Floating for Five Years

Five years ago, when you and I were just young whippersnappers staring at the big, bright world, Joe Gurba was throwing down award-winning rhymes and becoming a name in the local hip-hop scene. The name he was putting out there was The Joe, and we still know it today. He not only continues to rap, he runs the Old Ugly Recording Co. label here in Edmonton.

Gurba began working on an album called Float or Flail in 2006 and we’re finally getting to hear it. Between then and now we’ve heard another album (Ut Oh) and mixtapes (like the fantastic Playfight) but not that earlier album.

“The significance of the title Float or Flail hinges on my inability to swim,” Gurba writes in an e-mail. But the title also relates to what he felt his circumstances were in 2006.

It came to me that my life had been a desperate dichotomy between flailing and floating,” he says “Float or Flail became this phrase that invaded my thoughts very often, particularly when I was seeing myself as if from outside myself, schmoozing and remembering names, and wanting respect for something or other…All the while the true desire of my heart was to be alone with God and pursue deeper more elusive truths.”

The struggle to reconcile these parts of his personality left Joe depressed.

“I was at a major turning point… I was wondering if I was going to continue rapping at all,” he explains.

While he was still young, he was already establishing himself.

“I had just won an award for best Christian Rap Album of the Year in 2006 and I had just put out a mixtape that had been downloaded over 2500 times. Arguably, I was better known then than I am now,” he explains. “I had an offer from a major label [Universal], which I ended up turning down, and I was selling a lot of records.”

As Gurba pondered whether to keep rapping, he happened to meet a guy fresh out of a Florida recording school who wanted to produce a rap album. The two got to work on Float or Flail.

The reason we’re just hearing it in 2011, Gurba writes, is “…equal parts misconception, mis-communication, and MONEY.”

“It was my impression, though poorly communicated to [the producer], that when the record was recorded, mixed, and mastered, I would release it and pay him back. The contract, I had assumed, was a formality. I do not like contracts. I didn’t sign the one with Universal and I would not have signed this one if I thought it was as serious a document…as I later discovered.”

“I have never in my life had $6,500 dollars at one time,” he jokes sincerely. “I am an uneducated musician, the scum of the earth. I guess I learned the hard way.”

Float or Flail sat on the shelf.

To some acclaim Gurba released Ut Oh in 2009, toured, sold albums, and it made him enough money get his hands on the masters of the earlier songs. Now, nearly five years after he began it, he’s releasing Float or Flail with a big Old Ugly show at the Haven Social Club this Friday, January 14, his 24th birthday.

“This release is a massive thorn out of my side. I feel like St. Paul barrel rolling into the gates of heaven, looking like a dirty prison rat. But HEY, at least someone’s about to pick me up, dust me off, and pluck this massive 15 song thorn out of my ribs and put me back on my feet.”

While he’s relieved to finally release Float or Flail he doesn’t feel like the music represents where he is today.

“I wish I could have released it when I was it …  now I hardly know The Joe that raps these songs. I just float by on the high that I can still feel when I talk fast and rhyme a lot of syllables. Float or Flail is a time capsule now.”

“I am afraid of the reviews,” Gurba admits when thinking about the delay. “I think people will like it. I just wish this was 2008 and not 2011. “

“I am being a great big baby in this interview. GREAT BIG, that’s my next rap name.”


Float or Flail enters the world on Friday, at The Haven Social Club. Tickets at YEG Live and Blackbyrd Myoozik. Helping The Joe birth the album into our world will be Old Ugly’s Bike Month, Mitchmatic, and Racoon Suit. It all starts at 8pm.

If you want a copy (a free one, that is) of Float or Flail, tell us how old Joe will be turning on Friday. Just e-mail us and we’ll draw for two albums he’s generously provided.

You can listen to some tracks from the new/old album at The Joe’s bandcamp.

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