Day in the Life: Speeches Beyond

This story was for a feature project in the winter of 2010. Obviously not basketball-related but it’s a fun piece so I’d thought I’d include on this blog.

Speeches Beyond raps at his usual spot at the corner of Granville and Georgia streets in downtown Vancouver. – Brian Jones Photo

When Jason Eastwood steps onto the SkyTrain platform at New Westminster Station, he’s still Jason Eastwood. But when he steps off the train at Granville Station, he no longer goes by the name he was born with, but assumes the identity of the street-rapping truth-spitter Speeches Beyond.

He gets out of the station, wheeling a cart that holds his precious amplified speaker and basket of CDs, and walks only a few yards up to the storefront windows outside of The Bay department store on Granville Street. Eastwood takes the black garbage bag cover off the amp and places it aside, then carefully sets the amp down beside his cart. He treats it like a newborn.

“I’m still paying it off. I just went to make a payment today. I still owe $200. It was the only one that I could find that was good enough, like quality-wise.”

After plugging in his microphone, Eastwood flips though his iPod and finds the instrumentals to his new album.

The play button clicks and he clocks in to work.

The Lower Mainland has just experienced an extreme cold snap, and the temperature on this night dips close to -10 C. But Speeches Beyond is feverishly spitting rhyme after rhyme, song after song, keeping his lips warm and spirit high.

Yet is it worth it? In the span of two hours, only four people have dropped a meagre amount of change into his tip basket. He seems optimistic.

“I can clear $100 a day. Not even a full day, like 4 hours. And that’s not even CD’s.”

But on a bad day?

“Like 2 CD’s or $25. It all depends.”

Waves of Vancouver’s upper class club-hopping youth pass by without any inclination to spare change, and some can’t help but move to the music. People walking 100 yards across the street are infected with the rhythm and occasionally dance and nod their heads as they make their way down the sidewalk. Young males always tend to take a second look. A striking blonde woman dressed in a red dress and a pea coat walks hand in hand with her boyfriend, yet turns back towards Speeches and flashes a smile.

“It’s just with hip-hop, you got people who really like it or they hate it. So it goes both ways. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Right now it looks as though tonight won’t yield him a fortune. But skimming by on whatever he gets is what Eastwood is used to.

“I was working before, then went on EI ‘cause everyone got laid off at our company. I was doing environmental cleanup, and then I started doing this, and it’s like, you know, fuck this I don’t want to go back to work. But this is hard in itself.”

Occasionally one or two people approach Speeches and stop to actually listen to more than a snippet of his songs. An eclectic-looking couple takes a minute out of their night to dance in front the amp. Speeches breaks from his song’s lyrics and drops a quick freestyle while pointing to the couple.

“To all the beautiful girls, you’re the ones who make this beautiful world.”

He says this sort of thing happens quite often.

“There’s a lot of regulars in Vancouver. It builds over time. Sometimes people will do funny things and it’ll throw me off. [Laughs] It’s so funny. But whatever, mistakes, you know, not a big deal. Out here’s just practice.”

Then there are the homeless who migrate from the Downtown Eastside during the night who sneer at Speeches, trying to bother him as he makes his living.

“There pissed off because they’re thinking that I’m taking their money,” says Eastwood. “There’s a big war between homeless people and buskers right now. It’s pretty bad.”

The war he speaks of is evident on this particular night as a host of beggars and buskers litter Granville Street. One man opens the door for people entering the SkyTrain Station, holding an empty tip jar. One man sits across from the wannabe doorman, lifeless, with his head hung overtop of a cardboard sign on his lap that says what he can’t. A regular performer who plays a recorder flute sees that Speeches is occupying his spot, and moves on in frustration.

While Eastwood doesn’t beg or approach people, the monetary lines between him and the homeless are becoming more and more blurred.

“I’m not making money,” he says. “I have two pairs of jeans and one pair of sneakers. Someone bought me this coat. I have nothing in my bank account. I have bills.

“I’m like this close to being really on the street, compared to someone who’s actually getting by. But you know you just live life.”

But Eastwood knows that there’s something bigger out there for Speeches Beyond.

“You know at the moment I couldn’t make a living off of it, and if I did, you know, it would be pretty lucky. I figure as soon as I can get steady shows, start to sell more CD’s, stuff like that, get more exposure.”

After six hours of braving the cold and firing off track after track, Eastwood decides that he needs a break. He heads to the Amsterdam Cafe in Gastown to blow off some steam (or smoke) before he encounters the late night rush of tipsy Downtown partiers.

The Amsterdam is one of the various venues that Eastwood has performed at over the years; others include Modern, Century House, Venue, and El Dorado. He claims that his act isn’t just limited to the Downtown core, citing that he’s done sets at bars and clubs on Commercial Drive and out in his hometown of Surrey.

“My goal is basically…it’d be nice to get an agent, a manager, and then get people to sponsor my music, or invest, get distribution. Studio time’s not a big deal, it’s easy to come by, but mainly [I want to] get distribution or investors.”

Down the street from the Amsterdam, a popular Canadian battle-rap organization is hosting an event. Eastwood expresses his discontent for the battlers, especially the ones who act hard when they step up during his street performances.

“I’ve only battled a few times, but I was like, ‘Well, put you money where your mouth is’, you have to pay if you wanna battle on the mic.”

“A lot of people are into battling, but I’m fighting a bigger war, you know what I mean? I’m not religious in any way, but I just stick to this.”

He grabs his latest album, “Chaos & Confusion”, and points to the advisory label in the corner that reads “P.O.E.T”.

“Person Of Expressing Truth,” he explains. “If a person doesn’t follow that it’s obvious that they’re fake. It reflects what they do.”

The cover art on the album is surprisingly well designed. Eastwood says he designed it himself. Which begs the question of how much education he’s received.

“I did high school and that was it. Couldn’t afford anything else. It’s crazy like, for musicians especially, they have to work full time; they have no time to practice your art. So what happens is that you never have a chance to perfect it, so when I got on EI after working for like 2 years straight, I was like fuck this man, and I took 8 months off, and I just spent the whole time making music.

“I’m trying to find more venues. But it’s hard because people don’t support real hip hop. Some stuff is crap man.

“I don’t even know if that stuff sells ‘cause people just download it, like people download full CD’s like that. Especially stuff on the radio, like yeah there might be a few, like the easy going music. But you know just like any kind of music, especially the good artists, they all support the popular idea. And you know, they stand alone a lot, but eventually they’re recognized just for being themselves. That’s what the whole thing’s about.”

Just when Eastwood might be onto something, he reverts back into the philosophical Speeches Beyond.

“I’m fighting a bigger war man. There’s a huge war going on out there, a war in our minds. So that’s why I go on the street and just drop dead truth lyrics. I usually shock people, they’re like ‘What the fuck did you say?’”

When finally asked about his age, Jason Eastwood takes a backseat, and Speeches Beyond decides to field the question.

“I just turned infinite,’ he cleverly quips. “I just turned forever.”

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