i've been in bayfield a little over a week now. we've been blessed with wonderful weather. warm, sunny, very little rain. another two weeks or so before we move into the apartment above the bar, so for now, i'm still on pete and andrew's couch. not that i really mind. i'm already enjoying what looks to be a great summer. the restaurant is great. quality menu, excellent beer selection, good wines and an extensive scotch list. they know their shit. pete and andrew are opening up a little storefront on the boardwalk. records, t-shirts, hats, etc. i'm setting up my recording gear in there today. it'll be nice to have a place to work that's not my bedroom. i skated down to the beach last night to watch the sunset. it was perfect. calm, crystal waters. so many colours. blue, purple, yellow, pink, orange, red. okay, i'm off for a run...
Earlier this week the Canadian Press reported that out of 43 musicians who received federal grants last year, only four were hip-hop artists. Is the system stacked against them? We asked a veteran rapper to share some wisdom.
Often described as music that dominates Canadian record sales and radio play, rap is a huge money-making genre ... for major music labels whose parent companies are based in the United States. For people trying to make music here, it's a different story. Being a Canadian rapper means never having to say you're rich.
But I don't speak from a place of bitterness (much); it's just reality. Under the name More Or Les, I've been a professional emcee since 1992 (the first time someone put cash in my hand for rhyming "material" with "cereal" in front of strangers), turning an afterschool activity into something that almost pays decently.
It's a challenge most Canadian artists face. With a smaller population than the U.S., a lack of infrastructure for urban music development and very few independent or major labels offering (or able to offer) monetary advances for music and video creation, the Canadian rapper must get crafty and create promotional, performance and financial opportunities for himself.
And crafty I have been; hip-hop creators often insist that the core of their culture is to do things differently from what mainstream society expects. I've performed at the World Cycling Championships, Second City, the Direct Energy Centre at Exhibition Place and the North York Central Library as a part of well-attended, decent-paying shows where you would typically not expect to find a rapper.
Add to that being the only rapper on the zine-writers' Perpetual Motion Roadshow tour, and taking it upon myself to busk (read: me, mic, iPod, speaker, cash box, CDs, rapping) on the Queen St. W. sidewalk, and you have someone who has learned to find opportunities.
Enter: grants and loans. Offered by provincial, federal and private organizations, grant and loan programs differ almost as much as the music. You can find programs to cover costs for video-making, recording, production, touring and product duplication (CDs and vinyl), as well as items some rappers overlook, like marketing, promotions, travel to and attendance of music conferences, and writing. Imagine someone paying you to write lyrics! To some folks, that's getting paid before "getting paid."
Grant and loan bodies available to Toronto rappers include FACTOR (which assists on recording and video expenses) and its visual equivalent VideoFACT; the Ontario Arts Council; PromoFACT; and the Toronto Arts Council. They all have websites, occasionally have information seminars, and some even have staff available on the phone to answer any questions.
But I would not call this "free money." Even though I have received funding through the Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council and recently from FACTOR, it did not come easily.
It took me a while to discover, understand and apply for funding – several times. And there is work involved; it's more than just filling out a form. I've seen artists scoff at that, thinking they should be able to submit their music and get a cheque. But all of these organizations have criteria that must be met; all the Is must be dotted, all the Ts crossed; and most importantly, your project must be creative, professional and logical, regardless of genre. And this detail can work to an artist's advantage in other ways: you might get your work seen and/or heard by organizations not interested in funding rap specifically if you present it in a way that fits their criteria.
Just like artists, the people working in these organizations want to be proud of the product they're giving money to. In talking to members of some of the above-mentioned organizations, I have found them genuinely interested in the music they fund. As they should be: successful projects enable them to get more funding from their sources to give to you. So use the money for what you outline in your application as best you can – buying beers with your grant money hurts more than your liver.
What should be a bigger concern is that rappers are perhaps not aware these opportunities exist.
There's no guarantee that telling people to do their research and ask questions will generate results (especially since they become my competition if they succeed), but artists need to do just that to see what's available to them.
And if grant and loan bodies can reach out to the community more (for example, FACTOR has a monthly open mic and info session), they stand to increase their presence on the urban music landscape, perhaps get more high-quality clients and help to build the "hip hop community" often spoken about but hard to quantify in this country.
check out this pre-juno's article in yesterday's free press about shad (thanks for the shout dude) by james reaney. last weekend i presented the urban category at the jack richardson awards - shad won - but he wasn't able to attend. just found out today that ottawa's belly took the rap juno, but still, cool article on shad, and shit, it's an honour to be nominated, right? london is proud...
this documentary is being screened tonight in toronto. i was hoping to make it up for it, but shit, i'm knee deep in boxes right now, packing up my life (again), getting ready to move all my shit into my mom's basement, so i can, once again, live out of a backpack for the next six or eight months. i wish i could have made it up for this. i'll be the first in line to buy it on dvd when (if?) it comes out.
for myself, the whole good life/project blowed/l.a. underground movement of the early 90s pretty much defined my future involvement in hip-hop. i know it's the same for my circle of friends. and i know it's the same for the little pockets of people in every city who were the mirror reflection of my group. everywhere, we were inspired by the likes of the freestyle fellowship, the pharcyde, abstract rude, medusa, volume 10, cve, jurassic 5, dark leaf, and the list goes on and on...
back in those days, when sheena lester (props!) was running things at rappages magazine, and j-smoov had his b-boy kingdom column, every month we would read about these emcees, and try like to hell to find their tapes. i remember hooking up with smoov at one point, and becoming his canadian rep for the b-boy kingdom (this was back when i was publishing my little rap magazine) - ordering tapes from him to sell at local stores - and feeling honoured to be a part of it. later on, through my magazine work, and promoting shows, i ended up meeting and working with a lot of these cats that i used to look up to. some of 'em even became friends to this day. and at one point, on a trip to l.a., i even got to back up my man mindbender while he performed on stage at project blowed. shit, that was crazy. it's a trip to think about. back then, when i was 15 or 16, we straight worshipped these cats, and there we were chilling in leimert park with the crew. they inspired us to freestyle like it was going to the gym. every day, for hours and hours after school. i remember this one apartment i lived in where we had my man ben's turntables set up in the basement, and sometimes there were would be a dozen emcees in there, for hours, until the place got so hot and sweaty and that we all had to get outside for some fresh air, exhausted, exhilarated...
there was a unity in the movement, too. this relatively small group of people in l.a. gave rise to reflective little scenes in every other city you can imagine. in other countries. around the world. the impact can still be felt today. it is truly global. and like mikah 9 says in the trailer, they had no idea they were making history...