Winnipeg Free Press – Northern Touch Music Festival & Conference

According to music-streaming giant Spotify, hip hop continued to be the most listened-to genre of music on a global level in 2017.

 

This is the third consecutive time hip hop has snagged the top spot (though only the first time it surpassed rock in the United States, Nielsen data shows), and as consumption rises worldwide from year to year, the effects have become evident in Winnipeg as well; the city’s hip-hop scene is in the midst of a noticeable boom.

The current crop of active performers in Winnipeg is more or less the second big wave of hip-hop artists to come out of the city. In the late 1980s and ’90s, Winnipeg had a thriving scene, which, as Shea Malcolmson — who performs under the name Abstract Artform — points out, was representative of what was happening in the hip-hop industry as a whole. But then it bottomed out.

“It kind of collapsed in on itself,” explains Malcolmson, who has been a hip-hop artist in Winnipeg for 10 years.

Abstract Artform a.k.a. Shea Malcolmson
Abstract Artform a.k.a. Shea Malcolmson

“I was also the morning show host of Streetz 104.7 (NCI’s now-defunct hip hop, dance and R&B radio station) — at the time there were quite a few hip-hop-driven clubs, specifically during the late ’90s. There was sort of infrastructure that was coming up and was helpful, and in the ’90s we had this big surge and it kind of disappeared. So, there were 10 years, maybe 20 years, of nothing really happening and then it started to come together again.

“I would consider myself someone who came up in the in-between period — you had, like, Winnipeg’s Most and the Lytics, but that was it. There really wasn’t any acts that were really… like it wasn’t poppin’ like it was in the Peanuts & Corn era,” he says, referencing the province’s best known indie hip-hop label, founded in Brandon in 1994 and now based in Vancouver.

One artist who has been working with Peanuts & Corn since its inception is Brandon-born, Winnipeg-based rapper Pip Skid, otherwise known as Patrick Skene. Most recently, he’s been using his industry knowledge and connections to mentor youth who partake in Studio 393, a drop-in program that’s part of the Graffiti Gallery — a not-for-profit community youth art centre — which provides young people who are interested in hip hop with a place to write, record and learn about the music business from industry professionals.

“A big part of what we’ve been doing is mentoring young people so that when you come in and, say, record a song or write a song at the studio, then what do you do with that song after? How do you turn that song into an album? How do you turn the album into a release? How do you turn the release into a production? How do you access the royalties that your music is collecting on the internet? All those sorts of things,” says Skene.

 Pip Skid, otherwise known as Patrick Skene
RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Pip Skid, otherwise known as Patrick Skene

“Another thing we focus on is some of the youth who show us that they want to take these roles on, they become our summer staff. One of the young rappers and producers who started just as attending the program this summer was hired as my assistant manager, for instance. So it’s also bringing them into roles with large amounts of responsibility. Ideally, one of these kids who comes and raps at the studio will have my job in a few years,” he says.

Many alumni of the program take pride in listing Studio 393 on their musical resumé, and are the first generation of rappers to learn artistic skills while at the same time receiving guidance on the business side of things.

“I was Brandon’s first rapper ever, and so, I mean my initial… as a 43-year-old who makes hip-hop music and who has done that for 28 years or whatever, my instinct is to be quite grumpy about a lot of it, so it’s nice to see and be around and watch people develop and as well be able to help and share my insights and the things I learned along the way, which I never had growing up with hip hop because it was so young at the time,” says Skene.

Malcolmson is also doing his part for the younger generation of hip-hop artists; last year, he founded the Northern Touch Music Festival and Conference, a local hip-hop focused event that featured 25 acts on three stages during its inaugural two-day run in 2017. The festival was conceived after Malcolmson saw an overwhelmingly positive response to a Manitoba Music round-table discussion on the state of hip-hop in Manitoba earlier last year — young and veteran artists showed up, and they were engaged, interested and energized. He decided it was the right time to call in some industry favours and get a festival going.

 

And, as it turns out, that was the right step to take — Northern Touch had a successful first year, and Malcolmson and his team will be back in 2018 to do it again, this time as a not-for-profit festival with plans of expansion that will help young artists share their music internationally.

“I think what’s really great about our position is that students who go to the Graffiti Gallery, the youth-driven programs, they don’t really have anywhere to go after they’re 14 or 16 years old, so we’re kind of filling that gap to help them develop a skill set that will take them from Winnipeg to Europe, to stages around the world,” says Malcolmson.

Malcolmson adds that most hip-hop veterans in the city are excited to see such a diverse and enthusiastic group of newbies put in the work to not only maintain, but grow, the community.

“One of the things I think that any artist would feel like, especially the groups from my generation, feel like we’ve fought hard for it. Not saying the Peanuts and Corn generation didn’t fight for it, they pushed hard and did a lot of things that put the city on the map, but it did feel a little scarce during that period with only a few of us holding on to it,” he said.

“It’s incredible because it feels like — and I don’t want to fall victim to thinking it was just us — but we were holding onto it and then it came back. Like, ‘Oh my God, thanks guys! Everybody’s back on board, we got this!’” he says, laughing.

“It’s a good feeling to see that.”

“To me, I think Winnipeg is – there’s a couple things happening. There’s a lot of history in Winnipeg, not just in hip hop, but in terms of music in general… I know that groups like Mood Ruff and Winnipeg’s Most and Fresh I.E. really blazed the trail and made the groundwork for the next generations. The veterans help the younger cats get started, building its own momentum that way, it’s a beautiful thing,” adds producer and Winnipeg-transplant Frost Gamble.

Gamble cultivated his career in his home state of New York, but moved here with his Winnipeg-born wife in 2008 and began working with local artists in 2010. He says hip-hop has always been available here, but in the last few years, the scene has really benefited from increased interaction with established music organizations.

“There’s never been a month where you couldn’t see a few hip-hop shows if you really wanted to, but I think what’s changed is there’s better infrastructure or support around it,” says Gamble.

“I’m optimistic about the future of the music industry and the future of independent musicians building their businesses. I think that’s true regardless of what kind of music you make or where you live, but, too, it’s great that Winnipeg is growing and healthy and vibrant.”

There are tons of hip-hop artists in Winnipeg doing some really innovative and great work; here are just a handful — who are all in different stages of their careers — to keep an eye on in 2018:

3PEAT

Real Name(s): Erroll “E.GG” Layco (MC), Steven “Steve” Teixeira (MC), Dillin “Dill the Giant” Morgan (MC), Anthony “WATG Anthony” Carvalho (DJ)

Ages: 25-29

3PEAT is probably the most recognizable name on this list for those outside of the hip-hop community; the group had 50 shows under their belt before they even released any music, and in the past year they have generated some serious buzz, grabbing a Western Canadian Music Award nomination in 2017 for best Hip Hop Artist, following the release of their debut self-titled EP in September 2016. All three MCs started dabbling in hip hop as teenagers, slowly morphing a hobby into a potential full-time career together as 3PEAT as well as through solo releases.

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How would you describe your sound?

Erroll Layco: Our sound is a melting pot of genres.

Steven Teixeira: Our sound is a fresh but familiar take on hip hop. The perfect balance between contemporary and classic.

Anthony Carvalho: A refreshing blend of ’90s lyricism and the contemporary bounce.

Who or what are your influences?

EL: I’m influenced by life experiences, mainly travelling.

ST: I feel it’s a copout to just name the greatest to ever do it, although they obviously play a huge part in why/how we do what we do. Personally I feel like we help influence each other in a way; they embody what I find most admirable in an artist: honesty and genuineness. It’s not a game, it’s not fake.

AC: I’m really on the outward-facing music end as much but I do look at what Drake’s OVO camp has been able to accomplish both sonically and in business. I also mix all of our music so I look to 40 (Drake’s engineer) and MixedbyAli (TDE engineer) and the legendary Bob Power (A Tribe Called Quest engineer) for inspiration.

Do you have any mentors?

EL: Anthony has been a huge mentor to a lot of us in the local scene. Aside from our solo careers he took 3PEAT beyond what any of us thought was possible.

ST: We’ve had a few people help guide our way so far. First and foremost without our manager/DJ Anthony we would not be where we are today. 2oolman of A Tribe Called Red has really helped us not only create — production from him on our upcoming record — but with insight and positive reinforcement.

Dillin Morgan: The homies have been great mentors and teammates

AC: We’ve been very focused on being self-sufficient from recording to releasing but a huge factor in the last couple years for us has been 2oolman of ATCR, because his story is very inspiring and he has gone out of his way to link us with people in the industry and provide insight to an industry we are just starting to break into.

What do you have coming up in the immediate future and what are some long-term goals?

EL: A lot more shows, a lot more music, a lot more tours. You got to stay tuned to find out.

ST: More music. More shows. More tours. The long-term goal is as simple as being able to keep doing what we’re doing. As long as we keep true to ourselves and our art I don’t see that being a problem. Fingers crossed.

AC: We like to work in the winter so we are looking ahead at 2018. We are looking at a follow-up project in April of next year. We will be doing some festivals and 2018 will be our first trip to Europe.


 

CJ the Grey

Real name: Cristo Wilson

Age: 18

CJ the Grey has been popping up at showcases and filling opening slots for tons of more established local hip-hop artists this past year after finding his feet as a rapper at Studio 393. The program provided him with resources to help him write, record and perform, connected him with musicians he admires and offered Wilson the support he needed to be a more confident artist. Now, he’s sharing the stage with artists he admired on a regular basis and is planning to release his first set of tracks in 2018.

How would you describe your sound?

You see that’s the most frustrating part for me, as an artist I’m still looking to create a sound of my own thats somewhat original. Sometimes people come up to me telling me I sound like Joey Badass and that’s a big compliment — don’t get me wrong, I am fan of Joey personally, but the thing is, CJ doesn’t want to sound like Joey. CJ want to sound like CJ.

 CJ the Grey
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CJ the Grey

Who or what are your influences?

As far as music goes I’d say MF Doom, Outkast, Nas, Big L, Tupac, and last but not least, A Tribe Called Quest. I’d say one of my biggest influences is where I come from (Cross Lake); I got my family there, it’s where I was raised, and on top of that I am Aboriginal. My Auntie Faith, she taught me to always be mindful and aware of my surroundings. She taught me that us as a people can be successful and that it is possible to make a difference in the world.

Do you have any mentors?

Someone who has always been an inspiration to me is Charlie Fettah. He’s always given me advice and in my opinion, he’s like an uncle to me. Uncle Fetts along with Nestor Wynrush, Pip Skid, DJ Kinetik, and Boogey the Beat have all been mentors to me throughout my journey… and I’m grateful to have come across these wonderful beings.

What do you have coming up in the immediate future and what are some long-term goals?

I have a new single that’s set to drop early in 2018.

I make music to make a difference. I want to leave something behind that my nieces and nephews will be proud of, and not only that, but something that my native people can appreciate and maybe get inspired from. Tupac once said, ‘I don’t think that I can change the world but I know for a fact that I will spark the mind that will.’

Upcoming shows:

Jan. 26 at Le Garage.


Chris Bxnnxtt

Real name: Chris Bennett

Age: 25

Bennett has been rapping for nearly a decade, but didn’t consider music as a possible career path until he was 18, after an injury prevented him from seriously pursuing his other love, football. In the short time between then and now, Bennett has carved out a place for himself in the local scene, snagging opening slots for the majority of the big-name acts rolling through town, including French Montana, Kid Ink, Freddie Gibbs, Paul Wall and Mobb Deep, often as part of the art collective Prestigious Deviants. The group has since disbanded — members went off in their own directions — but Bennett says he’s working on a new collective that will be making waves in 2018 called Of The Utmost, or OTU. And all of this without ever releasing a debut album.

Chris Bennett
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Chris Bennett

How would you describe your sound?

Innovative and original.

Who or what are your influences?

Money is one of my biggest influences. But who? Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Kanye (West), those are really up there. I listen to anything; I listen to classical music even. I try to have as much influence from different aspects of music and art. I’m definitely trying to be really artistically inclined with videos… the last video I released was in 2014 and it’s because I really want to take an artistic approach and show something different.

Do you have any mentors?

There’s a guy named Abomination Colossal and Shea Malcolmson, and a few others who have always been there.

What do you have coming up in the immediate future and what are some long-term goals?

Focusing on the international community. But I always will have love for this city and I will always be doing shows in the city — Festival du Voyageur, jazz fest, Big Fun Fest, those are the shows I like to do because it’s more community orientated so the people who don’t get out to see hip hop very much might catch it on a whim. And besides that, really focusing on international; trying to make a lot of connections in Amsterdam, Paris and Germany.

Long-term goals are to take OTU to the international stage. Right now, OTU is just in the beginning stage, but the future would be definitely to take OTU to an international level and make a lot of money.

Upcoming shows:

Festival du Voyageur (exact date not yet announced)


Brendan Grey

Real name: Brendan Kinley

Age: Undisclosed

Kinley performs under many monikers, but he’s likely best known for his work in seven-piece group Super Duty Tough Work, which features a few local, but mostly international musicians. Kinley himself is a musician by trade, but made a conscious decision to focus on hip hop when he moved to Winnipeg from Germany in his teens to attend university. From there, he became quite active in the battle scene in the early-mid 2000s, and then moved on to group work with Sleeping Giants and, in 2015, formed Super Duty Tough Work. The band hosts the popular Dilla Day event, an annual tribute show to legendary producer J Dilla, which returns for its fourth and final edition on Feb. 10.

Super Duty Tough Work
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Super Duty Tough Work

How would you describe your sound?

Golden-era taste, current-era based.

Who or what are your influences?

That’s a hard one, but I will say there’s many people from inside and outside hip hop, so I’ll just name what comes to my head right now. Nas, Mos Def, Gangstar, DJ Premiere, Pete Rock, the Roots, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, Tony Williams, Max Roach, Yusuf Latif, Lauryn Hill, I could go on and on and on.

Do you have any mentors?

My uncle (Gerry Atwell) is a well known veteran musician in the city, so I’ve often sought his advice on business-related stuff. Also, Quincy Davis, former assistant professor of jazz drum set at the University of Manitoba, under whom I studied, also gave a lot of advice towards performance aspects, musicality and the like. Not sure that I would use the word ‘mentors’ necessarily, but they definitely have aided me and helped me help myself.

What do you have coming up in the immediate future and what are some long-term goals?

We have a number of shows planned throughout the month and January and February. We have two releases coming up; SDTW and FC Coconut are working on a mixtape that’s going to be released in the new year, and then we’ll be going into the studio to record an EP in February.

Upcoming shows: 

Jan. 27 at Forth (part of Big Fun Fest)


Malcolm-Jay

Real name: Malcolm-Jamal Wilson

Age: 28

Toronto-born, Winnipeg-raised Wilson was immersed in hip-hop from childhood, and began making his own music at age 15. He was nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award in 2011 with his then-group, the Happy Unfortunate. But for the last two years, Wilson has performed as a solo artist, charting in the Top 10 on campus radio in Canada for both of his latest singles. He also performed at the Canada 150 celebrations at The Forks on Canada Day , and has been actively building his social media following, surpassing 19,000 followers on Instagram alone, most of which come from outside of Canada.

Malcolm-Jay
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Malcolm-Jay

How would you describe your sound?

I would describe it as socially conscious and self-reflective while having really upbeat production.

Who or what are your influences?

Early influences would be artists like A Tribe Called Quest, the Roots, Nas and more recently, artists like J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar.

Do you have any mentors?

My mentors are Elliott Walsh and Ofield Williams.

What do you have coming up in the immediate future and what are some long-term goals?

I just released a full length album Sept. 30, The Enemy Within… I’m planning to go on tour in the summer, East Coast of Canada tour. Long term is to tour in the U.S., outside of Canada, to capitalize on all my other followers up there.

Upcoming shows:

Jan. 26 at Le Garage


Matt Redd 

Real name: Matthew Borley

Age: 19

Borley’s interest in hip hop was sparked at a young age — just 10 years old — when he started to listen and study the genre. At 14, he wrote and released his first song and things have steadily progressed since. He’s played sold-out shows at the Park Theatre and the West End Cultural Centre, has released three full-length mixtapes and was won Songwriter of the Year in 2016 at the CUT Hip Hop Awards.

Matt Redd
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Matt Redd

How would you describe your sound?

More modern with ’90s-style lyrics. The way my instrumentals are designed and set up is more like what you’re hearing on the radio today, but as far as my lyrics and the way that I speak over top of those instrumentals, it’s more based around what you would have heard in the ’90s hip-hop scene.

Who or what are your influences?

I think right now would have to be… this is one of the hardest questions for me because it changes all the time, but I think right now, modern artists would G-Eazy, and as far as classical artists would go, Talking Heads and Tupac.

Do you have any mentors?

There’s a guy named Broms the Poet (Jeff Bromley), he’s a stand-up poet now, he used to be a rapper in the city as well, he really is the person who got me on my first stage, put my head in the right place in terms of knowing what to do and what moves to make.

What do you have coming up in the immediate future and what are some long-term goals?

A lot of single releases are coming up, I’m not focusing on any big projects right now. Writing, recording and I’ll probably release a bunch of singles one after the other for a while. Long-term goals would be to go to L.A. have a show and meet some executives, I want to do a Canadian tour and I’d like to be able to get one-million plays on a song.


Lavi$h

Real name:  Benjamin Tshibamba

Age: 20

Tshibamba — who says he chose his stage name, Lavi$h as a reminder of the lifestyle he’s working toward — has been writing music since he was 14 and started freestyling at parties with his friends. After a bit of encouragement, he recorded his first single. In November 2016, he released his debut EP, Shades, and in the fall of 2017, he collaborated with another local musician, Kingsley, on the Sweeter Life album and released another single, Carabana, which picked up some radio play both at home in Winnipeg and in Toronto.

Lavi$h
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Lavi$h

How would you describe your sound?

My sound is unique, it’s a breath of fresh air from all the different artists in the game.

Who or what are your influences?

My biggest influences are my hard-working parents. They’ve sacrificed a lot for us; us meaning me and my siblings. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it wasn’t for them. My second biggest influencer would be Drake; my sister introduced him to me when I was about 13-14. He’s been dominating the industry and staying relevant for longer than I can even remember. She showed me the music video of his song for Headlines and I’ve been a fan ever since. The third biggest influencer in my life is artist and long time best friend Kingsley. He’s always been himself in the music and he’s never changed his sound for anyone. He’s taught me to be myself and never listen to the negative things people say about me. I can’t even begin to explain how grateful I am to have him on my side.

Do you have any mentors?

I have a few mentors. My biggest one is Winnipeg/Atlanta artist and friend Myazwe, this guy really knows a lot about the music industry. The thing I like about him is that he always shares his knowledge with me, he genuinely wants to see me to succeed, as I do him.

No. 2 on my list is my manager and friend Ryan Giesbrecht, also known as Hotel Rooms. We were introduced to each other about two years ago in a hookah lounge by a mutual friend. He became my manager only a couple months ago, but he’s been helping me like brother would help a brother ever since we met. This is someone I want in my life for a long time.

What do you have coming up in the immediate future and what are some long-term goals?

There’s a good number of songs I’m going to be featured on from different artists in 2018. I’m trying to work with as many people as I can before things get too busy. Me and my team are in full grind mode right now, working to release music videos, singles and a bunch of projects in the new year. I have a lot of things coming in 2018, a lot of plans. I really want it to be my year. I want to capitalize and achieve the things I’m working so hard for.

Upcoming shows:

January 12 at the University of Manitoba

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @NireRabel

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