Tuesday, April 10, 2007

book review in eye weekly...

By Dave Morris

Back in the day
It's hard to imagine a pop-cultural form more driven by nostalgia than hip-hop. From the basic, unavoidable fact of sampling's origins in forgotten records to the reminiscing that pervades the most influential MCs' catalogues – even Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready To Die opened with “Things Done Changed” (“Drinkin' brews with the neighborhood crews, hangin' on the avenues / Turn your pages to 1993, niggaz be getting' smoked, G – believe me”). It makes sense that the zine that put Canadian underground hip-hop on the map was named after a long-lost MC, because hip-hoppers have always created an idealized past, some fantastic amalgam of '50s and '80s aspirationalism where strangers embraced each other warmly in the streets, crime was non-existent and MCs could actually rhyme. You know, back in the day.

In Search of... Divine Styler (Mudscout, 167 pages, $16) is a beefed-up collection of the zine of the same name that Ryan Somers (a.k.a. Fritz Tha Cat) self-published between '96 and '99. He originally started the zine as a tribute to an obscure West Coast rapper whose two cult albums epitomized a certain strain of early '90s hip-hop psychedelia. Somers – at the time a welfare-collecting student in London, Ontario – appointed Styler figurehead of an imaginary hip-hop movement, one that had never become commercial and cartoonishly gangsterized. It's not exactly a plot spoiler to reveal that Somers finds Divine Styler, but the real discovery in the book is the fact that there was a scene for him to unite. Not only were there MCs like Aceyalone and the SoleSides crew (DJ Shadow, Blackalicious and more) Somers discovered Canadian MCs such as Moka Only, the Sebutones (Sixtoo and Buck 65) and Mindbender, all of whom were independently pursuing their weird visions, often in isolation. By writing about people like himself, who were already romanticizing hip-hop's recent past, Somers created connections within Canada's underground hip-hop community. Which, really, is what hip-hop has always done: sample history to create a new version of the present.

All of that doesn't make the book any more readable – if you do want to find out what Def Jux star Murs was doing back when he was in Living Legends, Druncnes Monster's interview with the loose collective isn't going to help. Interview subjects ramble about their thoughts on the astral plane and their label woes, and in some places the type is tiny and indecipherable. In Search Of... is sometimes like hanging with a very stoned crew – if you're not passionately invested in figuring it out, this book can be impenetrable.

But passion is what this is all about. For every nine readers who ditch In Search Of... because of its insularity, the 10th will be intrigued by it enough to chase down that Company Flow 12-inch. Somers went on to write a hip-hop column for Vice and make his own music, while the zine's community coalesced around In Divine Style, a now-defunct Toronto club night named in its honour. What made In Search Of... great wasn't the zine itself, but the fact that it spoke to a bunch of hip-hop heads who were never going to be catered to by any mainstream mag. (The last issue featured a rundown of the other hip-hop magazines on newsstands, poignantly illustrating the niche only In Search Of... filled.) There might only have been enough cash and willpower to make a handful of issues, but putting it out in the world created more energy than it used up.

And if ya don't know, now you know.


the book release party in toronto was awesome. such a great time. i've got photos and some video, i'll post them up as soon as i have a few moments to spare. busy, busy, busy, lots going on, lots to tell you about soon...

thank you all for everything,

1 comment:

Brian said...

Congrats on the book man! Always knew Divine Styler was special from the House of Pain days. Word is Bond is so timeless. Looking forward to the pics. Easy