Presentation on theme: "MUSI 3104 W12 Hip Hop and Indie Rock. At the end I'm going to want to discuss the general question of how various Canadian hip hop artists are distinctive."— Presentation transcript:
At the end I'm going to want to discuss the general question of how various Canadian hip hop artists are distinctive relative to other hip hop artists/styles, and what that might have to do with locality. But first let's just get a sense of the overall history and some of the key tracks/videos.
The first Canadian rapper to get significant attention (or even to be properly documented, for the most part) was Maestro Fresh Wes in 1989. YouTube: Maestro Fresh Wes "Let Your Backbone Slide" video (1989) Filmed at the Masonic Temple in Toronto. Discuss the venue, the way one site can have multiple (but overlapping) meanings. Same is probably true of other kinds of local references in the videos.
YouTube: Dream Warriors "My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style" video (1991) Also looks like the Masonic Temple. Sample was from a Quincy Jones track ("Soul Bossa Nova") which had also been used on a Canadian game show from the 70s and 80s (Definition). Dream Warriors were an important force in early-90s jazz- influenced hip hop. Also, in overall look and sound fitted in with the aesthetic of the Native Tongues collective. For the most part, hip hop in the 1980s and 1990s received no significant airplay in Canada (apart from campus radio), was not systematically stocked by major record store chains, and was not generally covered in the mainstream press (or even most of the underground press). MuchMusic did air hip hop videos, and the Junos did create a rap recording category in 1991 (although not as part of the main ceremony), but without the surrounding infrastructure such gestures generally weren't enough to create career momentum for any of the artists.
From early on there has also been a whole genre of francophone hip hop which has a strong following in Québec. Youtube: Mouvement Rap Francophone "M.R.F. est arrivé" video (1990) (use siensrecords version) The generic old-school hip hop elements are clear here. But what's distinctly Québec (besides the lyrics)? M.R.F. is historically significant but didn't get to enjoy much commercial success. Dubmatique, however, broke through to the francophone pop market in 1996, which is significant when we consider the state of anglophone Canadian hip hop around that time.
YouTube: Dubmatique "Raggadub" video (2001 -- but representing mid-1990s breakthrough in my timeline) Notice especially the quote from de Gaulle. And the Bob Marley song. And that 2/3 of the group were from Senegal.
For anglophone hip hop, most commentators regard the "Northern Touch" song/video and associated events as a turning point (although it was just one of several factors). The Rascalz are from Vancouver. Have always presented themselves as an overall hip hop crew, involving break-dancing and graffitti in addition to the music. This song was a collaboration showcasing many Canadian rappers (Checkmate, Choclair, Kardinal Offishall, Thrust). Notice how it shares with M.R.F. the concern to popularize and legitimize a region and subgenre. Declined their Juno nomination in 1998 to protest the general lack of real support for hip hop at the Junos. After the resulting bad publicity the Junos did move the rap category to the main (televised) ceremony.
YouTube: Rascalz "Northern Touch" video (1997) T-dot, the Vancity. This is probably the start of widely popularizing the name T-dot, especially. The woman is Melyssa Ford. It was around 2000 that Canadian hip-hop started to produce a slightly larger number of commercially successful and internationally known artists. This was partly due to the creation of the first Canadian urban music stations, the increasing accessibility of the Internet, and (maybe to a lesser degree) satellite radio and a bit more support from the CBC. YouTube: Kardinal Offishall "Bakardi Slang" video (2001) The whole premise. Where are the dancehall elements?
So: Go back through all these examples and ask how they may stand out as different relative to other hip hop trends. Or, where they are fitting in, what are they fitting in with (and what are they not fitting in with)? And how might these tendencies be linked with locality? And ultimately, can we generalize about Canadian hip hop (or at least about the examples I've chosen?) In thinking about this we can also project forward a bit to artists like k-os, K'naan, Drake. Also, what elements does Canadian hip hop as described share with other Canadian popular music genres? And what (if anything) sets it apart from them?
The earliest example of a Canadian band to make a major impact in the college/indie rock scene internationally was the Cowboy Junkies with The Trinity Sessions album (released 1988, recorded late 1987). The Cowboy Junkies "Misguided Angel" (1988) This album attracted positive comment from a wide range of major figures internationally. Why might it have stood out so much relative to other late-80s college/alternative rock? Method of recording: live with one microphone direct to tape. And highlighting of the place/venue Not a Lanois production, but another factor that caused Canadian rock to be often associated with ambience. Shades of Neil Young as well (why would I say that?)
The Tragically Hip "Fifty Mission Cap" (1992). Bill Barilko story (Toronto Maple Leafs 1951 and 1962 Stanley Cup wins). The Hip's gradually increasing deliberate Canadianness, from at least "38 Years Old" in 1989. Their iconic status within Canada, and nearly complete obscurity elsewhere. 1993: First Another Roadside Attraction tour. Focused on Canadian bands and important but under-represented bands from other countries. Also mention Lilith Fair founded by Sarah McLachlan among others, which started in 1997. The point: both Canadian involvement in the (brief) 1990s revival of the touring festival format, and also the fact that these two Canadian entries both had political/ideological dimensions a bit beyond what was evident in most other touring festivals of the era.
The other most notable example of deliberate Canadianism in indie rock is The Rheostatics, who were active between about 1980 and 2007. We've already heard a bit of "The Ballad of Wendel Clark" (1987). It was around this time that they became a bit more focused in their two most distinctive characteristics: musical eclecticism/iconoclasm, and an almost Stompin'-Tom-like level of deliberate Canadian self-reference. In 1986, Dave Bidini became one of the more important factors in talking STC into returning from retirement. This incident also helped to sharpen Bidini's importance as a writer/journalist about Canadian culture, which in recent years has become his main focus. Released Melville in 1991, which established them as a major college rock group in Canada.
YouTube: Rheostics "Record Body Count" video (1991) What in this is typical of early-90s indie/college rock? What is different? 1992 was the Whale Music album, which is different from 1994 film soundtrack. Both were based on a novel by the Canadian novelist Paul Quarrington. In 1995 they were commissioned by the National Gallery to do music for a Group of Seven retrospective.
Although the stereotype of "East Coast Music" is largely Celtic folk- rock, there was an important indie rock scene in the Maritimes during the late 1980s and into the 1990s. Should also note that there was some significant hip hop activity from the Maritimes, especially in Halifax. It remained largely underground, but got some attention in the press in the late 1990s. The Atlantic indie-rock scene of that time ran the gamut from completely underground to very commercial (best example of the latter would be Sloan). Eric's Trip are in the middle of this spectrum. Formed in Moncton, 1990. Hype developed around the band very quickly, and they were the first Canadian act signed to Sub Pop records. The band didn't last all that long, but were an interesting barometer of the times: indie-rock and low-fi base but with elements of alternative folk and country and post-rock soundscape.
YouTube: Eric's Trip "Viewmaster" video (1994) (use subpop version) Eric's Trip "My Bed Is Red" (1996) If we were looking here for ways that they fit established "Canadianisms" in indie rock, would we find anything? But have these become so widely established by the mid-1990s that we'd be overstating the case?