Hip hop’s open house: Slang Rap Democracy

Tonight’s Slang Rap Democracy II event brings a slice of hip hop culture into the academic setting, with profoundly insightful results.

The hip hop professor, Marc Peters • Photos by Tamara Abdul

You still won’t much find rap slang in the textbooks, but what the 90 or so students enrolled in Concordia course Hip Hop Past, Present and Future don’t pick up in the classroom, they witness firsthand — and so can you.

Rather than bring a guest speaker into class, lecturer Marc Peters, who founded the course (FFAR 398B) three years ago, gives the entire city an open invite to gather and build at Slang Rap Democracy II, tonight in H-110 at the university’s Hall building.

“There’s such an express mandate for this type of thing to happen, and yet at the same time, there are so many questions as to what form it should take, and what should be the tone, and what should be the subject matter,” says Peters, a Nova Scotia transplant with an academic background in fine arts.

Part one went down last February with a panel curated by Peters’s then-co-prof Yassin Alsalman (better known as the Narcicyst in rap circles near and far.)

Narcy and fellow MC Markings (aka Mario Reyes, who organized this installment’s panel) originally envisioned creating a forum for hip hop artists to vent and regroup in the wake of the violence that took scene builders Bad News Brown and Matt “Dutch” Garner away from the rap landscape they’d been so crucial in helping shape.

“Since last time, we’ve been getting a lot of feedback, especially right after the first event,” Peters says. “People had positive comments; people had negative criticisms. One of those was that we had espoused that the inaugural event would somehow be about loss in the community. In the end, the conversation that unravelled that evening wasn’t focused on those issues, per se.”

“I did as best I could to amend that,” Reyes offers in a separate interview, “and give a different perspective to keep the conversation alive.”

Last February’s panel was comprised solely of lyricists, mostly rappers and singers. Round two shifts the spotlight to the producer, but in broader terms, Reyes explains.

“I chose producers because it’s a term that has been misappropriated and re-ascribed to beat makers. People think that if you’re not sitting at the machine, then you’re not a producer,” he says. “In that optic, I brought in people who produce a cultural element, or tangible parts of it.”

MC Markings

Graphic artist Nik Brovkin, filmmaker and Piu Piu movement documentarian Aisha Cariotte Vertus and legendary Montreal rap promoter Rickey D will take part in tonight’s panel, which also includes radio host Don Smooth, producer/journalist Scott C and other “household” names from Montreal’s hip hop community.

“The first one was very personal,” Reyes reflects. “Stories [came out] of police brutality and murders committed by the Montreal police.”

“This time around, I wanna touch on the industry end of it, but really on the culture — the cultural significance of gathering people, or the act of creating these artifacts, and what they mean in the grand scheme of things, and why it is important to talk about it.”

Peters notes that he can also see the perspective of artists who may feel that gathering together to talk is a waste of time they could spend on their own hustle, but underscores that the freestyle nature of Slang Rap’s unfolding dialogue, without agenda, goes against conventional academic forms of show-and-tell analysis.

“I think in particular of [local MC] Justice McFly, who at one point during the conversation talked about Montreal being a city with a reputation for people hating one another, so to speak,” Peters recalls. “And there was a round of applause when he said there has to be more a love-filled environment for artists in the city. That pretty much says it all.

“But he also shared the story of his father being shot by the Montreal police. Where else are you going to go and hear a conversation like that, with that type of audience, that’s off the cuff?

“If there were a planned conference or seminar about police violence, maybe, but where are you going to hear in other social or community environments, those types of anecdotes just come up in conversation, in a crowd? It’s humbling to be in a position to sort of help make that conversation happen publicly.

The panel discussion is scheduled for about two hours, with a producer showcase from ArtBeat Montreal concluding the evening.

“It’s like I’m re-appropriating rap, and taking it from being an idiot mumbling two syllables on a beat to what a ‘rapper’ originally was, or someone who rapped did, which was a fluid, eloquent way of speaking truthfully,” Reyes reasons.

“You know, slang rap democracy, gaddamit!” 

Slang Rap Democracy II happens tonight at Concordia (1455 de Maisonneuve, H-110), 7–10 p.m., free.

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