It isn’t shocking to hear Biggie playing as pre-drink music before scurrying downtown
with your entourage, and one wouldn’t find it surprising to see the sweaty drummer of
a punk band having a post-gig cigarette outside CBTGs, sporting a rum-stained
Wu-Tang patch on a denim vest.
Point being, there isn’t any shortage of hip-hop around, but when it comes to local
hip-hop, there’s no denying that our rappers are sometimes swept under the rug.
This is interesting, because rappers and Newfoundlanders have one thing in common:
they represent where they’re from.
Chessclub, a St. John’s group via Toronto, consisting of James Piercey, Matthew Murphy,
Andrew Lahey, and Adrian Gangon, have opened for names like Shad, and had their
latest EP covered by Vice’s music imprint, Noisey.
“Chessclub owes its existence to the [Common] album, One Day It’ll All Make Sense. Matt
and I were in class together, and it was basically a show and tell day, because high school
adequately prepares you for real life” comments Piercey, with playful cynicism. “I brought
that record in, which I was constantly listening to at the time. If you were into hip-hop, never
worshipped Tupac, and were actually delving into the genre, you were really an outsider.
My classmates thought I was ridiculous, besides Matt. That’s how we became friends, and
then discovered we were both writing our own raps. We’d rap battle in class via note passing.”
Chessclub have been at the forefront of local hip-hop since their inception,
but it all stemmed from a trio a decade ago called 709 Prophets.709 Prophets
were pinnacle in showcasing hip-hop to St. John’s youth, but they weren’t the
first. Johnny Hardcore garnered a cult following, albeit, mostly out of province,
for his self titled EP back in 2002. He was also featured alongside Classified on
East Coast Warrior, in which local recognition was underwhelming compared
to the rest of Atlantic Canada.
John hasn’t performed in years, and Lee Fitz and Radar, friends of John’s and both respected
rappers in their own right, also rarely perform anymore. But John isn’t oblivious about why his
recognition wasn’t locally focused. “My style of rap is early 90s New York B-Boyism, so besides
the time gap, I also represent an era that never had a big following here,” John implies “Halifax
had an appreciation for that style of rap, and has more hip-hop heads than casual fans, that
might have something to do with it.”
More recently, frontman of Hear/Say, Adam Martin, formerly of backpacker rap duo The Filthy
Gentlemen, has warmed up some unexpected ears to the art of emceeing with his percussive
cadence, and accessible but progressive instrumentation backing him. But, there are some
hidden gems in the city who embody a more grassroots homage to the origin of hip-hop.
Living Room are former duo Antics, with G-Smooth and Moyst, whose imaginative darkness
parallels that of deceased local rapper Jokez. You can tell they listen to Kendrick, but sometimes
they sound like Atmosphere. Above all else though, they’re a charismatic posse that ricochet
rhymes back and fourth effortlessly, over cloudy beats that somehow derive from both the
harshness of New York rap, and the melodies of LA rap. Dopepiece, founder of Te$laz on the
other hand, gets his influence from the grungy ghettos of Memphis. “I’m influenced by Lord
Infamous, DJ Paul and and Tommy Wright,” says Dopepiece. “A lot of old technology and music
inspires us. I watch old VHS, play old consoles, and Mike’L (their beatsmith) samples vinyl to
make our beats.”. On the less sinister side of things, there’s MC Snax. An impressive scratch DJ,
whose repertoire consists of eating nuggets, wrestling, and ninjas.
Promoters here on the island usually make an effort to have these artists on as openers, on the
rare occasion a big rap show happens. Regardless, it still seems difficult for locals to be taken
seriously, despite how good their credentials look on paper. They write their own music, make their
own beats, and record it themselves in DIY fashion. They know they’re working in an underdog genre,
but regardless of performing to 20 or 200 people in a crowd, they’re still doing it, and enjoying
themselves along the way. And things are changing: the crowds are growing. So keep an eye out for
listings, keep your mind open, and listen in. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.