Patrick Skene, a.k.a Pip Skid, says he sees the positive impact of hip hop every day through his work at the Graffiti Gallery. “I can’t imagine being a teenager growing up with my heroes being in the city, never mind the neighbourhood so close by,” he says. – Greg Kraj
When you think of Winnipeg, phrases like “murder capital,” “gang violence” and “social inequality” are likely to follow.
According to mainstream musical stereotypes, these factors are the perfect recipe for producing phenomenal hip-hop artists, so it seems to make sense that Winnipeg’s hip-hop community has been getting so much attention lately.
But the reasons for these artists’ success have a lot more to do with geography, musical diversity and a brand new radio station than homicides, thugs and bustin’ caps.
“I think it’s our turn for the national spotlight and we have the talent to back it up,” says Odario Williams, front man of Grand Analog.
Grand Analog won the 2010 Western Canadian Music Award for Best Rap/Hip Hop Recording, beating out fellow Winnipeg artists The Lytics and Magnum K.I.
Other groups, like Winnipeg’s Most, have also been nabbing national attention.
Geographically, Winnipeg seems destined to be an artistic cesspool of success because for half the year there isn’t much else to do but stay inside and find a hobby.
Williams, who was born in Guyana but then moved to Winnipeg’s West End, grew up spending his winters inside listening to hip hop.
“Winnipeg artists don’t have a sister city to run off to for inspiration like Toronto does New York,” Williams notes. “Because of that, we look to a wide range of influences and use our imaginations differently.”
Other local hip-hop artists like Fabian, Abstract Artform and Catskill, also credit Winnipeg as an influence in their music.
Winnipeg is a fairly small city, but it’s also an extremely diverse city.
John Vogan, better known as Jim Critical of Rebel Yell, also credits Winnipeg’s location as a geographical goldmine for good music.
“It’s a small enough city that you can get exposed to different genres not on purpose, whereas in bigger cities, all the shows are the same genre,” says Vogan, who grew up in Fort Garry.
“ I think it’s our turn for the national spotlight and we have the talent to back it up.
Odario Williams, Grand Analog
Patrick Skene goes by the MC moniker Pip Skid and is known for injecting a healthy dose of nihilism into his rhymes.
Skene’s songs are often influenced in some way by Winnipeg, occasionally by stories in the Winnipeg Sun or by Sam Katz’s political shenanigans.
“Winnipeg is a place that you either hate or love,” says Skene. “I was just on tour in Europe, and trying to explain to people where I live, there’s a sense of pride.
“It’s awesome… although, it’s not really awesome,” he laughs, proving his point perfectly.
Winnipeg’s thriving hip-hop scene owes a lot to Streetz FM, the city’s first and only all hip hop and rap radio station, created by Melissa Spence.
Spence, the music director for Streetz, is a proud Ojibway woman who wanted to create an outlet for hip-hop artists to get their music heard. She says she’s overwhelmed by the positive feedback she has received about the station.
Spence believes that Streetz has had a great effect on youth in Winnipeg, especially inner-city and aboriginal youth.
“People are hearing similar stories to their story and that’s comforting,” she says.
Spence also hopes that Streetz, by increasing the success of aboriginal hip-hop artists, will draw attention to some of the issues that have often been overlooked in Winnipeg, especially in the North End.
Skene has seen what hip hop can do for people who are typically overlooked.
“I see a massively positive impact on the community in terms of (aboriginal artists) and their music,” says Skene, who works with inner-city youth at the Graffiti Gallery.
The success of Winnipeg’s hip-hop artists is inspiring to young people, he adds.
“I can’t imagine being a teenager growing up with my heroes being in the city, never mind the neighbourhood so close by.”