the previous six, seven years building up my business. I thought that I had established these connections without their help, but in the end, they did bring me way more opportunities than I could have nailed down. I guess I was being hard-headed. I had been doing it all on my own before, but it felt like no one was noticing. Then when I started making some real money, they wanted in on it. That was how it felt to me at the time anyway. Jason really taught me how and when to step back and look at the big picture. This big-picture thinking helped me be more aware and patient, and in doing so I was able to really understand the workings of the industry.
THE MARITIME EDIT: Can you tell us about these lyrics from “Beautiful Escape”? “They told me, ‘Dream on dream on. You're over your limit. You'll never make it.’ But I did and it's only the beginning.” Who or what made you think that you couldn’t make it as a musician?
CLASSIFIED: The hip-hop world mostly. When I came into the scene I was always the youngest, least-experienced person in the crowd. I was the kid trying so hard to make it. I was always the one working harder than anybody else while trying to prove that I could hang in the hip-hop community. Even once I became successful I was still feeling like I had to prove something to the people in the hip-hop world. I especially felt that way in Halifax.
THE MARITIME EDIT: When did the feeling of having to prove yourself stop?
CLASSIFIED: When I had kids. Once I became a father I just didn’t care about stupid shit anymore. I became aware that it didn’t make a difference to worry about whether people liked my music, and I became very aware of the idea that you can’t change how people think. It’s the same thing I was just saying about getting a manager. Having kids enabled me to step back and see things from a bigger, different perspective. I even stopped worrying about what people in Halifax thought of me. I used to think I needed to get into Halifax to prove myself, but before I could even prove myself there I was touring throughout the entire country and enjoying more success than the guys I thought I needed to impress.
THE MARITIME EDIT: How about the lyrics, “Cause I’m from a town where you can’t afford to f*ck around”?
CLASSIFIED: I am from a small town where not much happens. I knew I needed to make it or I’d be doing the same thing day after day. Coming from a small, secluded area and one that is certainly not known for hip hop has helped me. I still feel like I go into new opportunities as the underdog, which I love. I would rather be the guy who people think isn’t going to do anything and prove them wrong! Where I come from has made me work harder. I knew that I had to go at this with way more intensity than someone who lives in Toronto and has connections, who can perform on MuchMusic every week and get opportunities more easily.
THE MARITIME EDIT: The roster of musicians you have collaborated with is so impressive. What have your collaborations meant to you as an artist, and for your career?
CLASSIFIED: A lot of times these collaborations come from me being a fan. As a producer, working with other artists has taught me totally new ways of making music. I remember fighting with my parents over whether I could listen to Snoop Dogg. For sure I was stoked to record a song with him, but to be honest I don’t think it did a whole lot for my career. I’m sure some people heard my music because of our connection, but I don’t find collabos to be game changers. Maybe 15 years ago they would have been, but with the internet and with music being so accessible I don’t think they have the same reach now.
THE MARITIME EDIT: How did the collaboration with Snoop Dogg happen?
CLASSIFIED: When Snoop was in Truro filming a Trailer Park Boys episode, we sent some demos that he liked. I think I was mowing my lawn when I got a call from his manager, who told me that Snoop wanted to record that night! I knew that I couldn’t have Snoop come to my house just to hang with my kids — I needed to set a mood! So I called all my friends and was like, “There is going to be a sick party here tonight. Snoop’s coming!” In the end, his filming went over and he couldn’t come, which was disappointing. Two nights later we took the studio and the party to a roadside motel in Truro and recorded there. I remember when I first saw him — he looked like a grandmother! He was cold and wrapped in a blanket! But you know, Snoop is Snoop. He’s always the same guy, whether you see him on Jimmy Fallon, or party and record with him at a roadside motel in Truro, or watch him co-host a cooking show with Martha Stewart. He’s always the same guy.
THE MARITIME EDIT: You produced Ria Mae’s self-titled album, which featured the hit song “Clothes Off.” It went on to achieve big commercial success and win industry awards. Can you tell us about that collaboration?
CLASSIFIED: She is another Halifax-based artist who was having trouble breaking into the music industry. She approached me to produce her songs, which she paid for herself, and then she spent something like eight grand on radio promo spots. She went all in. I respect that. Before long I got a call from the president of Sony Music, who told me that they wanted to fly here to meet with her. We met in my studio and she played the 10 demos from the new album. Sony signed her on the spot and hired music manager Terry McBride, who once managed Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne. The whole day was like something you’d see in a movie.
THE MARITIME EDIT: In your song “Work Away” you relate to so many Canadians who need to leave home for several days, even weeks, to work. How do you like being on the road? And at which end of that is the transition harder, from being at home to on the road touring or from touring to being at home?
CLASSIFIED: I was on the road doing festivals this summer, which is the tour rhythm I like the best. You fly into festival performances for two or three days and party hard, and then you get to go home again. With touring, after a week I start to hate it, but after two weeks I find a new groove and feel like I can do it for six months. It’s like doing one makes you appreciate the other. Right now I am home and finishing another album. I feel terrified to go on the road for a month. I see my kids and I am in my studio every day. I hate the sound of the alarm going off at five thirty in the morning, knowing that I’m leaving my wife and kids to go on tour. But coming back home from the road can be harder. On the road it’s a pretty cushy life, in that you are being waited on by promoters. When I return home it’s an immediate switch to me having to do things for my kids. I am literally exhausted, which is hard because I genuinely want to be doing things with them. I need two days of doing next to nothing to let my body relax. On tour we are up until four in the morning. Then we will crash until noon, meet up for a bit, sleep again until sound check and then start the night all over again. By the time I get home I’m a wreck.
THE MARITIME EDIT: What does your wife think of your touring and being away?
CLASSIFIED: She is amazing. We have been together for something like 20 years. She is very supportive, and when I am away our parents are around to support her. There are times that her parents will take the kids for a few days, which is a huge help. I honestly think she has more freedom when I am gone! My job, as well as the hip-hop scene, is a different career path from most in that a lot of partying and late nights go with the work. She is well aware of how female fans can be at the shows, yet she is so trusting — which is really incredible when you think about it.
THE MARITIME EDIT: What do you like to do outside of music?
CLASSIFIED: I’m totally hooked on tennis! We have converted our basketball court to a tennis court, and I play a ton of tennis with my friends. All summer long, Saturday is all about tennis. Everyone comes over and we have killer matches. We are lucky in that we have so many friends and family around. And we now have a pool, which means that our house has become — or maybe it always has been — the party house. All our friends have kids, so there are usually 30 or so little ones running around, and the adults are playing tennis or Ping-Pong or hanging out by the pool. I am also really into doing video photography with my brother. We have shot some of our videos with other directors. We both love it.
THE MARITIME EDIT: Most people would think that you have an erratic schedule. What does a typical day look like when you are home?
CLASSIFIED: I usually wake up at around nine thirty, and then I work out for about seven minutes because I hate to work out! I then take my youngest daughter to preschool, and I am usually in my studio by ten. My brother shows up at the studio around one, and we work for a while. And then I get my kids at their bus stop around two. I am back in the studio from two thirty until five. I have dinner with my family, and then I usually watch some shitty kids’ movie with princesses and fairies.
THE MARITIME EDIT: There are so many facets to your career — rapping, producing, collaborating, emceeing… Do you have any preferences?
CLASSIFIED: I think if I didn’t do both rapping and producing, I probably wouldn’t still be doing this. I am just finishing an album so I don’t want to rap or write anymore. I like having a balance. There are days that I wake up and I don’t want to be on the keyboard or the drum machine. And other days I don’t want to think about anything but the drums.
THE MARITIME EDIT: When do you write your songs? Are lyrics always coming to you or do you set aside time to write, or both?
CLASSIFIED: When I am writing an album, I am ALWAYS in writing mode. You could be talking to me only to realize that I am not listening to you because I am writing lyrics in my head. It’s a really distracting time for me. The one thing about writing that I really don’t like is that I can’t turn it off. When I am producing I am in my studio creating, and at the end of the session, I’m done until I am in there again. But with writing I will wake up at three in the morning and I can’t sleep because I am stuck on a line. At the end of every album I usually think, “This is the last one!” I get so sick of having all the shit and distraction in my head. But after the album’s promotion, the touring and everything else that goes with it, I am usually ready to start writing again.
THE MARITIME EDIT: Any memories from an insane party that you are willing to share?
CLASSIFIED: I have done a lot of partying but there really isn’t one night that sticks out. You would think some of these memories would come from being on the road and in new places, but in the end my favourite nights are in Enfield with my close friends. There was this time I was the opening act for Snoop in Cape Breton. We rented a bus, filled it with 40 of our friends and partied all the way there. Tour-bus parties can be insane. On my last tour I don’t think I saw the road once because we would leave one destination and wake up at our next spot, with a lot of partying in between. Bus parties are great because everything you need is on the bus, and everyone you want to be there is there too.
THE MARITIME EDIT: How do you manage the awkwardness of out-of-control fans?
CLASSIFIED: It sucks. I hate it because I don’t want to be a dick, but sometimes fans can push your buttons. Once this guy snuck onto our tour bus. When I noticed him he was pouring himself a generous drink. I don’t want to be an asshole, but when people are acting like assholes I have no problem being the guy to step in and manage the situation. I don’t really experience any Justin Bieber–type fans, with people chasing me down the street. As a hip-hop artist, I consider myself lucky. Unlike the experiences of other rappers or hip-hop artists, my fans are usually cool and don’t get weird.
THE MARITIME EDIT: How are you feeling about turning 40?
CLASSIFIED: I’m fine with it. Really! I still feel like I’m in my twenties. For the most part I’m still living that way, so it’s really not as big a deal for me as it is for most people. It’s going to be an insane party though. That. Is. For. Sure.
This story originally appeared in The Maritime Edit magazine. To subscribe, please click here