Rap life support

Hip hop hate, death and growth in the year 2013, via J-Zone’s retirement and TopLeft’s worst Canadian rappers series, plus the local DJs, big-time rappers and epic battles that’ll get you out the house this week.

You’d have to come over to my place and rifle through stacks of the Mirror to actually read it, but around this time last year, I set things off with an anecdote about a tow truck I’d seen pulling a stretch Hummer during the holiday period.

I said something to the effect that we could all take a lesson from that tow truck in 2012. Well, if last year taught me one thing, it’s to remember that old adage about being careful what you wish for.

Here in these earliest days of 2013, two significantly different but intrinsically related events in the realm of North American hip hop exemplify the lesson well.

In one corner, we have latter-day NYC producer/MC, indie prince and underground manoeuvre man J-Zone telling The A.V. Club last week that he’s had it with rap altogether. Now if you’ve never heard of him, it’s not really your fault, and if you’re a fan, you’ll probably agree on that. He says so himself in the interview.

Here’s a guy who can hardly mention a small background detail about himself that doesn’t involve at least one hip hop household name. J-Zone doesn’t even have to try to brag about who he works with, and that’s his point. He makes it pretty simple: he worked hard, made good moves, learned from bad ones, did okay for himself in terms of what he was after, but it just didn’t work out at the level he wanted it to. And that’s okay.

Rap is big on retirement parties, but J-Zone just said, “Fuck it.” Be clear: he’s not a quitter. This is a person who, on the road to “success,” had to make a choice to literally incinerate his entire physical back catalogue. In 2011, he wrote a book on the experience that he says is doing better than any of his music projects.

Growth is an actual series of experiences, you see. It’s not some par-for-the-course shit people just talk about. In my esteem, a one-man show like J-Zone will sort himself out in the long run, but that means dealing in reality, which a lotta rappers clearly have a hard time with.

Enter Canadian hip hop tastemakers TopLeft Recordings, closer to home turf and creating their own stir by taking the liberty of putting together their Canada’s Worst Rapper series, which launched last week. I’m not entirely sure how the nomination process worked on this thing, but it seems to be a mixed bag of submissions and stuff the editor saw out there.

Now we can talk about hate all day, and for sure people are, but have a look for yourself and let’s take this thing at face — the Internet needs levellers like this! People are complaining constantly about “how much crap is out there,” whatever types of trends in culture they’re observing. Why not apply the tastelessly objective Simon Cowell model of sifting through the shit down to a microscopic view of rap’s long tail? If there’s nothing good there, at least we’ll have had a laugh.

But you know what? At this point, with seven “entries” and counting, there seems to be an actual contest going on here. I can’t even lie — there are two or three fools among these admittedly awful ranks that don’t come off so bad. It’s a testament to the amount of terrible crap out there, filtered down to a dozen “acts” who are putting this stuff on display from a decidedly chest-puffed stance to begin with. If reality knocks the breath out of them, so be it.

Someone tried to call me out the other day for “supporting” this. I replied that “support” is an extremely loaded term in hip hop, which brings us back to the case of tow truck v. Hummer. Which one is fronting like it has something special, and which one is really putting in the hard work — and should I even have to hit people over the head with something so obvious in the year 2013?

The two most important words in hip hop remain “show” and “prove.” It’ll be interesting to see how much of either get done this year and in what measure, be that locally, nationally or internationally. I suggest that between tragi-comedies like J-Zone’s and the utter comedy of so many hack clowns out there, a lotta work remains to get past simply naming names and moving towards making a name for ourselves, in any endeavour we seek our fortune through in 2013. That I can lend my support to, so here’s wishing us all the best as we continue to grow.

Speaking of the best, this week is star-studded if you got the funds to support yourself.

Wednesday – The one and only Method Man’s show at Club Soda tonight is sold out, people, but if you’ve got paper for the scalpers at this point, don’t miss local guest opener L.E.S., whose soon-to-drop debut LP, The Genesis, is genuine business.

Up at Blizzarts, Daddy Maysr pounds the gong on another year with a birthday edition of weekly reggae mainstay Dublounge, inviting Blaster, Star Q, Fire T, Switzerland’s Basakyat, Kelly Nunes, Selecta Jinx, Big Worm and James Bond to blaze fire pon’ ’dem candles.

Friday – It’s back to Soda for the ill mind of L.A. rap freak Hopsin and his homies Dizzy Wright, Jarren Benton and DJ Hoppa. If Hopsin delivers onstage like he does online, that’s part of that “show and prove” thing I mentioned earlier. And if he can’t, same story. He’s a talented lyricist and an entertaining figure in hip hop, but is he too jokey (insert “better in bedroom” pun) to get over? Guess we’ll find out.

Hot off the funeral for Pow Wow, the Payz Play crew re-introduce themselves with De X La X Rap, a new monthly at Blue Dog.

Saturday – The 11th edition of WordUP! battles starts at 7 p.m., at Club Soda once more, with a tight card boasting a historic headlining battle between Quebec rap bosses Dramatik and Loe Pesci. There’s a whole lotta hype building around this shit and however it ends, it’s goin’ down in the books, period.

Then, the YouTube weirdo train keeps a-rollin’ with an impromptu return visit from Texan trap-rat RiFF RaFF, who played a well-received show in Laval last fall. In Montreal proper at le Belmont, this time out he’s joined by openers Ryan Hemsworth, Thomas White and Loud Lary Ajust. Jody Highroller doesn’t re-invent the wheel as much as let go and gun the engine, so if your money’s on mayhem, take it there.

If your mind is on morphing, though, put your money on the funk as Franco Proietti celebrates another calendar shift (read: birthday) with his mighty Morph-Tet and guest headliners Certified Organic at O Patro Vys — doors at 8 p.m., morphing begins at 9. ■


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