Canadian Hip-Hop: The Vicious Cycle

Inspired Reference:

Very interesting words from K’naan. He claims that Canadian hip-hop is very inconsistent in the sense that there are only a few artists like him, Classified, and k-os. They’re dropping albums and working on their music constantly and consistently while most of the others are just popping in as a surprise every few years with something. Some of these artists literally disappear after an album and are nowhere to be found for years; sometimes, they never come back on the scene.

K’naan simply said that artists from up north just don’t drop new albums, but he never delved into the reasons behind it. Yes, it would be incredibly advantageous to Canadian hip-hop as a whole if every participant dropped a project often rather than once in a while. But let’s look at the individual artist within the big picture and see what’s really happening.

In the US there is an oversaturation of hip-hop artists; so many that not much of real talent ever shines. This country is a media monster and has taken over the international market with a bang. No country doesn’t have an excess of American media, sad but true. Now take that and add the fact that the art and culture of hip-hop music was born in this country as well – give them about 15 years advantage. This means that Canadian hip-hop needs to catch up to a whopping decade and a half of establishment in this art, added to the fact that our media outlet nearly never goes outside of our country unless it has something to do with America.

What does this mean? Unless a Canadian rapper jumps over to an American-based label, he or she will rarely be noticed within the country, forget North America and the rest of the world. You see it everyday – K’Naan jumped over (had to go to New York), Classified did it (joined a Canadian Sony imprint, but still American based), Kardinal did it (Akon’s imprint), Saukrates did it (Redman’s imprint), and of course Drake (do I even need to say it?); guess what – these are some the biggest Canadian artists out right now and it’s not a coincidence.

When an American label looks within the country and sees so much talent that’s hidden, why would their first instinct be to run over to the cold country above to get someone? Log onto MySpace and check how many artists are willing to give up their lives to get a deal and are within the US. It’s actually ridiculous; they’ll give both kidneys to get a label to sign them. There is no reason why an American imprint would jump here constantly looking for artists, it’s a business and they take the most cost-effective approach. When a company needs a position filled, HR first looks within the company to find a good fit and then if there’s nothing they look at external options. Same idea here, except that it’s rare not to find a good fit within just a couple miles of their main office.

This puts our artists in a rut. They don’t get money, but they need to put food on the table for their families, or at least themselves. Let’s say they’re working a 9-5 job, getting between 7-10$ an hour. Take away for living expenses and you don’t have much left over for studio time, marketing, venue costs etc. To make an album you need the green stuff, especially if you’re indie – which most Canadian hip-hop artists are. Take that and add the fact you’ll only be able to release in your local area with that much cash in your pocket. Don’t forget that promotion will most probably be incredibly minimal and you come right back to square one – no money to make more music!

Of course, there’s exceptions like k-os who make it decently big, but we’re talking large scale here. Go to any city in Canada and you’ll find 2-3 amazing hip-hop artists that wish they could gather enough money to drop an album that they can release at least nationally. It’s a tough call, but from the looks of it this industry puts Canadian artists in a vicious cycle that looks something like this: No money means no music. No music means no money. No money means no music. No music…

Call it business and call it unfair, but that’s just the way it is. But don’t let this bring you down if you’re a Canadian hip-hop artist/fan, there’s a lot we can do to help! Don’t take/use this as an excuse, we still have a chance! We’re slowly seeing the aid of internet bringing Canadian hip-hop a little bit to the forefront, but there’s still a long ways to go. I love how we can now promote online for free, which really helps out artists within our country; but the misuse of this technology brings the whole idea down a couple notches on the overall spectrum. Regardless of that, we must take note that our time will come soon, we just have to work hard and put out as much music as we can. Hopefully within the next 5 years we’ll get more respect for the greatness and diversity we’ve brought to the art. So, inconsistent or unable? There’s really a fine line, and hopefully we’ll be able break through either side of it.

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