Anticipates the Big Bang
Toronto-based Exclaim! writer Thomas Quinlan stumbled upon the Halifax hip-hop scene in 1994, with Hip Club Groove's Trailer Park Hip Hop. It was an entry point into a new world that contained characters like Witchdoc Jorun, Stinkin' Rich, Gordski, and Len. By 1996 Quinlan was hooked, championing the East Coast scene through his own Hand'Solo label and the Bassments Of Bad Men compilation. Four years later, the Halifax scene continues to thrive; Quinlan takes an insider's look back at the future sounds of Halifax hip-hop.
"The popularity of Halifax hip-hop is increasing fast," says Classified, "and I think it's just gonna keep happening. People like jumping on the bandwagon when they see things are happening. I think we'll make a mark on the Canadian hip-hop scene, and then hopefully the international scene." It's a Halifax hip-hop explosion ? at least, if you believe the subtitle of the new EMI compilation, 44ºN/63ºW: The East Coast Explosion, the second of two recent Halifax collections featuring Classified and his Ground Squad crew. Ground Squad's 1999 From the Ground Up compilation, produced by Classified, features many of the same artists and even some of the same songs as EMI's 44ºN/63ºW collection but the difference in flavour is clear. While From the Ground Up maintains a distinct Halifax identity, one of Toronto's biggest hip-hop producers, 2Rude, seems to have been brought on board to give 44ºN/63ºW a more accessible slant in hopes of reaching a wider audience.
There are other signs of new life on the Halifax scene, including Classified's recent VideoFact grant ? the first in Halifax hip-hop history ? and interest from California-based independent label Anticon in the work of Halifax scene veteran Rich Terfly (aka Stinkin' Rich, Buck 65).
The East Coast seems poised to become the next big thing on the hip-hop map, but there's a lingering sense of déjà vu. This isn't the first time the hip-hop fuse has been lit on an East Coast explosion; since the mid-‘80s, but particularly in the last ten years, heads have been waiting for the accompanying bang.
Despite the preponderance of attention paid to Halifax lately, scene vets recognise it's all relative. "No one from across the country or anywhere else really recognises that there is hip-hop coming from Halifax," according to Ground Squad crew leader Classified. "It's real hard getting exposure outside of the city."
"People think Montreal is the Eastern-most point in Canada," complains DJ Gordski, who has released three solid full-lengths as part of the Goods. Production wizard and current member of Len, DJ Moves expands on the problem: "The only drawback is Halifax's geographical location," he says. "Being on the very East Coast can make it difficult to make certain moves in the industry. But if you want something, you'll overcome any odds to get to the goal."
Ironically, this isolation may be the very thing that gets Halifax any attention. Being so far from any other urban centre, Halifax was left to discover hip-hop on its own. "What makes Halifax different," reveals Buck 65, "is that we make records out of fishing line and chicken bones and coal and driftwood and dog shit. How do you expect our music to sound?"
Halifax pioneer Witchdoc Jorun makes it a little clearer: "We learned what we knew from what little was given to us. We taught ourselves ? no instruction manuals, all trial and error." This process has created some of the most creative hip-hop music in Canada, whether it be the bugged out space rhymes of the Sebutones, the mellow storytelling of Buck 65, the drunken Buddhism of the Goods, Witchdoc Jorun's hard-hitting funky production or the crazy antics of Tachichi & DJ Moves.
The Halifax scene has a rich history that dates back to the inception of the Care Crew back in 1984. "Most of the early history of hip-hop in Halifax reflected that of hip-hop at large, just a few years behind," according to Buck 65. With early groups like Care Crew, New Beginning, and Down By Law, Halifax built a strong hip-hop foundation. It wasn't long until Halifax was experiencing its first explosion, when MCJ of New Beginning & Cool G experienced tastes of Canadian hip-hop stardom, becoming the city's best-known hip-hop group. Their R&B-tinged hip-hop might explain the criticism that occurred (and still does), but Jorun expresses a different view. "I can't really diss them," says Jorun of his fellow old-school vets. "They really made it a reality that Halifax could do it, get signed and burned. You have to learn from experience, even other's misfortunes."
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