It’s Aboot Time to Talk About Canada’s Rap Scene, eh?
Two hundred and thirty six steps separate the University of British Columbia from Wreck Beach.
The steps are steep and wooden, nearly consumed by towering trees, so neither the ocean nor the campus is visible during the descent.
The beach, lined with logs and stones, is lapped upon by the murky green water of the Pacific. In the distance, trade boats, cruise ships and snowy peaks kiss against the heavy clouds that never quite leave the northern vista.
It is the forested divider that grants the beach its flavor. Naked men and women stroll between the logs selling hot dogs, mix drinks and tapestries as long-haired students ride skim boards. And every time I’ve been there, at least a part of the ever-present haze smells of patchouli.
In many ways, Wreck Beach is like Vancouver itself.
A big, beautiful city, Vancouver is hard to define. It’s part college town, part coastal port; it’s part Canadian, part international. The heavily forested coast that separates it from San Francisco grants the city a special uniqueness born through big-city isolation.
When people think of Vancouver, they think of the harbor, of hockey and of awe-inspiring nature. What they don’t think of is hip hop.
But last Monday, at the Fortune Sound Club in Vancouver’s Chinatown, I was exposed to little a taste of the city’s rap scene. Once a month, the club holds an event called Hip Hop Karaoke. Students, locals and aspiring rappers grab the mic and perform their favorite classic verses.
To be clear, this is not your local bowling alley’s karaoke night. Acts must sign up weeks in advance, so you never have to watch five giggling girls wobble their way through a rendition of “If You Wanna Be My Lover”.
It’s more like watching the 50-year-old man in a cowboy hat’s surprisingly impressive version of “On The Road Again,” without the awkwardness of wondering why he came to sing karaoke alone.
Sure there were missteps — one couple so badly butchered Biggie and Tupac’s famous freestyle that I heard both rappers have come back to life and will collaborate on a rebuttal track. But it is this brand of outlandish confidence, even hubris, that gives karaoke its charm; it’s what makes for the best and worst amateur performances.
To be fair, almost every other act was good and the scene was even better. Basically, Hip Hop Karaoke is a cheap concert where all your favorite rappers give mediocre performances of their most memorable song.
The dance floor filled with people and almost everyone joined in during his rendition of “Nuthin’ But A G Thang”. He rapped both Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre’s parts of the track, changing his voice throughout the tandem rap.
It wasn’t gimmicky — he clearly had a talented flow of his own and a great stage presence. Instead, he was trying to cover the track the way patrons of an event called Hip Hop Karaoke expect and desire.
I caught up with him after his performance and asked him a little bit about himself, about Snoop Dogg and about Vancouver’s emerging rap scene:
JBK: What brought you to Snoop and Dre?
Dangerous: I first heard them off the Deep Cover mixtape they did and the single. And I mean, when Dre came out with The Chronic, they changed hip hop, they ran hip hop. Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg are some of the pillars of the West Coast.
JBK: How do you think hip hop came to Vancouver?
D: It’s all about what people are aware of, so it takes time when it’s a smaller population and it’s further away from the Meccas of hip hop. A place like Toronto took off first because it was so close to New York and Philly. You know, we’re near LA, but LA is like a spawn of the East Coast. That’s why it took a little bit of time. But you know what, rap is like wine: it just arrives and gets better with time.
JBK: Do you think Vancouver is one of the best hip hop scenes in the world?
D: I would say that Vancouver is an emerging hip hop market but the real hip hop gravitates, really originates, in the five boroughs of New York. I’d say the West Coast brought a real spin on it, and you know what, Toronto’s done a spin on it and Vancouver will do a spin on it too. Would I say it’s the best? No, but we do have the best chronic in hip hop.
In many ways, Dangerous is what you would expect from a Vancouver MC. He’s deferential, polite and heavily influenced by American rap. Yet, he has a confidence born from the fact that he’s attained quantifiable success in a major city’s growing rap market.
To be real, I don’t expect Vancouver rap to ever match the LA or New York hip hop scenes. The city lacks the kind of roughness and gang life that has been the background for nearly all great hip hop albums.
During my week there, I walked through much of the city and nothing resembled the gritty renditions of life in Nas’ neighborhood; even Vancouver’s heroin addicts are exceptionally cordial.
And for all the fun I had at bars and parties in the city, nothing resembled the outlandish (P-Funkish?) excess of Snoop and Dre’s best tracks. LA and New York are going to continue to be hip hop’s coastal hubs for a long time.
But as the movement matures, the likelihood of a significant rapper coming up in Vancouver and putting the scene on the map, just as Slug did for Minneapolis, only increases.
I didn’t expect it when I arrived in Vancouver, but as Dangerous explained on stage, “I think they in the mood for some muthafuckin’ G shit.”
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