My “friendster” horoscope for today reads:
Putting off until tomorrow what you need to do right now will just cause a big headache in perpetuity. So take a deep breath and dive into the tasks at hand before they get out of hand.
This could may as well have been my personal (sheepish) mantra these past many months, as I’ve watched project after project pile up, deadlines pass, personal goals fizzle, etc. This website in particular (along with the portfolio site, which has been “coming soon” for an eternity) is a perfect example. I’ll admit, when I first started posting in here, I wasn’t quite ready to go public with it. I had set this up mainly as a forum for my own ramblings, observations, and for mini-articles and editorials that don’t quite fit in with any particular magazine. Anyway, sometime in late May, when I was still getting into the swing of things, I got linked by a certain somebody, which then led to another linking by another blogging sombody. Well. My hits went through the roof, I froze up like a doe in some SUV headlights, and a huge case of shyness kicked me in the bamsee. By now the attention has died down, the circus has left town, and I feel a little more at ease about crawling out from under my rock. Stretch and yawn, let’s get down to business.
* * * * *
“Is Ciara a MAN????? PLEASE ANSWER ME BACK!!!!!” [ this shit is funny as hell. ]
I hesitate to say that it’s because I’m getting older, but something about the youth of today leaves me in a state of despair.
Earlier this month I put together a series of day-long workshops on independent journalism, blogging (heh), podcasting (can we please come up with a better term?) and interviewing skills for a Parkdale-based programme for young women. For several sticky summer afternoons I had the pleasure of acquainting myself with the charms of these strong ladies, ages varying from 11 to 17, and in the process learned a few things about how distanced we are from eachother’s views of hip hop.
At one point during our first day together, I picked their brains for issues and subjects that really matter to them, with music, family and friends topped the collective list. Hip hop being the overwhelming favourite genre, we started to go through the names of some of their favourite artists. The conversation turned to Bow Wow, his girlfriend Ciara (“she’s a guy, I swear it, she even admitted it on Oprah”), and somewhere in that mix one of the girls tossed in a reference to Nas being “old school” but still good. They loved Game’s “400 bars” and anything related to dissing 50 Cent (“he’s so fake”). They loooooved Flow 93.5, “Toronto’s Urban FM”. And you know, I just had to ask:
“Are there any Canadian artists you like?”
I got a round of blank stares. They cracked jokes about Keisha Chanté and Shawn Desman, conceding finally that they had heard of Kardinal Offishall, but didn’t really know his songs. I pressed them for more names, but no dice.
If you know me, you know I could give two sheeaaats about the big names, about the XXL covers, or about BET Award Nominees of the world. I don’t do celebrity interviews because they don’t interest me. Personally and professionally, I’m more about bigging up my community and building a sustainable local scene, above and beyond anything else. I spent years on the East Coast booking tours, promoting shows, and co-hosting and DJing a weekly radio show — all in the name of supporting independent hip hop. Dang it, I even put out an independent Canadian hip hop sampler back in the day! I was serious.
Since moving back to Toronto last year, I’ve remained pretty quiet on the scene. I don’t promote, I don’t DJ, I don’t even dance much anymore — I just write. What frustrates me is that, in my dealings out East and in my dealings with the West (because, geography be damned, Atlantic and Pacific-region hip hop is far more linked than most Toronto heads even realise), I always found a healthy appreciation of and support for local, independent talent. I used to hitchhike to Halifax on the weekends, and I remember catching underage kids — the same age as these girls in Toronto — trying to sneak into the indie open mics and weekly showcases. If you asked them who their favourite DJ or emcee was, they would have no doubt named someone Nova Scotian in their top ten. Does that happen here? Do the Flow-listening, Much Vibe-watching youth of this city know their local emcees, DJs, producers, etc?
I talked to Mindbender about this not too long ago (for a CBC feature which may never see the light of day, a.k.a. please solve your labour issues, folks) and he had some important points to raise:
Mindbender: You know, it is the Screwface Capital, and it really is a city with world-class talent and small-town support. There’s no excuse for the industry to be as bad as it is here.Me: Is it because people are hesitant to support people they don’t know?
Mindbender: No, I don’t think that’s a good excuse, because the true essence of hip hop is support your own, support your neighbourhood. Everywhere in Brooklyn, people are like “Brooklyn Brooklyn! This is my boy off the block!’ But Toronto doesn’t have that. Every other city, from Compton to New Orleans, these hip hoppers loved where they came from, and it all started with their cities bringing them up, and then they went national. But that doesn’t happen in Toronto or in Canada.
It’s a shame when you think of Canadian talent and Canadian potential as a whole, but looking specifically at Toronto, it just breaks my heart. There are more up-and-coming young stars here than I can count. I give thanks to the many hip hop rec centers, drop-in programmes, and open mic nights that have given many of these youth a place to go, share what they’ve got, and open up to new skills, influences and collaborations. It’s a beautiful thing to behold how much music and expression is coming out of the different corners of Toronto. Even if many of these cats never make it as far as getting major radio rotation or winning hit status with their songs, it is still really important that this music is being created. How polished or how marketable it is doesn’t matter. Creation — that’s the point. That’s how you build a community, a history, a foundation for all the performers and composers and writers and artists to come.
And so I come back to these half-dozen young girls in Parkdale. Whether they realise it or not, they are the target audience for the Flow 93.5 FMs and the 106 & Parks. They’ve probably never listened to an hour of local hip hop programming on CKLN or CIUT in their lives. It took them a good ten minutes to come up with the name of ONE homegrown hip hop artist, and even then could not name a single one of his songs.
Tremendous strides have been made in the past few years in terms of raising local consciousness, stirring up some north-of-that-border pride, starting to build a network, and laying down some independent-minded economic strategies. I won’t argue with that. But if Flow can loop tracks by Rochester or Bishop or whichever hiphopcanadadotcom artist as much as they do, and it still isn’t making any sort of impact on their prime target audience, then we’ve got to reassess our approach and come at it a different way.
Oh, and then there’s this: the main director in charge of youth programming at this particular community center in Parkdale happens to be none other than Theology 3, “your favourite emcee’s favourite emcee’s favourite emcee.” You want to talk about hometown pride and disconnection? These girls see him every day in the centre, yet have no idea what he’s about. Now that’s about as shameful as all them Ciara rumours. Tsk tsk.
* * * * *
FINALLY! A Podcast Worth Listening To!
Speaking of CKLN, I’d like to give a nice big pound to The Real Frequency for finally providing their laziest fans (i.e. me) with a way to download individually archived shows. I know they’ve had their timeslot on Flow for months now, but I don’t know when it is, and I can’t be bothered to remember anyway. I still get that tingling feeling every Saturday afternoon, like I’m missing out on my weekly dose of Arcee ramblings and rap gossip, and I beeline to my radio to tune in. No dice. Someday soon I’ll visit them at their new commercial FM digs, but until then, here are four options for getting that Real-Real-Real fixxx:
Until next time, keep awwwwwwwwn…