Canadian hip-hop?



Colin Browne talks to Halifax’s Buck 65 and Edmonton’s Cadence Weapon.

Ever since the early releases of Maestro Fresh-Wes and the Dream Warriors, Canadian hip-hop has struggled to maintain its own relevant identity on the global scene, while staying true to the origins of the music.

Two Canadian artists who are continuing that tradition of cutting their own paths are Nova Scotia’s Buck 65 and Alberta’s Cadence Weapon. Both artists test the threshold of hip-hop—often incorporating elements considered outside the boundaries of conventional hip-hop—in their music.

Halifax’s Buck 65—aka Rich Terfry—often uses traditional folk, blues, and country sounds in his music, for instance. (When’s the last time you heard a banjo in a rap song?) On his most recent album, 2007’s Situation, he takes the idea one step further, and history has become his muse.

He chose to base his album around the year 1957 because, he says, it was when many of the seeds of our contemporary world began to sprout. He’s looking beyond the white picket fences of the time, though…

“The philosophy and attitude of punk was beginning to form,” he says from his hotel room in Bristol, England. “Interesting things were happening in jazz… the formation of youth rebellion… the birth of rock and roll… the Beat Generation… There was just a wide open sense of exploration.”

“I would even say that year invented me.”

That Terfry is waxing about history may come as a surprise to the folks who know him from his early recordings as Buck 65 or Stinkin’ Rich. You may have been turned off by what seemed like a baseball-obsessed, sex-rhyme dropping MC brat. But his lyrics and sound have had experimental tones from the beginning.

“If I’ve had one M.O., it’s not to limit myself in any way,” he says. “To me—a person who loves and appreciates art and appreciates those who radicalized or destroyed barriers (people like The Dadaists and Marcel Duchamp) the idea of street cred, which demands you stay within certain parameters, is corrupt. It’s most exciting in the art world when people really challenge things. That will always be the case.”

Terfry divides his time between Canada and Paris, where he has an apartment. So is it still accurate to describe him as part of the Canadian hip-hop scene?

“I must admit on a certain level I hardly know what’s goin’ on out there [in Canadian hip-hop] these days. All I know is I’ve gotta change my shirt and perform on a boat tonight,” he says. “But I must say a discussion of Canadian hip-hop is not complete without bringing up Cadence Weapon.”

Talking to Cadence Weapon—aka Rollie Pemberton—you get the sense that the feeling is mutual. The two have also collaborated on “Benz”, a track on Situation.

“I was already a big fan of [Buck’s albums] Vertex and Man Overboard, and the new album is incredible,” says Cadence. “I feel we’re kindred spirits in the Canadian rap world.”

The high energy and crowd interaction of a live Cadence Weapon show has hip-hop at its roots, but also a certain punk or D.I.Y. aesthetic… Which is why it makes sense that his latest album was released on Anti-, a division of once punk mainstays, Epitaph.
Pemberton says the idea of “Canadian hip-hop” is a little confusing for fans and the artists themselves.

“I think a lot of Canadian rappers don’t identify as Canadian, or find it hard to represent where they’re from,” he says. “Someone from NY might be proud of street awareness, but coming from Red Deer—for example—is not necessarily something you might look at as cool.”

He’s fresh off a tour through the southern and midwest United States with Toronto minimalist rockers Born Ruffians.

“On this tour we’re getting a weird mix of rap fans, party people, and navel gazers, so that makes for interesting shows.”

The decision to tour with a rock based group can prove difficult for a young rap artist, he says, but he puts it in perspective…
“I like to tour with people I’m friends with, or whose personalities I feel connected to. I wouldn’t want to tour with somebody just because they were hip-hop. When I go to shows myself, I don’t like to see the same thing twice in a row.”

The 21 year old Albertan also DJs regularly and has produced almost the entirety of his own beats. The aggressive mash-up style rhythms, or self-described “hybrid music”, of Afterparty Babies reflects a desire to construct his music from sources often foreign to lyric-based hip-hop. House music, for instance…

“I play a lot of House when I DJ,” he says. “It’s more fascinating to me than rap. I like taking a repetitive element and building on it in many different ways.”

So what is the common ground in Canadian hip-hop? It may be the willingness to chart new ground.

“There is no limit to the amount of influences I allow myself to be inspired by,” says Buck 65, with his trademarked, self-conscious confidence and grit.

See Buck 65, Cadence Weapon, and Skratch Bastid April 11 at Club One. Tickets available at the Sundance, Big Ben’s, by phone at 1-800-874-1669, or online at www.­sonicconcerts.com Doors open at 8pm.