His given name is Justin Nerling. His hip-hop moniker is TassNata. Get ready to meet Gator Balderis, Nerling’s hilarious alter ago which appears destined for fame on The Sports Network (TSN).
Nerling enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2016 with the single/video “Let’s Go” which was nominated for 2017 iheartradio Much Music Video Award for Best Rap Video. The track became a huge favourite at Toronto Raptors basketball games and throughout the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championships in Toronto.
He is now gaining major props for “Bring The Horns (There It Go).” It’s a video shot last Boxing Day at Vernon’s Civic Arena. It was a large budget video which also featured Toronto artists Tona and Rich Kidd.
“The concept was beer league championships, where it meant everything to the players and nothing to fans,” chuckled Nerling. “We used the Orphans and the Flyers from the local (Boston Pizza) league. The video premiered on VICE/Noisey which is a very popular worldwide music channel and online source. The video is now in heavy rotation on Much Music, and BET in the States.”
Before the “Bring The Horns” video came out, Nerling and friends released comedic skits on social media where he sports a fake moustache, huge belly and joins buddy Jeremy Silzer of the Orphans at various stops around Vernon.
“A few of the places are staples in the hockey community here, such as the OTR (Okanagan Training Rink), Ironheart Gym and one skit at Sun Valley Sports where I explain how to sharpen skates and how I taught (former Vernon Viper superstars) Lanny Gare and Josh Reed everything they know.”
The video, shot by Jeremy Cox of Vancouver, has received 200,000 views so far on Facebook and the skits are also getting big notice. Nerling said the Horns video was shot on 16mm film bought in New York, then sent to Montreal for processing.
Actual TSN footage from the 1990 Centennial Cup national Junior A hockey championships at Civic Arena is shown at the beginning of the video with announcer Vic Rauter welcoming fans to the Okanagan. The Vernon Lakers, coached by former NHL all-star and local hero Eddie Johnstone, upset the powerhouse New Westminster Royals for the title that spring.
“Our initial idea for the video was a mundane pep rally that turned into a huge one at a historic gymnasium in Toronto, but we switched that idea when we heard Civic was to be demolished,” said Nerling. “We grew up there. I was devastated when I heard they were tearing it down. We have a winter classic three-on-three tournament every Boxing Day at OTR so we got some of those guys and had two full rosters. We got (former BCHL official) Darren Zupp to be referee and Colin and Kevin Swales were linesmen. Tona was there and Rich Kidd did a cameo. We did a secret concert up in the corner with Windmills (Vernon artist) and capped it at 300. Some guys did one final skate.”
Nerling, who has played centre for the multiple-champion RE Postill & Sons Orphans off and on for a decade, is featured prominently in the dressing room and on the players’ bench.
The Orphans are shown tossing Old Milwaukee (brewed at Okanagan Spring Brewery in Vernon) cans in the trash as they prepare for the big game. Former Royal Bank Cup champion Vipers Bryce Kakoske and Dave Robinson get some good air time as Orphans, while the players gather in front of the Zamboni, with Tona sitting on top, for their championship photo.
Said Vernon rec hockey veteran Liam Cromarty, on YouTube, last month: “This right here should be our national anthem! Bring The Horns sounds like shotgunning a Glensky coffee from Tim Hortons (9cream, 9sugar)! This should be the newest track on the next Baby Einstein cd…. EDUCATE THE CHILDREN!!!”
The series of 60-second skits was witnessed and liked by somebody at TSN. Silzer is known as Jeremy Plugbucket in the skits.
TSN’s Cabbie (Cabral Richards) has become a big fan of the skits, and the idea of doing some work for the network’s Bar Down segments leading up to the 2018/2019 NHL season has been discussed.
“The YouTube links have been private for the most part as we are pushing the social media links mainly.”
Described as a big party track, “Let’s Go” is reflective of the 1990s vintage hip hop sound, with the rappers trading off lines on who’s the best.
That song and video also features Rich Kidd and Tona, both of Juno winning rap recording group Naturally Born Strangers.
“Rich Kidd and I met over the internet about 10 years ago when I had heard some beats he did for Drake and chased him down trying to buy some instrumentals over MySpace. Since then we’ve all just been family as far as music goes. He introduced me to Tona and countless other guys I work with today.”
Nerling is based in Vernon, where he helps raise two daughters, Maya, 10, and Lyriq, eight. He was encouraged by his father, Terry, to be a musician as a six-year-old.
“They had fun on top of the Zamboni when we shot the video,” said Nerling. “They watch my video on MuchMusic while they eat their cereal every morning. That’s pretty cool.
“It’s a great feeling to see them encouraged/excited about how the music business and videos work at a young age,” said Nerling.
Canadian music journalist and former Hockey Night in Canada anchor George Stroumboulopoulos sent Nerling a Snapchat of him dancing around his house to “Let’s Go” one night, then asked if he could use it in the trailer for his new indie film The Three Detectives.
“George plays himself in the film, wherein one scene, someone rides by on a bike and yells ‘Ron MacLean’s better.’ To which George responds, ‘Yeah, thanks — I get it!’”