Why is it difficult for the Canadian majority to support their own local hip-hop scene?
Due to the social significance of hip hop, I believe that the Canadian majority may feel unsure of how to come together in support of music that speaks to the plight of the Other. Tracing hip-hop to its roots, the urban sound can be traced to the slums of the Bronx, representing marginalized and underrepresented groups of people. As written by Becky Blanchard, in an article published by Stanford University in the department of Poverty and Prejudice: Media and Race, hip-hop is a tool used to “address social, economic, and political issues and act as a unifying voice for its audience,” (4) acting as a voice on behalf of the subaltern to highlight the social injustices of our society.
Hip-hop is an art form with a cause.
It’s no surprise that visible minorities tend to identify more with hip-hop than other genres of music when the lyrics resonate with their lives in a society that often overlooks them. Hip-hop creates space for the urban story to be told and heard. However, that redirection of attention navigates away from the dominant group of listeners that makes up the inner Canadian majority: country and folk listeners. In other words, a hip-hop dominated scene is a place in which western listeners may feel Othered. Wherein a group dominated by visible minorities, they become the minority instead.
If this is the case, does hip-hop only flourish in places with a high number of visible minorities?
Hip-Hop in Canada
Since its introduction over 40 years ago to now,(1) the Canadian hip-hop scene has remained relatively “underground” with the exception of a handful of breakthrough artists like Drake, Tory Lanez, Nav, and PartyNextDoor. All of which are Toronto-based, a megalopolis in which visible minorities make up half the population,(2) the highest concentration of visible minorities in Canada.
Therefore, the question is raised, if hip-hop is music made by visible minorities for visible minorities, and visible minorities only make up roughly 22.3 percent of the entirety of the Canadian population,(3) doesn’t it make sense for hip-hop to remain underground? That logic might apply to other genres of music. For example, in some cases, the underground nature of music may contribute to its essence. However, due to the social significance of hip-hop, it’s important to recognize hip-hop in mainstream media for what it stands for if we are truly a cultural mosaic.
Especially hip-hop in the local creative environments where it has not been commodified and appropriated into sounds that sell. In other words, where it hasn’t been “repackaged by money-minded businesspeople looking to create a wider appeal by erasing hip-hop’s historic function and sold back to the streets through marketing ploys such as music videos and Top-40 charts.” (4) In the local creative environment, it’s simply an artist with a mic, telling the truth of their story, uplifting the community they live within. In reference to community-organized hip hop collaboration, Beni Johnson, founder of 10 at 10 said during an interview with Redbull, “it is hip hop culture in its purest form.” (5)
In the midst of all the quiet, there are still passionate individuals trying to promote hip-hop culture, organizations like 10 at 10 are evidence of that. And with Havilah Mighty winning the 2019 Polaris Music Prize, an award given to the best Canadian album of the year, she makes history as the first hip-hop artist to receive this prestigious prize. Bringing national recognition to hip-hop culture and along with that, “challenging narratives of separateness,” (6) as described by Jeremy Dutcher, an indigenous artist and 2018 Polaris Prize winner, in his speech prior to the winner reveal.
These are the small steps towards establishing hip-hop on the mainstream stage in Canada, a country that claims to be a cultural mosaic but harbours homogenous tolerance in the arts. We are still a long way away from being truly multi-culturally present, but our urban arts ring loud and are spreading as young artists begin to dictate hip hop’s future. The day that hip-hop really dies will signify a loss of resilience, and I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.
And as previously mentioned, hip-hop is an art form with a cause, so experience it for yourself (visit 10at10 showcases), see if the message resonates.