Canadian hip hop trailblazers celebrated in new project

Canadian hip hop trailblazers celebrated in new project

March 17, 2017

Hip hop pioneers in Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton and Saskatoon are being celebrated this month through the ‘I was There’ project.

Organized by Northside Hip Hop Archive (NHHA) which is a digital collection of Canadian hip hop history and culture, the cross-country tribute started in Montreal on March 9 honouring DJ Butcher T (Anthony Scharschmidt).

The product of Jamaican parents, the trailblazing disc jockey lived in Jamaica for a few years before returning to Montreal, his birth city, as a global ambassador for the music genre. 

In 1983, he appeared on Canada’s first hip hop radio program, a Saturday night six-hour show, ‘Club 980’, on CKJM and nine years later launched his own show-- Butcher T’s Noon Time Cuts – aired on Friday afternoons on CKUT.

Butcher T, who was hired by K-103 program director Joe Delaronde as a swingman in 1999, has blazed a trail for a new generation of artists, including Nomadic Massive and Iraqi-Canadian rapper Narcy (Yassin Alsalman) who is a part-time professor at Concordia University.

The scene shifted to Saskatoon on March 11 where award-winning hip hop artist Eekwol (Lindsay Knight) has been spreading the culture in the Prairies for nearly 20 years.

Pioneers in Hamilton and Toronto will be celebrated on March 24 and 31 respectively.

Each city’s unique event pays homage to their community of hip hop artists by digitizing artifacts and oral histories to be added to the existing archival content on – Canada’s first national hip hop archive -- to encourage future generations to preserve and promote Canadian culture.

Dr. Mark Campbell, an adjunct professor at Ryerson University’s Radio & Television Arts School of Media and former radio host, selected the four cities.

“I chose them based on their legacy,” he said. “When I was at the University of Regina for three years as a Banting postdoctoral fellow, I learned a little bit about the scene there and I reached out to the First Nations and Indigenous People to make sure they were included. I chose Eekwol because her work is very conscious and positive and she has been an artist for 19 years in a small market. When it comes to Hamilton, they have a huge hip hop history that few really know about. There are pioneers out there who have worked in a bunch of different fields and really built a thriving and very organic kind of hip hop culture.”

In Hamilton, the spotlight shone on renaissance street artist Eklipz (Leon Robinson) who founded Hamilton’s Concrete Canvas hip hop festival and refers to the genre as the ‘soundtrack of my life’. His work was featured recently in Miami’s Art Basel and in an exhibition titled, “Mixtapes: Hip Hop’s Lost Archive’, at Toronto’s 918 Gallery.

The Toronto segment will honour DJ Ron Nelson who started the first hip hop radio show in Canada-- The Fantastic Voyage-- in 1983 on CKLN 88.1FM. The program played a huge role in promoting many of Canada’s early hip hop stars, including Maestro and Michie Mee.

“Without DJ Ron Nelson, we would have had no Maestro, no Michie Mee and possibly no Drake or Kardinal Offishal,” said Campbell who, in 2010, curated his first exhibition on the history of Toronto hip hop culture -- the ‘T-dot Pioneers’. “The Fantastic Voyage show and all the concerts and events Nelson organized laid the foundation to make a hip hop community and industry possible in Toronto.”

Campbell, whose research interests include Afrodiasporic theory and culture, Canadian hip hop and DJ cultures, Infrasonic innovations and community development projects, launched NHHA that showcases a diversity ofCanadian historical hip hop items, including the first vinyl recordings, performances and literature from across the country.

“In attempting to do some research for a Black Canadian history text book, I wanted to write about hip hop in Canada but I couldn’t find any academic sources that I could cite in the textbook,” he said. “I reached out to some of the disc jockeys I knew and asked some of the older ones to share their collection with me and help me gather some historical information about their impact in Canada and the hip hop scene there. They enthusiastically responded and shared what they had in their basements. That enthusiasm and generosity led me to do more research to find more history because hip hop has been so influential in my own development and identity. I wanted to make sure it was available to other students in the classroom going forward.”

Hoping that educators will consider adopting a new method to teaching and learning in their classrooms, Campbell is instructing teachers how to incorporate a hip-hop approach in their classes.

“Teachers have enough leeway within their own discretion to produce lessons as long as they are aligned with the Ontario curriculum,” said Campbell who co-founded Nia Centre for the Arts which is a non-profit arts organization. “They can teach lessons utilising lyrics from music and images from videos. The investment here is not in formalizing a relationship with hip hop in the provincial curriculum. The idea is to produce resources for teachers that want to engage their students in that way.”

When asked which Canadian hip hop artist has influenced him the most, Campbell pointed to Kardinal Offishal.

Just like his Jamaican-born mother Donna Harrow who was a fierce advocate for Canada’s first Africentric School, the award-winning rapper and reggae producer doesn’t hide his feelings when it comes to expressing his views on issues he feels strongly about.

“Kardinal found a way to blend his Caribbean heritage and stay in the forefront of hip hop music,” said Campbell. “When he was making his music, I had the opportunity to meet him when he was just finishing up at York University. He was one of my first interviews on radio. He is a conscious young man with strong morals and a positive Black identity. Kardinal has also always found a way to represent Blacks in an honourable manner.”

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