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:
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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.
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