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!