“Hip-hop is Rebel Mu­sic”

The In­ter­sec­tion of Lo­cal Ac­tivism and Lo­cal Mu­sic

The McGill Daily - - Culture - Phoebe Fisher Cul­ture Writer

Princess Nokia. Nitty Scott. Lizzo. Jun­gle pussy. Janelle Monae. It is no doubt that there is a charge of badass ac­tivist en­ergy run­ning through the rap and hip- hop scene right now, led pre­dom­i­nantly by queer women and femmes of color. The in­ter­sec­tion of so­cial jus­tice and mu­sic ob­vi­ously has a long his­tory. Wo­ven within the very frame­works of hip- hop are the essence of de­fi­ance, re­sis­tance, and sol­i­dar­ity within op­pressed groups. In Mon­treal, even within the en­closed ra­dius sur­round­ing the Mcgill cam­pus, the city has carved out its own spa­ces that in­ter­twine so­cial jus­tice with hip- hop and rap mu­sic.

“Mu­sic, when done right, con­nects to peo­ple’s hearts in a way that aca­demic talk doesn’t al­ways do.”

– Shades Lawrence

“Rap Bat­tles Against Sex­ual Vi­o­lence,” an event or­ga­nized by Rap Bat­tles for So­cial Jus­tice, took place on Septem­ber 28. Rap

Bat­tles for So­cial Jus­tice is an or­ga­ni­za­tion founded in 2015 by Dan Parker. The event served as a fundraiser, and a plat­form to have con­ver­sa­tions about sex­ual vi­o­lence with an in­ter­sec­tional per­spec­tive. The event tried to cen­tre voices that are usu­ally marginal­ized in pub­lic events and em­pha­sized ac­ces­si­bil­ity. There was a des­ig­nated wheelchairac­ces­si­ble area in the front row, and lis­ten­ers pre­pared to sup­port those who may need to process trauma or any kind of emo­tional stress present at the venue. Per­form­ers with all dif­fer­ent back­grounds, life ex­pe­ri­ences, and mes­sages were en­cour­aged to bring their in­di­vid­ual mu­si­cal vibes to the event. Hav­ing only lived in Mon­treal for a lit­tle over a month, I could tell that there was some­thing spe­cial go­ing on, for even I could al­ready rec­og­nize some artists. In fact, Rap Bat­tles Against Sex­ual Vi­o­lence is an ac­tive part of the grass­roots net­work of ac­tivists dou­bling as rap­pers and hip-hop artists in Mon­treal.

A few days af­ter the show, I had the op­por­tu­nity to sit down with two per­form­ers from the event, Shades Lawrence and Ashanti “Back­xwash” Mutinta, as well as two co­or­di­na­tors for Rap Bat­tles for So­cial Jus­tice, Vis­han Charamis and Maude Nevoret. From each con­ver­sa­tion, I dis­cov­ered sim­i­lar themes that en­com­pass the lo­cal rap-ac­tivist scene: the im­por­tance of Mon­treal as the set­ting for this move­ment, the man­date of in­clu­siv­ity in the com­mu­nity, and the na­ture of hip- hop and rap be­ing com­ple­men­tary to the cause.

On Mon­treal be­ing an im­por­tant set­ting for so­cial change, Lawrence said, “one thing that I think makes [ the Mon­treal hip- hop scene] re­ally unique is our so­cial jus­tice con­scious­ness. I think a lot of artists here talk about causes and is­sues that are in­cred­i­bly close to their hearts.” Whether you be­lieve this is a fea­ture spe­cific to Mon­treal’s mu­sic, or gen­er­ally the case for most city- based rap scenes, Lawrence’s state­ment holds true. If you look at some of the city’s big­gest rap­pers, their lyrics and mes­sages are largely both so­cially con­scious and ex­tremely per­sonal. Lawrence her­self ex­plores themes of glob­al­iza­tion, colo­nial­ism, and the right to wa­ter in her song “For­mi­da­ble Time.” She raps, “I was bought and sold/ auc­tion blocked and told/ to for­get my name/ I was brought to the fold.”

Mon­treal it­self boasts cul­tural, so­cial, and eco­nomic di­ver­sity. In a study con­ducted by Nest­pick, Mon­treal was ranked 12th in the world for “Best LGBT Cities in 2017.” Back­xwash com­pli­ments Mon­treal’s ap­pre­ci­a­tion of di­ver­sity, ex­plain­ing that “a lot of peo­ple here use what ev­ery­one else would see as a dis­ad­van­tage, as an ad­van­tage.” She used her­self as an ex­am­ple, ex­plain­ing how be­ing a trans Black woman brings so­ci­etal dis­ad­van­tages, but is an im­por­tant as­set to cre­at­ing her art. Mon­treal’s di­ver­sity of ex­pe­ri­ence brings both a com­plex sys­tem of op­pres­sion, as well as pock­ets of ex­tremely sup­port­ive com­mu­ni­ties work­ing to fight that op­pres­sion. This strug­gle is the heart of Mon­treal- based mu­sic. As Charamis said, “it only makes sense that [Rap Bat­tles for So­cial Jus­tice] started here in Mon­treal.”

An­other key as­pect of or­ga­ni­za­tions like Rap Bat­tles for So­cial Jus­tice and its coun­ter­parts is its open­ness to col­lab­o­ra­tion. The Rap Bat­tles Against Sex­ual Vi­o­lence show was a col­lec­tive ef­fort that in­cluded Ur­ban Science, LO­TUS Col­lec­tive, and the Con­cor­dia Stu­dent Union. Lawrence also dis­cussed the over­lap be­tween the ac­tivist rap scene and the Mon­treal poetry scene, ref­er­enc­ing the group Sis­ters in mo­tion, a lo­cal poetry group which sup­ports and cel­e­brates women and femmes of color. Of­ten mu­si­cal artists are in­volved in more than one col­lec­tive or pro­ject, thus so­lid­i­fy­ing the net­work of lo­cal artists and ac­tivists. Back­xwash ex­plained, “when you end up work­ing with some­body in one com­mu­nity, it can in­tro­duce you to four more peo­ple there.”

These groups not only aim to be in­clu­sive for all per­form­ers, but also ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic. When de­scrib­ing their mis­sion, Rap Bat­tles for So­cial Jus­tice uses the phrase “pop­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion.” Charamis ex­plained it as “for the peo­ple and by the peo­ple,” where so­cial is­sues are dis­cussed freely and com­pre­hen­sively so that it is un­der­stand­able and use­ful to the pub­lic. The or­ga­ni­za­tion of­fers free hip- hop writ­ing work­shops at com­mu­nity cen­tres, pris­ons, and univer­si­ties, us­ing mu­sic as a ve­hi­cle to get mes­sages of in­clu­siv­ity to the pub­lic in ac­ces­si­ble ways. Lawrence said, “mu­sic, when done right, con­nects to peo­ple’s hearts in a way that aca­demic talk doesn’t al­ways do.”

Rooted in Black his­tory and strug­gle, hip- hop and rap mu­sic are not just co­he­sive with mes­sages of so­cial jus­tice, but are also di­rect prod­ucts of the fight against in­jus­tice. Back­xwash stated it per­fectly: “hip- hop is rebel mu­sic,” ref­er­enc­ing artists like Pub­lic Enemy and Queen Lat­i­fah. Be­yond re­bel­lion against op­pres­sive sys­tems, mu­sic is an im­por­tant ve­hi­cle for change, for ed­u­ca­tion, and for com­mu­ni­ty­build­ing. As Nevoret said, “it starts out as protest, but through the mu­sic, through the creation, it brings you some­where else. It uni­fies peo­ple.”

The rap bat­tles for so­cial Jus­tice can be found on face­book. You can find both shades Lawrence and back­xwashon their re­spec­tive web­sites, or look for the mon spo­tify.

In Mon­treal, even within the en­closed ra­dius sur­round­ing the Mcgill cam­pus, the city has carved out its own spa­ces that in­ter­twine so­cial jus­tice with hip-hop and rap mu­sic.

The co­or­di­na­tors of Rap Bat­tles for So­cial Jus­tice

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