Everywhere Toronto-based rapper D-Sisive goes, Orville Knoblich follows."That character plays a major part as far as the visuals are concerned," says D-Sisive, otherwise known as Derek Christoff.
So, musically, he's D-Sisive. But visually, he's Orville Knoblich, decked out in tuxedo, bowler and ostrich mask. Think of the figure, who appears onstage and on album covers, most recently the Polaris Prize long-listed 2009 album Let the Children Die, as a sort of hip-hop animal spirit. D-Sisive's imprint is also called Ostrich Records.
The birdman really gained ground among fans with the release of The Book in 2008. The title was short for The Ballad of Orville Knoblich. "People just started attaching the name to me," explains Christoff.
Still, he hesitates to call Orville Knoblich a fully realized and separate persona---for now. As D-Sisive, the MC's gained momentum and recognition. Earlier this month, he received the 2009 SOCAN Echo Songwriting Prize for his track "Nobody with a Notepad," which makes good use of a John Lennon metaphor. One of the strong songs off Let the Children Die, D-Sisive reflects on his love for writing rhymes, the way it sustains him personally.
To paraphrase, he asks, "Why write this stuff?" The answer seems simple: it's how Christoff makes sense of life and the world. If people find their way to the rhymes of "Notepad," so be it.
"My songs are my life," says Christoff.
Often there's pain to be felt and dealt with in his material. Absence, loss and death are recurring themes. His mother passed away in 1997 and that set him off down his musical path. After his father's death three years ago, Christoff landed on another major musical mark, which informed both The Book and Let the Children Die (their close relationship is chronicled on the song "Father").
"It took me 12 years to find my voice," he says. "I'm fortunate I found it, but it's unfortunate that I had to go through those experiences to find it."
Christoff writes in the same personal and acutely observant way as Buck 65 does on "Roses and Blue Jays," from Talkin' Honky Blues, about the loss of his own mother. Christoff exhales. "Incredible...that's an incredible song," he says, as though half-listening to it in his head. But like Buck 65, who appears on Let the Children Die, he never forgets the music. Before he writes word one, Christoff says, "I let the beat speak to me."