Thursday, December 30, 2010

LIVE VIDEOS : Joel Plaskett at St. Ann's Auditorium

Joel Plaskett at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver back in 2009.
Halifax singer-songwriter/rocker Joel Plaskett played a one-off show on December 28 2010 in Victoria while he's on the west coast visiting extended family. The sold out 200 person audience in the quaint, lovely little St. Ann's Auditorium were treated to solo guitar (or $5 keyboard) renditions of material from his solo career, songs with the Emergency as well as oldies from the defunct Thrush Hermit. Plaskett played two separate sets and was called back out for 2 encores, taking many requests from the audience, as well as calling the seated crowd to its feet in joining his karaoke sing-along to hit "Fashionable People."

Below are 5 videos from that night. Although the video quality suffers from the dim lighting in the room (no spotlights!), the audio is crystal clear. I hope you enjoy the three new songs from Plaskett, and two "oldies"-- "Non-Believer," one of my favourites, and "Before You Leave" from the Hermit days.

The Island Girls and the Harbour Boys (New)

I'm Yours (New)

Absentminded Melody, transitioning into For Your Consideration (New)


Before You Leave (Thrush Hermit)

NEW ALBUM : Mother Mother - EUREKA

Vancouver's Mother Mother announced that their third full length album, EUREKA (Last Gang Records) will hit stores March 15, 2011 worldwide. Tour dates to follow and will be announced soon. In the meantime, here is the track listing for EUREKA:

1) Chasing It Down
2) The Stand - streaming now at!
3) Baby Don't Dance
4) Original Spin
5) Born In A Flash
6) Simply Simple
7) Problems
8) Aspiring Fires
9) Getaway
10) Far In Time
11) Oleander
12) Calm Me Down

Here's Mother Mother performing one of those new tracks "Simply Simple" on CBC Radio Q during the Olympics in February:

Diamonds in the Rough : Headwater, Harlen Pepper, Tariq and more

CBC Radio 3 has recently launched a recurring playlist challenge, the "ehList," which switches themes every week. For the past week, the challenge was to create a "diamonds in the rough" playlist, which would recommend undiscovered or underplayed artists to the staff at Radio 3. Naturally, I compiled a list of a few artists who have piqued my interest. Some old, some new, some borrowed, some blue. Although I haven't been able to devote blog time to many of these artists, I hope to remedy that now... Take a listen and let me know what you think!

Here's one of those artists, Headwater, whom I had the pleasure of catching outside on the CBC Vancouver Plaza on a bright summer day. So pretty much the opposite of what the weather is likely to be at your part of the country. Hope this helps make your day a bit warmer!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Track of the Day : Shimmering Stars

Shimmering Stars is a Vancouver 4-piece that plays dreamy, harmony-laden pop. The low production quality gives their singles a distant quality, as if you were overhearing a band practice next door. I recently had the pleasure of recording a Track of the Day over at CBC Radio 3, featuring their song "Sun's Going Down." You can download that over at Radio 3.

Shimmering Stars cite as their influences, amongst other things, "Bo Diddley, anti-socialness and anxiety issues." You can read an interview with singer/guitarist Rory McClure, along with a free download, over at The Line of Best Fit. If you like what you hear, their EP East Van Girls/Believe is available on iTunes. A full-length album is in the works for 2011 as well.

Shimmering Stars - I'm Gonna Try from Salazar on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Best of 2010 : Top 10 Albums

2010 had seen the release of many great albums by both long time veterans, as well as relative newcomers. With all that being said, the cream floats to the top, and certain albums stand out as definitive, both musically and personally. Some end up drilling into your mind and taking residence there, informing and adding colour to your life. Below are those albums for me in the past year. I'd love to hear what yours were as well!

Without further ado, my top 10 earbud companions for 2010. Links to reviews and details when available:

Honourable mention:
Yukon Blonde - Self-titled;
Jamie Lidell - Compass;
Jason Collett - Rat a Tat Tat.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Best of 2010 : Top 10 Live Shows

2010 was amazing for live music in Vancouver, most notably due to the Olympic games and its twin component the Cultural Olympiad in the earlier part of the year. With all that being said, the cream floats to the top, and certain shows stand out as definitive. There's always those few shows that you mention over and over to friends, those "and when so-and-so did this... I FREAKED OUT!" moments that you can't help but relive. Below are those shows for me in the past year. I'd love to hear what yours were as well!

This past year, I had the pleasure of seeing several Vancouver-based artists several times, including Hannah Georgas, Said the Whale, We Are the City, Aidan Knight, and Dan Mangan. I was fortunate enough to cover the Vancouver Folk Music Festival once again, as well as play witness to the first rendition of the Live at Squamish Festival. For the full list of shows I had attended, you can check out my concert listings.

Without further ado... the top 10 ticket stubs of 2010. Links to original reviews or photos when available.

photo: Skot Nelson

#4: Diamond Rings at Biltmore Cabaret- November 20

#3: Mumford and Sons at the Vogue - October 23

Honourable mentions:
Library Voices, Paper Lions & Bend Sinister at UBC Pit Pub, Oct 29;
The Malahat Revue (Hannah Georgas, Jeremy Fisher, Aidan Knight, Said the Whale) at Vancouver Folk Music Festival, July 18;
Hannah Georgas w/ Colleen Brown at Venue Nightclub - May 22;
Jamie Lidell at Venue Nightclub, June 14.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

LIVE VIDEO : new songs by Joel Plaskett Emergency

Joel Plaskett Emergency (photo: Brenda Lee)

That's what I like to see! Joel Plaskett Emergency played to a hometown crowd at Halifax's The Seahorse on December 17. My friends over at The Broken Speaker caught a video of him mentioning that the band has been churning out new material for their 3 night stint, before busting into a mandolin-led song possibly named "Lethal Weapon." True to form, JP returns to ol' faithful electric guitar to deliver a noodling solo before the song wraps up.

*** Update: There's more than one new song! The other videos, also put up by Broken Speaker, are tentatively named "I'm Only Happy When I'm Sad" and "I'm Yours." Videos below.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Canadian Hip-Hop: A Bright New Day (Pt. VI)

Welcome to PART 6, the home stretch of Canadian Hip-Hop: A Bright New Day. This Special Feature originated as my final research paper for the World Pop Music class at UBC.

Don't forget to check out:
Part I: Canadian music context, research sources
Part II: influences on Canadian hip hop, especially from our neighbours to the South
Part III: history of Canadian hip hop as well as the 4 major styles
Part IV: the frustrations and roadblocks that rap artists face and how they've adapted.
Part V: explorations in Aboriginal and francophone rap.
There's also a corresponding playlist to go along with the feature, which you can listen to here on CBC Radio 3.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

International influence of Canadian hip hop

Drake (photo:
Kulawick’s words, that the next big step for Canadian hip hop scene is “to break a Canadian hip-hop act in America," have been prophetic, as the mega success of two Canadian hip hop artists have directed international attention on their home nation (qtd. in Krewen). As Maestro Fresh Wes states in an interview, there’s finally a “light at the end of the tunnel... [though it’s been] a long ass tunnel” (National Post Staff). National Post has recently declared it the “golden age” of Canadian hip hop, as signified by the meteoric rise of rappers Drake and K’naan (Medley). Aubrey “Drake” Graham is a 24-year-old Toronto rapper, whose 2010 album Thank Me Later sold 447,000 records in its first week, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (“Drake (Entertainer)”). After starting his acting career in 2001, Graham began rapping in 2006, releasing several mix tapes and an EP. His music tends to lean heavily in the “party rap” style, often addressing specific girls and his feelings for them. Drake’s music caught the ears of major players in the American rap scene, including Kanye West and Eminem, leading to collaborations and a bidding war by record labels. In April 2010, his EP won the Juno for Best Rap Recording, which is notable especially since at that time, Graham had yet to release a full-length (“Drake (Entertainer)”). In other words, Drake has cracked the border.

K'naan (photo:
The other notable Canadian rapper with international sway is K’naan, born Keinan Abdi Warsame. The style of K'naan’s music tends to be reality rap and jazz/bohemian rap, especially due to the focus of his music on his tumultuous childhood growing up in war-torn Somalia, as well as struggles with the educational system and law enforcement in North America. In his own words, he describes his style as “an outcome of my personal experiences, travels and musical tastes. It’s also born out of the struggles and beauties that I remember from our ancient culture” (qtd. in Mitchell and Pennycook 31). Musically, he lists the influences of African artists such as Youssou N’Dour, traditional Somali music and Ethiopian jazz (“K’naan”). On top of rapping, K’naan also plays the traditional African drum, djembe, and tours with a full live band (Mitchell and Pennycook 31). K’naan’s music gained international attention when the anthemic single “Wavin’ Flag” from his second album Troubadour was played prominently during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, as well as picked as the Coca-Cola anthem for the 2010 World Cup.

As a final, optimistic note wraps up this necessarily brief vignette on Canadian hip hop, Andrew DuBois comments in Medley’s piece for the National Post, declaring a bright new age for rappers up north:

The international and States-side success of K’naan and Drake is important for Canadian hip-hop not just because those two artists have finally ‘made it big’ elsewhere, but because their success will activate interest in what is already (and has been for some time) a diverse and genuinely robust national scene.
In that sense, even if K’naan and Drake are outliers in terms of market share and media attention, they do represent something about how Canada (not just in hip-hop, but indeed as a country) represents itself to the world — namely, their national and ethnic identities are mixed and culturally interesting. (Dubois, qtd. in Medley)

Indeed, the successes of Drake and K’naan stateside and worldwide illuminates a plain and simple truth, that although diverse and eclectic, the world is interested in whatever “Canadian hip hop” is, that there is a distinctive sound to our nation’s rap that is viable and desirable. In short, the world is listening.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas and holiday music galore : Free and for donation!

The copyright of this totally doesn't belong to me.
I have 8.1 hours worth of Christmas and holiday music on m hard drive as this blog post is being written, and a good chunk of that is free and by a lovely host of Canadian indie artists. So for you and your family's entertainment this holiday season, let me share with you some of these free holiday mix tapes, singles and albums fundraising for worthy causes. If you like the artists you hear, make sure to check out more of their music!

It is my hope to update this whenever free Christmas music becomes available. So please let me know if there is a link that I've missed, or if a download is no longer available!

Free compilations/albums

The Line of Best Fit has started a fine tradition of getting Canadian indie heavy hitters like Basia Bulat, Jason Collett and Great Lake Swimmers to cover some of their favourite Christmas songs along with some originals as well.

Download Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada
Download Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada Deux

Mental Beast got a all-Vancouver cast of musicians for their mixtape, named The Eggnog Experience, back in 2009. Artists include Lightning Dust, Apollo Ghosts, Brasstronaut, Analog Bell Service and much more.

Dan Moxon of Bend Sinister recorded an 8-track Christmas album with Jon Bunyan in 2006, complete with all the classics.

The Province Empty Stocking Fund Playlist, featuring 10 BC artists who donated their songs for the Empty Stocking Fund.

Free Singles

Hannah Georgas shared her lovely ditty "Christmas Touch" with me last year. Don't miss it!

Elephant Stone has two singles "Jingle Bells" and "A Hawaiian Holy Night" on their website for download.

Parlovr has two singles "I'm Santa" and "Spike the Eggnog" on their website for download.

Treelines covered "Little Drummer Boy," available for download from their Bandcamp page.

Said the Whale has their 2009 EP West Coast Christmas for download, at the cost of your email.

Library Voices w/ Julia McDougall - "Baby It's Christmas" (MP3, right click and save)

The Ruffled Feathers wrote you a letter and have "The Highest Mountain" for free download.

The Rural Alberta Advantage offer up "Little Drummer Boy," recorded live. (Via

Kellarissa is offering up a few traditional Finnish songs over at Mint Records.

Data Romance also covered "Little Drummer Boy." (via Line of Best Fit)

Fresh for 2010, Said the Whale has released 2 singles named "24 Days of Christmas" and "Brightest on My Street" for download.

Cadence Weapon covered "We Three Kings" back in 2006 for the CBC.

Ricardo Christoff Apparatus (Buck 65 & D-Sisive) do "The Night Before Christmas."

Charitable Compilations has recruited Canadian favourites such as Jill Barber, Jim Bryson and Old Man Luedecke for their annual themed Christmas compilations. All profits go toward Daily Bread Food Bank.

2009 - A Peanuts Christmas
2010 - A Country Blues Christmas

Jill Barber, Rose Cousins and Meaghan Smith teamed up to record A New Kind of Light back in 2007, which includes lovely originals alongside traditional favourites. They're three stellar artists and as you can imagine, the outcome is superb. Proceeds of this album goes toward food banks in the Maritimes. You can order the physical album here from Feed Nova Scotia.

Other Christmas Compilations

Prince Edward Island All Stars including Jenn Grant, Al Tuck, Paper Lions and Boxer the Horse cover their favourite Christmas tunes and contribute some original material as well.

Non-Canadian Free Singles/Albums

Beach House has "I Do Not Care for the Winter Sun" for download on their website.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Canadian Hip-Hop: A Bright New Day (Pt. V)

Welcome to PART 5 of Canadian Hip-Hop: A Bright New Day. This Special Feature originated as my final research paper for the World Pop Music class at UBC.

Don't forget to check out:
Part I: Canadian music context, research sources
Part II: influences on Canadian hip hop, especially from our neighbours to the South
Part IIIhistory of Canadian hip hop as well as the 4 major styles
Part IV: the frustrations and roadblocks that rap artists face and how they've adapted.
There's also a corresponding playlist to go along with the feature, which you can listen to here on CBC Radio 3.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

Aboriginal Rap

Kinnie Starr (photo: press)
There are more than 1.3 million First Nations and Métis in Canada, out of the country's total population of 34 million (Sabourin). The aboriginal population faces similar environments as many of the ghettos in the US. Namely, Krims identifies high rates of unemployment and alcoholism, frequent segregation on reserves, family instability (particularly formed by the notorious history of “residential schools”), poor social services, institutional discrimination, and high rates of drug addiction and violent crimes in the First Nations population as endemic problems (181). Thus, it’s not surprising that aboriginal youth have embraced rap as a form of personal and political expression. In particular, the “realist rap” tradition, with a focus on storytelling and addressing the audience in the first person, is very popular.

Sabourin identifies Algonquin rapper Samian as the first to rap in his native language. Sonically, it may sound similar to mainstream rap, but the themes deal with mostly native issues. Krims speaks to Albertan Cree rapper Bannock in depth about the similarities that can be drawn between the Cree population and the black population (184-188). But the most successful and celebrated first nations hip hop artist is Kinnie Starr, who blends hip hop with alternative rock. She has been active since 1995, and since then she has won a Juno, collaborated with Cirque du Soleil, had her music appear in major TV series and signed to major US label (“Kinnie Starr”). Starr has a strong following because of her outspokenness on native issues, as well as her bisexuality.

Phelan notes in a piece for Wawatay News Online that "hip-hop sometimes has mixed messages of violence and hate but when you put it in an indigenous format it's much different. Then it's about sovereignty and self-determination." In order for this empowering music to reach receptive ears, however, it would have to be embraced by radio stations, as well as retail stores. Aboriginal rap often ends up in the "world music" section in the record stores (Sabourin). However, the independent music scene has taken note. On CBC Radio 3, the stream of CBC Radio that is focused on promoting Canadian independent music, there is a specialized podcast dedicated solely to First Nations music. Ab-Originals features hip hop in about 20 percent of their podcasts, named “Suzette Amaya's hip-hop, rap and urban picks!” Interestingly, hip hop seems to be better represented in this podcast series than in the remainder of CBC Radio 3’s programming, which speaks to the importance of hip hop in minority cultures within Canada (“Ab-Originals Podcast”).

French (Quebecois) hip-hop

Dubmatique (photo: Cyberpresse)
If Toronto, the densest populated city in Canada, is the capital of Canadian Anglophone rap, Montreal is the capital of Francophone rap, incorporating influences from both U.S. rap and French rap, and exemplifying the politicization of the French language (Chamberland 311). Hip hop was still in its nascent stages when Quebec started to develop legislation to ensure the survival of French as the dominant language (Low, Sarkar, and Winer 62). These language policies, as well as the Quebec region being the intersection between European (particularly French) hip hop and American hip hop influences, allowed Francophone rap to emerge. The first successful Quebecois hip hop group was Dubmatique, who’s been active since 1992. The two emcees originated from Senegal and Cameron, and their music draws from jazz and rhythm and blues styles (“Dubmatique”).

Nowhere else in Canada is the politicization of language more evident than Quebec. As rap music is inherently based around wordplay, Francophone hip hop artists found rap to be an effective outlet in challenging the norms of language- whether it’s English or French. Drawing from influences in African American Vernacular English (AAVE), Quebecois hip hop have pushed the French language to the limit and created several varieties of Quebec hip-hop vernaculars. Some of these vernaculars draw from Haitian French Creole, Jamaican English Creole, Spanish and Arabic on top of French and English, due to the cultural mix of immigrants (Low, Sarkar, and Winer 67).

In Part VI, the final part of this Special Feature, we'll wrap things up by looking at two popular Canadian hip hop artists - Drake and K'naan.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Support Vancouver Is Awesome!

Vancouver Is Awesome Inc is a community-based, incorporated non-profit organization dedicated to spreading a positive message about the city of Vancouver and the arts and culture within it. Founded, edited and maintained by folks who live here and who truly love our city and the many communities fostered here, we deliver lighthearted yet thoughtful news through our blog, Facebook, Twitter, in our print annual as well as our weekly piece on 100.5 The Peak. We also work beyond the media, producing events and partnering with other organizations and companies and generally making Vancouver a better city for you to enjoy.

Hey everyone! Please help Vancouver Is Awesome reach their fundraising goal of $20,000! VIA is headed by the tireless Bob Kronbauer, and the blurb above only gives a fraction of the impression of the work they do for our fair city. The contributors to the blog, all volunteers, including my good friend (and independent music editor) Christine McAvoy, take their role as ambassadors of awesome seriously and work immensely hard to spread the good news of Vancouver arts and culture. Although you may not need another reason to donate to VIA, my favourite Vancouver blog, they are also giving away a massive list of donated prizes from various businesses. All those who donate will be entered into the draw!

And not to mention, you'll get your name on this sweet plaque. Please head here to donate today!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Canadian Hip-Hop: A Bright New Day (Pt. IV)

Welcome to PART 4 of Canadian Hip-Hop: A Bright New Day. This Special Feature originated as my final research paper for the World Pop Music class at UBC.

Don't forget to check out Part I, which sets out the Canadian music context, as well as my research sources. Part II talks about influences on Canadian hip hop, especially from our neighbours to the South. Part III notes the history of Canadian hip hop as well as the 4 major styles. There's also a corresponding playlist to go along with the feature, which you can listen to here on CBC Radio 3.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think by leaving a comment!
Toronto's Masia One (Photo: CBC Radio 3)
PART IV. Diversity in Canadian rap

Medley writes in the National Post that it’s difficult to identify a specific “Canadian sound,” which had originally hurt the scene when American talent scouts would come knocking. He notes that while U.S. rappers are easily identifiable and marketable based on their community identity (East coast vs. West coast), Canadian hip hop often integrates influences beyond our borders. In Canadian rap, you can find elements of “dancehall and reggae, African and world music, garage, underground battle rap, and indie-rock” (Medley). This fusion of influences was evident as early as the late 1980s, when Toronto's Dream Warriors pioneered a hip hop sound combined with jazz. Later, we would see this fusion in Michie Mee's Jamaican Funk: Canadian Style, and most recently, the African-laced instrumentation of K'naan and the indie-rock-friendly style of Shad (Motion Live Entertainment and Saada STYLO 15).

Even a casual listener of Canadian hip hop artists or Canadian indie rock/dance/pop/folk can pick out the large number of collaborations and influences between the genres. For example, Saukrates has recently released a track named “Emily Haines,” dedicated to and named after the lead singer of Toronto new wave rock band Metric. Vancouver by way of London, Ontario rapper Shad enlisted the help of two members of Broken Social Scene, one of Canada’s most critically acclaimed musician collectives, in recording his latest album TSOL. Halifax rapper Classified had celebrated folk rocker Joel Plaskett sing the hook in his single “One Track Mind.” K’naan worked with Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett for his track “If Rap Gets Jealous.” k-os collaborated with new wave dance group You Say Party, Cadence Weapon with indie rockers Think About Life... and the list continues almost infinitely.

When interviewed about the diversity of Canadian hip hop influences, Saukrates responds, “Being eclectic is our sound. Artists up here are fearless. This thing about melody and MCs singing? We started that. And I’ll do a shameless plug, that Big Black Cadillac record? It’s five MCs on one record, we started that whole thing! We’re fearless because we were brought up here in the melting pot” (Kaplan). Similarly, Shad notes in the same interview that “the changes in hip-hop happen so rapidly. I was born in Africa and we have artists in Canada – K’naan, etc. – and we’re the first to be from Africa in Canada making hip-hop music... [This kind of music] wouldn’t have been called hip-hop in 1995” (Kaplan).

Frustrations abroad and at home

Saukrates (Photo: artist website)
Saukrates’ comments about being fearless and innovative certainly come from a place of experience. In an unprecedented 2010 National Post interview between eight prominent Canadian emcees, including Saukrates, a common thread in their comments include frustrations with the music industry and need for persistence in order to have longevity in their careers (National Post Staff).

In the US, rap is second only to rock in terms of record sales, and hip-hop is a cultural and financial empire. Yet Canadian artists are more often than not “left at the border” (McKinnon). Saukrates was mishandled by labels Warner Brothers and Def Jam, and saw his career stagnate while the labels’ resources went to his American equivalents. Speaking from that experience, he demonstrates the characteristic drive of the Canadian rappers who have shown modest success with their craft. “I won’t be satisfied until the world accepts us. I don’t want to be pigeonholed just in Canada – only touring in Canada, only viable in Canada. No, no, no. Hell no. We’re going to do more than compete. We’re gonna get in there. America has heard the east, they’ve heard the west, they’ve heard the south – now here comes the motherfuckin’ north” (McKinnon). Another artist that’s currently enjoying success after decades of hard work is Kardinal Offishall, and he’s experienced a similar frustrating trajectory as Saukrates but with label MCA, where he got lost in the queue after a company merger. “With this label bullshit, I had to sit on my hands for a while when we went through all the red tape” (Kardinal Offishall, qtd. in McKinnon).

Unfortunately, Canadian audiences and industry haven’t been much more accommodating of home grown hip hop talent than the United States. There is only one hip hop album on the Top 100 Canadian Albums list, which was compiled from votes by music industry insiders. This lone hip hop album, k-os’ Joyful Rebellion (2004), came in at #68 (Mersereau). Moreover, although the book is sprinkled with features highlighting top albums in different genres of music, hip-hop is not included. In his spotlight piece for, McKinnon identifies that Canada “lacks the young, urban (or urban-minded) population needed to consistently support high-volume sales for its home grown rhymers. While mainstream pop and guitar stars like Avril Lavigne and Nickelback measure success in millions of copies sold, Canada’s microphone controllers can spend years hustling to reach modest targets like 50,000 or 100,000. Sales outside the country are a rare phenomenon.”

Due to a lack support or investment by record companies, retail and radio, it’s difficult for Canadian “urban” artists to be financially viable. Rap aficionados often know more about American rappers than Canadian ones, due to lack of intra-country publicity. This, coupled with what Morrow names as a “cultural cringe... in relation to local product” (198), means that Canadian hip hop artists are trapped in a difficult confine, where you need to succeed in an already saturated US market before anyone back home will acknowledge your craft. Up until recently, the only hope of home grown rap music being noticed is via play by campus radio, which is reflected in a short lived television series named Drop the Beat. The 2000 CBC series was one of the first to be focused on hip hop music and culture, and it prominently featured the campus radio station, which was the reality of hip hop at the time. As identified on Wikipedia, “until Toronto's Flow 93.5 hit the airwaves in early 2001, Canada did not have any radio stations dedicated specifically to urban music” (“Drop the Beat”).

Then everything changed with a protest. In 1998, Vancouver hip hop collective The Rascalz declined to accept their Juno Award for Best Rap Recording, protesting the organizers' decision not to televise the “urban” awards. Their statement implicated racism in the Canadian music industry: "In view of the lack of real inclusion of black music in this ceremony, this feels like a token gesture towards honouring the real impact of urban music in Canada” (qtd. in LeBlanc). Their boycott incurred great media attention and nationwide discussions, and in 1999, rap was included in the Juno live broadcast. Additionally, rap collective Northern Touch performed during the 1999 Juno ceremony and gave the Canadian rap scene a primetime audience, something it’s sorely needed (Krewen). It seemed that the next logical step for greater exposure for Canadian artists abroad was “to break a Canadian hip-hop act in America" (Kulawick, qtd. in Krewen).

Current state of Canadian hip hop

There’s currently a laundry list of exciting Canadian rappers enjoying success both at home and abroad. Shad just saw his critically acclaimed third album released in the United States. Kardinal Offishall’s single “Dangerous” was a huge hit in 2008. Classified saw his single “Oh...Canada” played prominently during the 2010 Olympics, and k-os has released a string of successful singles as well. Rich Terfry, otherwise known as Buck 65, hosts CBC Radio 2’s show “Drive,” and 24 year old Cadence Weapon is Edmonton’s poet laureate. As Terfry notes, “there’s been growth in the hip-hop scene in this country that didn’t exist 15 years ago” (Kaplan). In the same interview, Cadence Weapon notes that female MCs and Asian MCs are “out there. It’s just the gaze from the lighthouse moves slowly. Things happen, it’s just a matter of time” (Kaplan). One of those artists getting their time in the spotlight is Masia One, a female rapper of Singaporean origin, although she remains a slim minority in the larger Canadian scene.

In Part V, we will address specific populations and their use of hip hop as a voice - in particular, Aboriginal and francophone rap in Canada.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Canadian Hip-Hop: A Bright New Day (Pt. III)

Welcome to PART 3 of Canadian Hip-Hop: A Bright New Day. This Special Feature originated as my final research paper for the World Pop Music class at UBC.

Don't forget to check out Part I, which sets out the Canadian music context, as well as my research sources. Part II talks about influences on Canadian hip hop, especially from our neighbours to the South. There's also a corresponding playlist to go along with the feature, which you can listen to here on CBC Radio 3.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

Michie Mee (photo:
PART III. Notable points in Canadian hip hop history

Although Toronto MC Michie Mee became the first rap artist to be signed to a major American label in 1988, it was Maestro Fresh Wes that became the first Canadian hip hop artist to hit double platinum (200,000+ albums sold) with his debut Symphony in Effect (1990) on the strength of the single “Let Your Backbone Slide” (1989) (“Canadian hip hop”; Shapiro 52). He remained the best selling rap artist in Canada until Drake came along, whose album Thank Me Later was released on June 15, 2010. The record sold 447,000 records in its first week, reaching No. 1 on the American Billboard 200 (“Drake (Entertainer)”).

By the early 21st century, the digital age has allowed independent artists to release albums directly to music consumers without the mediation of big record labels. The internet rewards artists who are entrepreneurial, allowing them to connect directly to their fan base, magnifying the effectiveness of grassroots marketing and promotions. Particularly in Canada, where large cities are separated by hours to days of driving and touring is rendered impossible for four months of the year, the internet is an increasingly important medium to sustain artists’ careers. However, distinct challenges to the Canadian rap field hinder its growth, which include a smaller market of consumers, lack of producers and studios specializing in hip hop, the financial upstart cost, as well as lack of support from the music industry (Haines 79). As of 2001, there are more than 200 rap groups across Canada, about half of which are located in the Greater Toronto region. Vancouver, Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax are also important cities for Canadian hip hop, which support clubs and the touring circuit. There are also fans from various ethnic backgrounds in these cities (Chamberland 312).

Hip hop styles

Hip hop music contains numerous distinct elements, including the DJ, who plays and mixes records, the emcee (MC), who vocalizes composed rhymes or improvises on top of a beat, the artist, who creates visual transformations using forms such as graffiti, and the dancer, otherwise known as the B-boy/girl, who moves to the rhythm laid down by the DJ. For the sake of simplicity, this paper focuses on emceeing (MC-ing), or rapping, which is often the focal point of hip hop culture, as emcees provide “recognizable voices, styles, faces and personas” (Motion Live Entertainment and Saada STYLO 11).

Both KRS-One, a celebrated rapper from the US, as well as Krims identify four separate styles of rap. Their conceptualizations overlap substantially, although not perfectly. Firstly, party rap, or “the Fun style” as deemed by KRS-One, is marked by a celebratory tone and emphasis on getting the crowd to move. It draws its influences from the Jamaican and African-American tradition of DJ roasting at parties over tracks, as well as lindy hop. Secondly, he identifies mack rap, which parallels KRS-One’s “Sexual Style.” It’s marked by bravaggio and a misogynist reputation, as exemplified by the “pimp and ho” focus of rap. Thirdly, Krims names jazz/bohemian rap, or the “Intellectual Style,” which is often marked by eclecticism, and incorporates samples of jazz/soul/pop. Topics addressed in this genre often qualify it as “conscious hip hop” and includes social critiques, parody and irony. Lastly, Krims identifies reality rap, dubbed by KRS-One as the “Violent Style,” which is marked by the realism of inner city life. “Gangsta” rap would be included in this genre, which emphasizes an “authentic” gangster persona, with a focus on the ghetto, masculinity and hardness. Musically, reality rap is often punctuated with dominating bass, dissonant pitch combinations, and distortions in the samples (Motion Live Entertainment and Saada STYLO 11; KRS-One qtd. in Krims 54-80). It’s also important to note that these styles are not mutually exclusive, and that an artist may incorporate multiple types of rap within even one track.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Canadian Hip-Hop: A Bright New Day (Pt. II)

Welcome to PART II of Canadian Hip-Hop: A Bright New Day. This Special Feature originated as my final research paper for the World Pop Music class at UBC.

Don't forget to check out Part I, which sets out the Canadian music context, as well as my research sources. There's also a corresponding playlist to go along with the feature, which you can listen to here on CBC Radio 3.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

PART II: Influences on Canadian hip hop

Rapper Kardinal Offishall (photo courtesy of
In order to explore the origins of Canadian hip hop, a brief overview of the influences on hip hop in its place of origin, the United States, is necessary. Motion Live Entertainment and Saada STYLO identify Jamaican dub, a subgenre of Reggae music and culture, as a predecessor to the first styles of hip hop (7). Haines complements their description by noting that hip hop draws from black oral storytelling traditions, such as toasting and playing the dozens, as well as the call and response style of African-American religious traditions (58). As a musical style that originated from minority populations, hip hop has long fostered challenges to accepted norms in various forms, such as the “proper” use of language and techniques and technology in music production. Moreover, on a more macro scale, hip hop has been a channel for political protest (Low, Sarkar, and Winer 61). In this latter form, Low and colleagues identify rap’s similarity to genres such as folk, punk, and dub in opposition to a dominant culture (62).

Although a substantial amount of literature exists probing the history and social elements of hip hop culture, there is far less academic attention paid to the musical components that underlie hip hop styles. Krims identify two periods of hip hop styles, beginning from its genesis in the 1970s. The “old-school” style of hip hop, that is, prior to 1983-4, would sound “sing-songy” to contemporary listeners’ ears due to its relatively slower tempo and less complex rhyme patterns. Comparatively, “new-school” hip hop often contains complex rhyming patterns, which may include “multiple rhymes in the same rhyme complex, internal rhymes, offbeat rhymes, multiple syncopations, and violations of meter and metrical subdivisions of the beat” (Krims 49). Musically, measures of four are most common in rap, as is the norm with other popular genres such as rock, dance, and funk. This has enabled a great deal of interactions between the different genres (Krims 53).

Canadian differences from American hip hop

The generally accepted origin of hip hop music is in New York City, in particular the South Bronx area, in the 1970s (“Hip hop music”). In Canada, the hip hop scene was present in major urban centres such as Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa as early as the early 1980s due to the population of Caribbean and African immigrants, as well as cultural fusion between the border cities (Motion Live Entertainment and Saada STYLO 8). Contrasted with American hip hop, which was influenced by popular styles Motown and rock, these immigrant youth north of the border were more influenced by dub and reggae, resulting in a relatively less “hard” sound (Motion Live Entertainment and Saada STYLO 8).

Thematically, Canadian hip hop differs from our American neighbours’ content. In the Ottawa Citizen, Daniel Caudeiron makes the following comment about the differences he sees between hip hop from our two countries:

What we're producing in Canada is distinctive because it's not gangsta rap, it's not specifically hardcore or misogynist, but something cooler with a call for unity. There's a narrative style that seems to combine West Indian storytelling and a reference to the old black poet style of dub poetry. This makes it fresh.
Where do we live in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal under the same kind of deep-seated, institutionalized, racist and depressed, second-class poverty conditions that you have in the U.S?
Nowhere. We have housing projects and the like, but we don't have the sub-human conditions, the deeply entrenched racist style of some American rappers. We offer something more provocative in intellectual terms, a broader range of subjects. Ours is more laid back and mellow. It's love versus war, basically. (qtd. in Krewen)

Although not all hip hop aficionados will agree with Caudeiron’s assertion that Canada doesn’t exhibit some of the deep social and institutional inequalities that contribute to American ghettos, his implication that Canadian rap fans are responding to local hip hop because they can't identify with American storylines rings true for rapper Kardinal Offishall. He comments that “Hip-hop music can help define distinctions between Americans and Canadians, [via] positive aggression. It's a culture where you have to take a stand for something. You have to be pretty powerful with what you say" (qtd. in Krewen).

In PART III, we'll start going into Canadian hip hop history, as well as distinctions between different styles of rap.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SPECIAL FEATURE : Canadian Hip-Hop: A Bright New Day (Pt. I)

Rapper Shad K, one of my favourites. (Photo: Brenda Lee)
Welcome to the first Special Feature on earbuds & ticket stubs on Canadian hip hop, titled A Bright New Day, which originated as my final research paper for the World Pop Music class at UBC.

There's also a corresponding playlist to go along with the feature, which you can listen to here on CBC Radio 3.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

Part I. Brief overview of Canadian music context

Canada is the world’s second largest country by land mass, stretching from the Pacific Ocean on the west to the Atlantic on the east (“Canada”). Within its borders, there are temperate rainforests, continental mountain ranges, flatlands, tundras, islands, and other numerous natural divides, above and beyond the sheer distance from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island. Separated into ten provinces to the south and three territories to the north, any discussions regarding Canadian culture needs to take into consideration the sheer geographic difficulties of the nation.

It should come as little surprise then, that there are several popular music genres within Canada, and that many of these music scenes are localized in specific regions. So although genres such as classical, rock, and country are generally popular, folk traditions, especially those stemming from Celtic roots, tend to be regionalized on the east coast, whereas Chansonniers (French singer-songwriters) are localized in the French population in Quebec (“Music of Canada”). Other genres, such as electronic music, hip hop and hardcore punk tend to thrive in major cities such as Vancouver and Toronto, the most populated city in the country.

Although Canada is the second largest nation, it stands at number 36 in terms of population size, and 228th in terms of population density (“Canada”). Morrow’s 2000 data shows 82% of record sales in Canada are imported (195). Similarly, Krims identifies that over 85% of our national expenditures on recorded music goes to multinational companies based outside of Canada (177). All major record labels in Canada are foreign owned, with only a fraction of their money invested in Canadian talent. Successful Canadian artists such as Celine Dion, Neil Young and Bryan Adams have all had to leave the country in order to be viable economically (Krims 177).

As a response to the market challenges posed by our geography and relatively sparse population, the federal government, via the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), passed legislation mandating Canadian content (sometimes referred to as CANCON) in order to strengthen the Canadian music industry in the face of foreign competitors. Wikipedia states that “on January 18, 1971 regulations came into force requiring AM radio stations to devote 30 per cent of their musical selections to Canadian content” (“Music of Canada”). Currently, CANCON regulations dictate that radio stations have to play at least 35 percent Canadian content on their airwaves, leading to “an explosion in the 21st century of Canadian pop musicians dominating the airwaves unlike any era before” (“Music of Canada”). Unfortunately, this effect did not spread equally between different genres.

A great source of support for Canadian music, and in particular hip hop, emerged with the debut of MuchMusic in 1984 and its French equivalent MusiquePlus (“Music of Canada”). As the Wikipedia entry notes, these networks not only allowed both Anglophone and Francophone artists to gain exposure via television, but the networks created VideoFACT, a fund to help emerging artists produce their videos, as well as PromoFACT, a funding program to help new artists produce online press kits and websites. In sum, the success of the Canadian music industry, including hip hop, has relied greatly on the support of governmental legislation and the private sector, and its trajectory influenced immensely by these forces.

Works Cited:
“Ab-Originals Podcast.” CBC Radio 3, n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2010.
Chamberland, Roger. “Rap in Canada.” Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA. Ed. Mitchell, Tony. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001. 306-325. Print.
“Canada.” Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2010.
"Canadian hip hop." Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.
“Drake (Entertainer).” Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2010.
"Drop the Beat." Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.
“Dubmatique.” Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2010.
Haines, Rebecca J. "Break North: Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture in Canada." Ethnicity, Politics, and Public Policy. Eds. Troper, Harold, and Weinfeld, Morton. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. 54-88. Print.
“Hip hop music.” Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2010.
“K’naan.” Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2010.
Kaplan, Ben. “Hip Hop Week: MC’s discuss Drake’s spot in the history of Canadian rap.” National Post, 1 Jul. 2010. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.
“Kinnie Starr.” Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2010.
Krewen, Nick. “Kinder, Gentler Rap, Eh?” The Ottawa Citizen, 7 Mar. 1999. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.
Krims, Adam. Rap Music and the Poetics of Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.
LeBlanc, Larry. “Rascalz Refuse Award To Protest Junos Rap Act Wants R&B Portion Of Ceremony Televised.” Billboard, 4 Apr. 1998. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.
Low, Bronwen, Sarkar, Mela, and Winer, Lise. “‘Ch’us mon propre Bescherelle’: Challenges from the Hip-Hop nation to the Quebec nation.” Journal of Sociolinguistics. London: Blackwell Publishing, 2009 59–82. Web.
McKinnon, Matthew. "Border Block: Canadian Hip-Hop vs. America.", 22 Mar. 2005. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.
Medley, Mark. “Canadian hip hop: Why it’s not to [sic] early too [sic] declare it a golden age.” National Post, 2 Jul. 2010. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.
Mersereau, Bob. The Top 100 Canadian Albums. Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions, 2007. Print.
Mitchell, Tony, and Pennycook, Alastair. “Hip-Hop as Dusty Foot Philosophy.” Global Linguistic Flows: Hip Hop Cultures, Youth Identities, and the Politics of Language. Eds. Alim, H. S., Ibrahim, A., and Pennycook, A., Mahwah, New York: Routledge, 2009. 25-42. Print.
Morrow, Guy. “The Music Industry in Australia and Canada: Global and Local Perspectives.” Post-Colonial Distances: The Study of Popular Music in Canada and Australia. Eds. Diamond, Bev, Crowdy, Denis, and Downes, Daniel. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2008. 190-214. Print.
Motion Live Entertainment and Saada STYLO. “The Northside Research Project.” The Canada Council for the Arts, Nov. 2006. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.
“Music of Canada.” Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.
National Post Staff. “Pass the Mic (video): Maestro, Cadence Weapon, Shad, Buck 65, Saukrates and more trade verses on Canadian rap.” National Post, 30 Jun. 2010. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.
Phelan, Bryan. “Hip-hop activism for First Nations youth.” Wawatay News Online, 1 May 2003. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.
Sabourin, Clement. “Inuit pop, Algonquin rap, Innu reggae aim for mainstream.” AFP, 8 Oct. 2009. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.
Shapiro, Peter. “Canadian Hip-Hop.” The Rough Guide to Hip-Hop. 2nd ed. London: Rough Guides, 2005. 52-54. Print.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NEW VIDEO : Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

Arcade Fire's latest video is for the title track of their latest album The Suburbs. The video is directed by Spike Jonze, and I'm not going to ruin it for you, but it's eerie.

P.S. in case you're not weirded out enough, the band has also linked to an article about the Georgia Guidestones in their latest blog entry. Check it out here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

VIDEOS : Arcade Fire perform live on Saturday Night Live

Arcade Fire appeared on NBC's Saturday Night Live last night, November 13 2010. They performed two tracks during the show as well as appearing in a skit. According to excited tweets, they also performed a couple of songs after taping was over.

Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

We Used to Wait

And their cameo appearance in this SNL skit

Videos courtesy of The Audio Perv.

LIVE VIDEOS : The Wooden Sky takes it to the street

Thanks to the heads up from my friends over at Sticky Magazine (a great Toronto publication), I bring you two amazing clips from Toronto's The Wooden Sky's homecoming show at Lee's Palace. Or rather, what happened after their sold-out homecoming show, where they got their fans to party with them in the back alley of the venue, then took the raucous crowd down in the middle of a busy city street with their cover of Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Going Nowhere."

I had to miss them when they brought their show to Vancouver last month. Still kicking myself for it. Read Sticky Mag's full review of the Toronto show here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

CONTEST : Henry and the Nightcrawlers - 100 Blows

Henry and the Nightcrawlers is Henry Alcock-White-- bassist, guitarist, songwriter. Collaborator and member of Vancouver bands Bend Sinister and The Zolas. As the photo above may imply, he's probably also a sombre, poetic guy with a romanticist streak. But with his fingers crossed behind his back. When you first pop Alcock-White's debut full-length 100 Blows into the stereo, what's evident instead is a forest of  bouncy pianos, guitar noodling and drum machines. A musical jaunt as opposed to a waltz.

So where in this solitary image is the possibility of beat-driven pop? Alcock-White combines his youthful forays in rhythm and blues with his more recent endeavors in indie rock, and adds influences from Henry and the Nightcrawlers' rotating cast of supporting players, including members of Said the Whale, The Zolas and We Are the City.

CONTEST : Henry has generously given me 3 autographed copies of 100 Blows to give to some lucky readers. To win, simply email brendahlee [at] gmail [dot] com with "Oh Henry!" in the subject line and your name and address in the email body. I'll pick a winner shortly and contact accordingly. (The contest is now closed. Thanks to all who entered!)

Tour dates (supported by members of The Zolas and We Are the City):
9 NOV Tracks Pub, Olds , AB
10 NOV Bohemia, Edmonton, AB (w/Ghost Cousin) - Facebook info
11 NOV Amigos, Saskatoon, SK (w/Imaginary Cities)
13 NOV Music Trader, Winnipeg, MB (in-store @ 2pm) - Facebook info
13 NOV The Park Theatre, Winnipeg, MB (w/ The Liptonians)
15 NOV The Slice, Lethbridge, AB
17 NOV The Central, Fernie, BC
19 NOV TBA, Kelowna, BC
27 NOV Billy Bishop Legion, Vancouver (Album Release Party - Facebook info)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

i(heart)music's Hottest Bands in Canada, 2010 Edition

As previously alluded, I had the pleasure of contributing to i(heart)music's annual list of Hottest Canadian Acts. The top 33 list is now up, and I think you'll find that the top end of the list comes as little surprise, and judging by the amount of comments under each artist, there was great consensus between voters. Only one of my top 10 choices didn't make it in: the wonderfully warm and nostalgic The Wooden Sky.

Voters were bloggers and general music-type people from across Canada.  In no particular order: Jim from Quick Before It MeltsSaid The Gramophone's Sean Michaels; François from Apartment 613; James, host of CHUO's Mixtape Sessions; Brenda from Earbuds & Ticket Stubs; Ryan Breese, host of CKCU's Whatever's Cool With Me; Nat Cap Rock's Andrew Carver; Ming Wu of Photog Music; Michael from Radio Free Canuckistan; Vancouver music freelancer Amanda Ash; Bootlog Rod; Toronto photographer Pete Nema; Indie Music Filter's Chris; Alex from Chipped Hip; If The Music's Loud Enough's Ian; Adrien from Pop Matters; Joe of Mechanical Forest Sound; Ca Va Cool's Daniel Hernandez; Melody from; From Blown Speakers' Quinn; Mykael of Painting Over Silence; David of Exclaim!; Moncton DJ/photographer/all-around music guy Marc-Xavier Leblanc (aka bones); and last but definitely not least, Frank Chromewaves.

Not to spoil anything, but you can probably guess who #1 is. Check out the rest of the list here!