Thursday, March 17, 2005

T-Dot Hip Hop: Keepin' It Realer Than Real...


I've been politikin' with a lot of thugs, backpackers, consciousouls, yuppies, headz, and other hip hop fans recently, and I've discovered that we mirror Toronto's mentality a bit too well...

Straight-up: Montreal is "cooler" than us.

Same with New York.

(Obviously? Sadly, that's our attitude...)

Now don't shit on me: T-Dot's my wife, I've been here all my life, and she's beautiful... with a healthy dose of shtrife.

(I'm not going to waste my time on irritating qualifiers, so you can insert a "but not everyone's like this!" wherever you want.)


We're neurotically arrogant, often talking about where we're going instead of where we're at, and lacking the confidence to simply explain who we are, where we are, and what we're doing right now. Being fairly comfortable in a very stable environment, we pick fights with each other to keep it "real" or chase that "paper", picking artificial enemies for some sort of "shtruggle" that mirrors the struggles of other cities in the hopes of producing inspirational music... that often ends up sounding hollower than most.

For years I've felt (like others I've said this to) that T-Dot hip hop has "the volume turned down", as the thugs ain't as "thug", the conscious ain't as "conscious", the backpack ain't as "packin'", the jiggy ain't as "jiggy", and so on. Part of this may be reactionary - we've got supposedly "real" hip hop from the U.S. getting major airplay to compete with, but we also prefer to hate before we relate - intimidating artists into not being great. There may also be the shaky foundation of trying to fake NY/LA or other "real hip hop" styles to compete, and then lacking the "real" soul of an artist by aiming to follow the rules of hip hop rather than using the rules to develop one's own new style. This can also keeps artists from putting enough feeling into what they're saying, since they execute their vision from a limiting template of "can't do this" or "can't say that"...

If we set rules on how we create, it limits us creatively...


Canadian culture has a defeatist attitude passed down through generations growing up seeing the difference between Canadian movies and television (bad lighting) and a superior American product, plus a lack of musical infrastructure - which is bullshit, you can see a thousand tiny pieces of it in the flyers you'll pick up over a week downtown, and an apparent lack of desire to cooperate in building it.

It's like too many wanna do it on their own, blow up, and come back and laugh at everybody for not supporting them coming up. Too many MC's also complain about their lack of shine in bland repetitive platitudes, like they're following the rules of "real complainin' hip hop", hardly the stuff of inspiration to anyone other than struggling MC's. I know: I'm on the inside and the outside, and I'll respect anyone doing what they want on principle, but paradoxically it'll be hella hard to crossover...


We've got phenomenal talent, with nice flows, lyrics and presence, but too many artists are unable to break through the metaphorical "wall" between them and the crowd, where you can't possibly turn away when they're on the mic since they're so passionate about what they're saying. And for a city that hasn't blown-up on the international scene (save for a handful of artists we often disrespect), our ideas on "keeping it real" seem really stupid.

First of all, there is no "real" hip hop, not with so many definitions that break down under cross-examination, just artists keeping it "real" by being true to who they are and their vision of what they want to create.

Even the "two greatest" (R.I.P. guys - if you can with all this nonsense going on) never did everything they rapped about: Biggie hardly dealt crack and didn't have a horrible upbringing in a "one-room shack" (ask his Mom - Nick Broomfield did), while 2Pac only sold drugs for two weeks because he was no good at it - surely not 700 songs worth of experience. Yet, they were both exposed to the 'hood and learned what they could, crafting street-tales that ring-true 10 years later because they were "feeling" what they were saying as opposed to "living" it all the time, while those "living" it all the time felt Big'n'Pac's honesty in "feeling" their struggle.

I don't have to be Rwandan to feel Hotel Rwanda or the awful genocide they experienced, I may even write a song about it if I feel inspired to. Plus, one of the goals of hip hop has been to bring stories of ghetto-struggles to the world, so after 25 years of hip hop don't be surprised when people empathize... wasn't that the point?


If we collectively agreed on "rules" for hip hop, then we wouldn't have the ATL, STL, L.A., Chi-town, Philly-soul, and all the hip hop created around the world that has the soul of the first global cultural revolution. Everybody should be allowed to create the music they want: can you imagine if someone told The Roots to put those goddamn guitars away 'cause "real" hip hop is always "two-turntables and a microphone"? And if Jay-Z stuck to his "Reasonable Doubt" style or rapped about "conscious" subjects exclusively? Would he be worth $300 million and dating Beyonce? Probably not... so can you knock this 'hood-hustler's hella-hustle? Do you want to be worth $300 million and dating Beyonce? And didn't these guys work together on an "Unplugged"? So where's the beef?



For everybody that craps on K-OS waiting for the Canadian 50 Cent to blow up (minus the exchange rate), we have to realize that we can't possibly mimic the conditions in American ghettos that produce their artists, and that for every bullet-riddled rapper that blows up there's a million others who simply do their crime and time and never get their shine. We'll (hopefully) never have black helicopters crusing the ghetto's doing fake military exercises designed to frighten and control the population, because: a) we don't have much of a military; and b) the Metro Toronto police were denied a chance to buy even ONE police helicopter.

(By the way, we should be thankful for this...)

Each scene seems to want to stake their own claim on hip hop, with various handfulz of headz claiming they keep it "real" by not being down with the "bling" - as if everyone shaking their ass and having fun is a complete idiot, and as if headz never want to party to old-school "pre-bling" party music. People do what they want, "bling" is so much damn fun that millions worldwide are feeling it - and allowing the old Anglo-Saxon world to be morphed by it, which is a good thing for all of hip hop as a unifying force for change. When Snoop Dogg and Lil' Jon are global icons still keeping it real pimpin' porno and crunk, that proves how far hip hop has come...


It's also been proven that if you make your music "musical" people will feel it no matter what you're saying. Hell, Bob Marley had a 100 million white fans screaming "Exodus!", like dead prez has 100,000 white fans screaming "I'm An African!"

The quality of the underground scene is not lacking in musicality, but any casual fans who roll up and are asked to "choose" between an artificial idea of "real hip hop" and their normal taste in music are simply being insulted: I owe you nothing, and if you make me choose, I'll choose crews that respect different views...

I'm calling for a truce, a fresh-start, 'cause at the end of the day when we're old and grey we'll look back on this beef as bullshit anyway - so why not start now?


I don't play anyone's music I don't want to, but I respect what they're trying to build and how they're reppin' themselves artistically, and in a country that's a source of a staggering variety of good music. As a nation we're supposed to represent harmonious diversity as a role-model for the world, and we're shooting ourselves in the foot by not embracing this naturally occuring in Canadian hip hop. The optics are awful - even to ourselves, and we can take over the world if we simply "feel" each other's struggles and points of view the way we should living here, and build our scene together as opposed to getting pissed-off at whose reppin' us differently than we want to. Can you imagine any 'hood or country reppin' as many different styles as well as T-Dot or Canada? We're already killing the game in rock music...

Jealousy breeds hate, and to logically justify this "keepin' it real" nonsense is intellectually bankrupt.

Peace and Change...

P.S. And NikeBasketball's "WHAT IS TEAM? STRENGTH IN NUMBERS." ads are slowing down my computer and trying to turn us into ants.

Still got some damn nice shoes though...


(the penultimate sacrifice...)


"In this week's Pulse Report, the streets are buzzing about P. Diddy recruiting Common and Talib Kweli..."

1. Common and Talib Kweli ghostwrite for Diddy.

Several months after his Vote Or Die campaign, sources tell that Diddy is apparently looking to express his new penchant for politics on his next album. Puff has enlisted the services of socially aware emcees Common and Talib Kweli to pen some of his material. Meanwhile, rapper/producer Kanye West is on board to produce several tracks for Puff's new project, which is currently in the works. The record is reportedly Diddy's last solo album.



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