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 M├ętis 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.