Filmmaker Joe Klymkiw loves hip-hop, and the Vancouver resident has been a champion of the music for years now. After discovering it while attending high school in Winnipeg, he started a hip-hop show at campus and community station CiTR in Vancouver. Though he knew he was part of a community of music lovers, Klymkiw was puzzled as to why all of that energy didn’t transcend into commercial radio rotation and a larger audience for Canada’s homegrown hip-hop.
Klymkiw’s curiosity has culminated in a new documentary called Hip Hop Eh, which poses questions about this country’s hip-hop identity – specifically whether or not one exists. Five years in the making, the film features insights from a host of industry insiders and artists including Maestro Fresh Wes, Buck 65, Kardinal Offishall, DJ Kemo, Dream Warriors, Michie Mee, Cadence Weapon, Tom Green, Classified, Rascalz, Swollen Members, Moka Only, Shad, Grand Analog, Skratch Bastid, Kamau and many more. The film premieres in Vancouver on July 8, in Winnipeg on July 22, and in Toronto on July 29.
When Klymkiw asked people if they could define Canada’s hip-hop community, he found them all to be surprised by the question. Unlike the U.S., where genres and geography go hand-in-hand (i.e. “the Dirty South,” “West Coast,” “New York or East Coast” have all come to be signifiers of sound), there are fewer distinctions between music made in Halifax, as opposed to Vancouver. So questions about our hip-hop ID drew wildly different and occasionally opposing opinions.
“Yeah, well, that’s the thing; no one really had a definite answer,” Klymkiw explains. “Everyone had a point of view but there wasn’t a steady stream of consciousness on it. That’s why I wanted to touch on the different areas that make up our identity, from where it stems from with Maestro to Rascalz and Swollen Members.”
The results of Klymkiw’s research speak to a perceived Canadian complex about our lack of identity, particularly in comparison to our neighbours to the south. “I recently went to a TEDx talk here in Vancouver where this younger speaker, who’s Canadian five generations deep but he’s Korean, spoke of the fact that people always want to know his nationality,” the filmmaker recalls. “I feel like that happens more in Canada, whereas in America, it’s ‘We’re American.’”
Another unfortunate cultural trend uncovered here has to do with the lack of prominent female voices in Canadian hip-hop. For his part, Klymkiw admits he made an oversight in this regard while making Hip Hop Eh.
“I know Exclaim! just did a review and talked about how they would’ve like to have seen more female MCs represented because Michie Mee is the only one. I feel like, in general, the landscape of hip-hop is very male-oriented. Not to say that there aren’t female artists out there but, in terms of popular female MCs in Canada, I would say there aren’t a lot. I look at Michie Mee as a pioneer and it was an honour to speak to her but it is a big regret that I couldn’t speak to more female MCs for this. I hope in the future, we can see more great female MCs come out of Canada.”
In fact, after having immersed himself so deeply in Canadian hip-hop over the course of making this film, Klymkiw has a particularly optimistic view of the future for the culture here, as it expands its sound and audience.
“With Raekwon moving up to Toronto and starting his own record label there, that’s huge,” he says. “He’s obviously recognizing that Drake and the Weeknd have come out of Toronto and there must be other great artists there as well. With guys like Kardinal rapping with Wu-Tang and Akon, people are starting to view Canada as a place where great artists come from and there’s great opportunity for our artists to crossover. And I’m seeing artists like Cadence Weapon mesh with electronic music or Shad working with Hey Ocean! and I see all that as a positive thing.”
See Hip Hop Eh at screenings in Vancouver on July 8, in Winnipeg on July 22, and in Toronto on July 29.
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on Jul 05, 2012