On the second day of January, Artbeat Montreal’s co-founder and local hip hop figure Sev Dee braved slow buses and snow banks to come over to my crib and explain to me the fundamentals of Montreal’s beat scene and the piu piu movement.
We chopped it up that afternoon, exchanged ideas and really had more of a conversation than a formal interview, but playing the tape back this week, what Sev had to say that day makes a helluva lot more sense to me with the benefit of hindsight.
Our three-hour conversation that day set off months of research and perspective-collecting which ultimately became this month’s Cult MTL print edition cover feature, on stands around town today.
One of the things that has been wild to me along the way has been meeting producers who started out so young, with no fixed agenda, just because they had the tools.
It’s hard not to sound old-school in saying, like, I really remember not having the Internet and all this tech shit, whereas there is now this first generation who take it for granted as a fact of life and have only lived within that reality.
The game of hip hop production has traditionally been hard on its would-be contestants. You start DJing or producing? Yo, you better know where Kool Herc’s dad bought his paper in Kingston, kid. You better know how tall Grand Wizard Theodore was when he started cuttin’. You better know Frankie Crocker’s whole life story. You better be able to prove the existence of God with your knowledge of the “Amen Break.”
In this city, piu piu is proving that it’s okay for the elders to pass the torch. So what if these kids don’t know all the history? They are from a different time and they understand the present better than any era before them.
Speaking to an 18-year-old prodigy like Noo-Bap, who tells me he went through a “Dilla/Primo phase” for three months when he was 15, three years into discovering both a passion and innate talent, I gotta think on what’s really goin’ on.
That shit doesn’t even reflect on what it could have, “know your roots”-wise, five years ago, much less 10. It’s time to start respecting the capacity young artistic minds have to process the past instead of banging them over the head with it.
“Anyone who has grown up in hip hop from the age of 10, 11 to now is a professional in this shit,” said Sev Dee, 31, on that second day of January.
Noo-Bap squared that idea for me, three months later.
“Piu piu is closer to an aesthetic than a style or genre. When I think genre, it’s really, genres equal the boxes people put around certain types of music. Style can be more like a way of playing certain sounds, or certain swings and rhythmic or melodic ideas, and all that kind of musical content is what defines a sound.
“So genre and style would not define in my opinion what piu piu is. I think it’s more of an aesthetic.”
This is the same young man who put me on to the physics of the “piu” and, quite smartly, left me to go break my head thinking about its implications in solace.
But he did add this:
“When you’re in a club and you can hear all this weird shit and these crazy sounds, right away you can tell it’s piu piu. It’s screaming piu piu. The sound itself — it’s what it looks like.”
The time and insight of Sev Dee, Noo-Bap, Dr. MaD and his Alaiz family, Phil Sparkz, Sikh Knowledge, Markings, Scott C, High Klassified, Kaytranada, Monk.e, VNCE and Dead Obies, VLooper and print-cover art designer Nik Brovkin were invaluable to me in putting together what I hope becomes a cool little relic for all archives concerned, including yours, good reader.
I’ll leave a little mystery to the feature itself but lead you right here to this moment for the past, present and future of Quebec’s beat scene.
Keep an eye on our website and social media posts for places to find us in print in your neighbourhood this weekend, and for daily affirmations of city living.
Here’s how the city’s living this weekend.
Thursday – Cadence Weapon brings you the hottest Pu Pu platter in town with “the weekly with the most rap and the most snacks,” Eat to the Beat at Nouveau Palais.
Also on the eat, drink and dance tip, Shaydakiss and Saladin get your boogie on at En Cachette.
Friday – Friday night has so many different bags for the grabbin’ that we’re gonna take a moment to ponder and reflect — which you can do, literally, at Slang Rap Democracy III. This time up puts the spotlight on the ladies, with Generale Q, Sarah MK, Meryem Saci, Lynn Worrell, MF Gold, Jenny Salgado and more taking the panel at the Hall Building, free and wide and open to the floor from 7–10 p.m.
If you wanna go out after, shit gets pretty dude-heavy.
At Cabaret Underworld, you’ve got NYC young guns Joey Bada$$ & Pro Era, Flatbush Zombies and Underachievers with Boston boss Statik Selektah. This one will sell out, so get on it.
Jai Nitai Lotus balances things out with his all-star live band’s take on Something You Feel, back for another round, this time at le Piano Rouge.
And Heart Streets take it back for the ladies at Pub St. Paul for Thrift Shop with guests Royalty and DJ Jetpac (my favourite new name of the week, incidentally.)
Offshore, Boogat and his live band bring it to Cartierville-Ahuntsic for an early evening, “maison culture”-type jam that Quebec is actually really good at locking in time, space and money for when you grow up in the sticks. I got to see Grim Skunk in a 200-year-old home growing up in Beloeil once. Quebec fuckin’ rules culture.
Sunday – France’s C2C put it down on eight decks at Metropolis. Talk about some crossover international shit — these turntable phenoms got people wylin’ like the Moonwalk globe-over. Don’t let this be that time you didn’t go see Daft Punk in ’97 or whatever. ■