In the world of manufactured pop acts, Mark Kasprzyk might sound as if some music mogul assembled him in a lab. He is a white rapper who likes big rock guitar sounds and can do flawless back-flips and break-dancing moves, thanks to years of training that made him an Olympic judo team hopeful.
But Kasprzyk,, who goes by the stage name Kazzer (a play on his Polish surname), is not the result of a brainstorming session between record label executives.
Born and raised in Binbrook, a small community south of Hamilton, Kasprzyk spent his youth building up his judo skills. In the meantime, he did what most teenagers do: hang out and mimic their music heroes.
Kazzer plays the London Molson Canadian Rocks House Party tomorrow night, at Western Fair's outdoor Youth Talent Stage, just north of the Progress Building.
Kitchener-Waterloo area band Sixfootgroove, winners of a battle of the bands decided by fan voting, plays at 6:15 p.m. Kazzer follows at 7 p.m. Toronto rock band I Mother Earth plays at 8:30 p.m. and Canadian rockers Default are set for 9:45 p.m. Admission to the 19-and-up event is free to fans with passes available through promotions, contests and giveaways connected with the brewery. Gates open at 6 p.m.
Kasprzyk's idolization came in the form of hip-hop and rap.
He quickly realized that his judo training and athletic strength enabled him to break-dance as well as any of the B-boys on MuchMusic or MTV.
Add some vocal skill, and Kasprzyk started performing at school events and clubs.
But as he started climbing up in the judo world, he put off aspirations of music stardom. Instead, he joined the Canadian national judo team and focused all his attention on the 2000 Sydney Olympic games.
"Music was a hobby, judo was my career," he said.
When Kasprzyk didn't make it onto the team, he decided it was time to become a superstar. His parents, coaches and friends all thought he was crazy, since he'd been chosen as an alternate athlete for the Games.
"At first they all thought I was screwing myself over," he recalled of the reaction to his decision to leave judo. "They really did, because people looked at me as the next guy hopefully to bring the sport to a certain level in Canada. My parents were like, 'Don't abandon it for a silly dream.' "
After promising to return to the sport if he couldn't land a record deal after a year, Kasprzyk recorded a couple of songs with a producer friend to shop around to record labels.
His record contract came in a fairytale fashion. Kasprzyk sent a video tape of himself dancing and rapping to a friend at Mizuno, his judo clothing sponsor.
That contact gave it to a lawyer friend from MTV, who in turn passed it along to another MTV colleague. That colleague happened to be married to David McPherson, vice-president of A&R and Urban Music for Sony-owned Epic Records ,who called Kasprzyk and arranged a meeting.
McPherson, who several years ago signed Toronto-based soul singer Glenn Lewis to the label, said Kasprzyk's sports background gives the novice musician an edge over other budding stars.
Kasprzyk's single, Pedal to the Metal, has benefited from country-wide top 30 radio play and it has North American exposure as the song promoting Paramount's film The Italian Job, starring Mark Wahlberg and Edward Norton. The single helped push Kasprzyk's debut album, Go for Broke (Sony/Epic).