When Steve Wheeler first got into hip hop as a teenager, it was the rhymes and rebellious nature of the music that drew him in.
While living in Vancouver during his 20s, he got involved in the DJ culture and started to gain an appreciation for the production value.
By the time he hit his 30s, Wheeler had developed a deeper appreciation for the source material that the hip hop artists sampled to make their music; funk and jazz artists of the 1960s and 70s like James Brown, Fred Wesley, Bob James, and the J.B.’s. to name but a few.
“That form of music is gone,” says Wheeler. “The type of music is being made now is not sample driven, it's computer driven.
“In my opinion, the music reflects that. It sounds thin, it sounds electronic, and the production value lacks, and it's reflective of what it's being boxed into.”
No Equal Records, a new downtown St. John’s record shop owned and operated by Wheeler and his wife Sheena Chaytor, will be a place where music fans can learn about genres and art forms he believes are in danger of being forgotten forever.
“The music I'm going to have here, not everybody knows about it. I just wanted to put a spotlight on to this type of music and turn more people on to it.
“All the sampled music, all the music that isn't coming back again, the combination of a bunch of art forms that have died and been resurrected over the years.
“Whether it be works from the '70s that were heavily sampled by hip hop artists, or just stuff that I found within the same genre of music that I don't anything about it, which is cool because I don't want to know everything.”
It’s for this reason that Wheeler is confident there’s enough room in the St. John’s marketplace for a third record shop peddling vinyl wares.
He’s not interested in competing with Fred’s Records, who he says has the market cornered on traditional and rock music. Nor does he intend to be a rival to Sunrise Records, the family-owned national chain that recently landed at the Avalon Mall.
“I could try to open the traditional rock store and have the big Empire Records set up where you have everything, but I'm trying to fill a niche within music.
“What I always expected to be around and what I always looked for and what my friends looked for and what I've seen in travelling.”
In fact, his travels and visits to record shops throughout North America have done more than supply him with inspiration, it’s also how he’s been able to fill the racks in the tiny but comfortable shop on Clift’s-Baird’s Cove between Water Street and Harbour Drive.
“I've carried, I've shipped, I've subwayed, I've put them in the back of pickup trucks, I've done anything possible based on our wonderful geography here to get those records home.”
In addition to original pressings, No Equal Records will also carry reissued vinyl records. He knows the true collectors covet the rare finds and the original copies, but he doesn’t believe in depriving oneself of a record if the music is the same.
“If there's an awesome album that happens to be reissued and you have to pay for it to get it, from a music collectors standpoint, that's awesome.”
Products won’t be limited to just vinyl records. They’re also planning on cassettes and a selection of turntables.
“I've had a lot of people say they'd like to collect more vinyl, but they can't get a decent turntable.
“I'm not going for the sound room look either, where you come in and there's an amp for $3,000, I'm going to go mid-range and get more people into it.”
Wheeler and Chaytor are taking their nostalgia for the tangible a step further by adding a small second-hand bookstore, featuring unique and alternative tomes for purchase or perusal, at the back of the shop.
“I still think there are a lot of people out there that still want that tangible feeling, whether it is a book or a record.”
Wheeler expects No Equal Records to be open within the next two weeks.