While studying journalism at Mount Royal University, Tarik Robinson also pursued his passion for music and started his hip hop duo Dragon Fli Empire. Now, as the new host of Key of A on CBC Radio One, he’s blending his two passions and introducing Albertans to new sounds.
While he majored in journalism, he worked with his instructors to make his first work term at Uprok Records. He wrote biographies and did interviews with artists from the label. For his second term, he was a production assistant for CBC TV Edmonton. Although he found the work interesting, Robinson was still passionate about making music.
“It was a lot of fun, you know, I even interviewed Stephen Harper while I was there before he became prime minister and that was interesting, so some cool experiences during that summer,” Robinson said. But he found the job overwhelming, and it prevented him from working on his music.
In 2002, while still in college, he formed Dragon Fli Empire with Adam Hicks, known by his stage name DJ Cosm. The duo grew well-known in Calgary’s music scene and all over Canada. Hicks is a radio host for the CJSW radio show Mental Illness when the duo met in university, they were thrust into prominence quickly. Hicks explains that the change was sudden.
“You’re being seen through an industry lens… Now all of a sudden, you’re quickly starting out. Now, you’re suddenly getting new opportunities.”
In 2004, Robinson graduated and by 2009, the group was nominated for Best Hip Hop Recording at the Western Canadian Music Awards. They have five albums and several EPs and have more than 10 years of music history.
CBC Radio One contacted Dragon Fli Empire in the summer of 2021 to host the show while they were searching for someone to replace Key of A’s previous host, Katherine Duncan. They had planned to only have the duo on for two episodes, but they ended up making three.
“While hosting, I had a lot of fun doing it. I was able to discover a lot of great new music. I was able to curate and put on a lot of great music that doesn’t normally get that exposure. I was like, ‘this is a lot of fun,’” Robinson said.
He saw that they were advertising to find a new host and Robinson decided to apply. He went through an interview process, involving curating a sample playlist. CBC selected Robinson, who officially became the show’s host in October.
“I got the show and then from there, it was a whirlwind because they’re like, okay, you’re the guy. They had me do a photoshoot (and) start recording some commercials and it was all hush, hush.” Robinson said. “Nobody knew what was going on.”
Since Robinson has been producing music since he was in his 20s, he says hosting the show feels like a satisfying addition to his journey as a musician.
“A lot of people have been saying to me, you know, that’s a dream gig, that’s an amazing gig. And I agree, and I feel like I’ve been preparing for this for like 20 years.”
Robinson tackles the duty of hosting the show with experience and a focus on performers from Alberta. The Key of A covers a wide range of genres and interviews musicians from across the province. Robinson loves Calgary and feels proud of the quality of music that Albertans are making.
“I feel like being the host of the show, you’re almost like an ambassador of Alberta music. It’s your job to help Alberta music put its best foot forward,” says Robinson.
Diverse musical knowledge
Chris Martin has worked with the CBC for 15 years and is a producer for The Key of A.
“The music world sort of swept him away from the journalism world and so this is kind of his first foray back into it,” Martin said. “So, his journalism strengths were really strong.”
It was not just Robinson’s journalism degree that got him the job; his experience as an artist in Dragon Fli Empire helped him display his musical knowledge and broadcast it on the show.
“People see hip hop as one thing, one style of music. There’s country, there’s folk, there’s jazz, there’s hip hop, there’s blues and so on,” Martin explains. “But coming from a hip hop background gave Tarik knowledge of classical music, of jazz music, of folk music, of country music. Because that’s the way hip hop artists work.”
Calgary may be known for its country music, but Robinson argues that Calgary has more to offer than just one genre and he hopes to introduce listeners to the talent that lives in the city.
“It’s a diverse multicultural city and so, you’re also going to see authentic music coming from the city that represents all the diverse populations,” Robinson said. “So, hip hop and R&B from Calgary isn’t an oxymoron, it’s natural because you have people where that’s the music, they grew up listening to.”
Robinson hopes to eventually host live shows and have guests from music festivals like Calgary Folk Fest. He plans to have episodes that focus on music from different decades and wants to do more as the world opens post-COVID-19.