How can you call like or call a song dope that's about drug dealing and violence (yay yay) and then call yourself peace loves. hypocrite....
I’ve been hoping someone would call me out online for liking certain suspect rap artists. It’s always a fun topic of conversation in public, especially when I get asked what my favourite rappers are. I can almost sense their cringing, anticipating a lecture from me about how “hip-hop is dead,” and that “I only listen to real hip-hop,” or something.
Currently my two favourite rappers are Freddie Gibbs and Future. If you’re familiar with either of their work, you know you shouldn’t really expect to hear them rap about, um, PG-rated content, except for their occasional bank on a Rihanna hook. Gibbs especially is one of the more gangsta rappers of the day, and I thought his collaboration EP with left-field L.A. producer Madlib was one of the best projects of 2012.
Both Future and Gibbs present, in their music, worlds that are very real, evolving (or devolving, depending who you talk to) by-products of systemic racism and long-term prejudice carried out into a society that, forever, has been stacked against them. They demonstrate a reality that continues the manifestation of a world built on colonialism, which is happening right now, in, presumably, today’s post-colonial, post-slavery, pre-equality West. Gibbs and Future paint, in their very differing style and technique, images of a world that is foreign to me, despite not even living that far away.
Hip-hop is black music, period. It was born in a black New York neighbourhood over 30 years ago, and it continues to be the tool with which those utilizing it as an art form interpret their world. It is the weapon of choice for those who, through systemic racism, have been othered. As art, it is a window with which those who share the artist’s same conundrum can contextualize their predicament, and for curious bystanders like me, it’s an opportunity to look into one of richest ongoing cultural movements in my life.
I’m not black. I’ve never felt racism, other than being called “Polack” (correction: I’m Polish-Canadian), or “Jew” (Well, I’ve been to a Bar Mitzvah before. Does that count?), but I wouldn’t call that racism. I’d call that name-calling.
I shared a room for the first half of my life, but I was not born in a shitty neighbourhood. In fact, I grew up in a small home on a great street for young families, surrounded by other kids, some of whom I have to thank for introducing me to rap.
I’ve witnessed a lot of parental missteps in my upbringing, but I still had a Dad and Mom at home. I never had many toys or things growing up, but I always had enough to eat. I didn’t ever have to resort to something illegal to get money for the things I needed.
All these examples are, unfortunately, common circumstances for black and minority kids growing up in Canada, and especially in the U.S. I’ve seen one of Peel Police’s finest call one of my best friends in high school a nigger because he refused to open his trunk for him with no warrant present; a right guaranteed to him in the Charter. I’ve heard high school teachers refer to rap as “monkey music” jokingly, in a class filled with more non-white kids than otherwise. And all of this occurred in Mississauga, one of the most multicultural cities in Canada.
Rap is music. In other words, it’s what artists use to interpret the world around them. I don’t live in the same world as my black friends, just like I don’t live in the same world as my women friends. Their world is stacked differently than mine, and it always has been.
Through their art, they let me attempt to understand the differences. It’s close as I could ever hope to get. Let’s not pussyfoot here, either; as artists, rappers owe nothing to you, or to anybody, for that matter.
So former drug dealers who make art inspired by their past offend you. That’s too bad. However, you might want to consider what’s more offensive; the creative work that may one day earn them a ticket towards living a more fulfilled life, gaining fans, friends, and opportunities along the way? Or the systemic, perpetual, ongoing racism and societal makeup that forced them into thinking selling drugs and gangbanging were their only choice to make something out of themselves? Think about it.
I’ll stop there.
I’ve never lived further than the Greater Toronto Area in my life. It’s as much in me as I am within it.
Mississauga is just west of Etobicoke, on the other side of Highway 427, and that’s where I spent the majority of my upbringing. More space. I always had a bigger bedroom than my cousins, who grew up in High Park, East York, the Junction, and Kensington Market, at least, until I had to start sharing my bedroom with my brothers when they were born.
I visit my parents and two brothers once a month, and get there via the same GO bus route I used every weekend from age 14-19 to go hang out downtown, for no other reason than to be there. Back then, the window displays, lights, loud noises, unfamiliar faces, frightened friends, and new friends, all seemed exciting. They don’t anymore. I don’t know what that says about me.
Wrote this during hell week (which, surprisingly, is still going on!), but I’m very, very happy to have been a part of this amazing day at Ryerson. It’s now on my bucketlist to give a TED talk. Yeah, that’s right, you heard it here first.
“Jumping the Gun” for Ryerson Folio.
Give it a read. Or not. In hindsight I probably could have cut to what I wanted to say a lot (lot) quicker, but I was under stress getting this out the door. As usual. I suppose I should get used to that. I feel I write better under pressure, but this was one of my rickety performances, I feel. Anyways, I’m drunk (sort of), it’s Friday night, and I might go out. Or not. Let me know what you think.
really do know a thing or two about bridging gaps, I’ve found. I’m in the business of communication (sort of) and see all the time how people who are successful, that is, those who get listened to, are good speakers. They’re good at articulating thoughts, ideas, and images their mind’s eye sees into the real world with words.
It’s an impressive skill, no doubt. I think I’m an okay speaker but I know at times I talk in a very confusing, roundabout way. I misuse words, and my dyslexic tendencies tend to get the better of me, especially when I’m excited.
Energy is a big part of communicating with people. I don’t mean bullshit thumb-language communication (though doing that several hundred times a day, as is the norm with most successful people, takes on it’s own energy requirement), but genuinely connecting with someone over a topic or an idea. Occasionally, despite all the best intentions in the world, I simply cannot bring myself to keep going through a talk, even if it’s on a subject I’m quite passionate about, or even if it’s about something that directly affects me. A theory I have about this is that I’m just a lazy simpleton. I’ve tried pursuing this hypothesis but my results have been inconclusive. So I guess that means I really am a… bah!
One thing I am trying to do more and more is simply surround myself with people who, ahem, do them. I know personally a few people who really are turning their passions and loves into tangible career (read: life) paths, and I have a huge admiration and respect for people who can man the reigns of the chaotic daily grind we are all going to, and attempt to sway the current in their direction. And yes, these people are highly-social, they wear their heart on their sleeves, and they know how to talk to people, who to talk to, and what to talk about. By contrast, I run into heroes of mine, or meet people that I’ve only read about in magazines, and just draw blanks. I tense up when opportunity comes my way, and I ignore the baby steps I actually make and blow the trips and falls way out of proportion.
I’ve been on this planet damn near 22 years, and only now am I learning how to truly open up and express myself fully. It’s resulted in a near abandonment of old hobbies I used to have, but it’s opened the doors of opportunities that really can land me into the shoes of the person I see when my eyes are closed. Or when I’m asleep.
It doesn’t help that it’s bloody terrifying, either. The old me would have squirmed at the thought of going to concerts or shows by myself, but I’ve done that several times this summer, with no other reason than not being able to find a friend to accompany me.
When I see people who are “there,” that is, people who I look up to in some capacity, I can tell there’s something within them that I don’t see within myself. I’m trying as hard as I can to rule out that I’m just plain not meant to be the person I see in my dreams, but sometimes I catch myself believing that nightmare. It’s an unfortunate bad habit of mine, being my own toughest critic. Everybody says they are themselves, and while I don’t think they’re lying, I just don’t know if they’re as harsh as I am. How else can these people, time and time again, show up to class, come in to work, and look great doing it, get met with hard-won success, and pull off movements that are just huge? I want to believe I’m getting there, hell, I have to believe it. But sometimes, I feel, that I’m not quite ready. Why?
My time without computers began with a tough decision; what was I going to do for a whole 24 hours? When I’m at home, my laptop is always within my grasp. It is constantly playing music in my bedroom, and on the main floor, my room-mates and I have set up a server computer connected to our large stereo and television that streams music from our respective laptops. And if it’s not streaming music, somebody’s playing video games, watching television, or a movie.
Saturday, October 16 was when I was to complete my 24 hours without the computer or my cellphone. I figured this would be the easiest time to do it; the computer is basically a requirement throughout the week as I am at either school or work from Monday to Friday, and both require at least some use of a computer.
Naturally, I needed something that would occupy my time. Something that wouldn’t involve me strutting around the house, constantly being tempted by checking my text messages, email, and Facebook pokes. So I decided to phone a friend who’s been meaning to show me something.
I met Joshua through a floor mate from residence last year. He and I developed a wonderful friendship through the sharing of similar ideas and thoughts. We are both, for example, hugely into photography, but our methods are completely different. I take hundreds of pictures in one sitting, while he carefully plans out and executes each press of the shutter button.
In April, Josh lent me a book called Access All Areas: A User’s Guide to the Art of Urban Exploration, written by the now deceased Toronto-based urban explorer Jeff Chapman. The book talked of a world I had never known before. A world of “getting to places that people weren’t supposed to go,” or whatever that meant. It opened my eyes to the hidden areas of Toronto that we all walk by but hardly ever see; the unknown, gutted, emptiness in the middle of our country’s largest urban centre. I was riveted at the notion of seeing what very few ever would, and it both sparked and petrified my inner desire to explore.
The excitement that rumbled the walls of Phoenix Concert Theatre in anticipation of one of hip-hop’s most hyped new acts was like a force of hunger.
Given the size of the crowd, the sold out copies of everything (unless you count the remaining XXL-sized tees), the associative united chants, and the pre-show mosh-pitting, the setting seemed more fitting for a punk band with legions of hardcore fans than a rap group that released the first record you have to pay for last week.
Such is the mantra of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, the teenage hip-hop collective of post-gangsta rap skate punks, who really don’t give a fuck about anything; and if they do, they’re putting a fantastic act on, and leaving some big-name media outlets satisfied to be in their gunpowder dust.
OFWGKTA exploded into the focal point of the alternative music scene late last year, and the group’s been going full throttle since, gaining fans at a pace more fitting for the modestly edgy pop acts that dominate the traditional musical outlets that cling to relevancy. Their do-it-yourself philosophy towards their own nature is a breath of fresh, contentious air, especially in a genre that regularly manufactures a “don’t give a fuck” attitude with fat paycheque investments by labels and A&R, all in the name of hunting that elusive aura of realness, in what is a notoriously plastic musical universe.
That quality comes through very organically for Odd Future. They’re comfortable in their crude element, and it’s not for everyone. Hell, if it were, the Wolves wouldn’t be a Gang. They rap about rape, killing themselves and their friends, their interests, and what they don’t like, over raw cut beats with a sloppy but acceptable enough string of togetherness. It’s like the musical version of yelling “SEX! Now that I’ve gotten your attention…” but with faint cues of subculture, and an addictive, inclusive attitude orbiting the frustration of trying to define oneself in an environment that’s spawning more and more hybrids of what used to be clearly laid out lines of musical and behavioural spectrums. By rap’s standards, they’re still kids, and while they give off a hostile attitude, it hits like an edgy joke from your best friend.
But the proof is in the pudding, and I don’t want to add my name to the never-ending list of blogs that treat this wonderfully unique act like a pig fetus in biology class. Let’s talk about the damn concert, already.
The show started with some background chatter about a weakening voice by front man Tyler, the Creator, and within minutes the group ran onto the stage for a solid four songs of crowd-surfing, stage diving, and yelling out their rap-alongs. A mob this energized would have made even the most introverted artists an electricity factory, and it became very evident Odd Future and their fans would feed off each other all night.
Since that the show was originally supposed to be in the tiny venue Mod Club, many of crowd goers were probably jolted with the excitement of getting to see Odd Future after initially thinking they wouldn’t be. Right from the get-go this show was a wild presentation of hype theatrics (as dramatic as a bunch of guys with mics can be, anyways), spotty off-time at times raps, heavy bass beats, and even reflections that a group of buds from California could play their first ever show in Canada to a sold-out group of screaming fans. Their opening rendition of “Sandwitches” and midway “French!” performance were especially galvanizing.
Odd Future’s swan song “Radicals” was saved for last, and it really did a number on the mosh-pits, stage security, and even gigantic suspended PA speaker that was wobbling and getting pushed by Hodgy Beats as “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school!” echoed throughout the venue. The house was collectively brought down, and it left a satisfying, if predictable end to the beginning of a what’s going to be a promising career for Odd Future. I really was rooting for these guys that they’d put a good show on, and they brought exactly what was coveted; a cavity pulled from the excited brigades of fans, receiving their hype candy for the memory book.
I will absolutely be seeing these guys the next time they’re in Toronto, and wish them continued success, though given their current velocity, it’s not like I have to.