Language, Hip-Hop and the 23rd of April at the Cavern in Winnipeg

by robcrooks ~ April 22nd, 2015

soso_April23The meaning of a word depends on how it is used. This is to say that language is essentially contextual, and that a word only has an identity through its relation to its other. A cliché example of this is when one word, in different contexts, holds opposite meanings, as in when “bad” is used to mean “good.” However, it’s not simply that the word means its opposite, as if it’s a case of simple reversal. Rather, the meaning of the word depends entirely on its use, in the context of the system as a whole. “Bad” does not simply mean “good,” but rather signifies a subversive act against the convoluted history of an oppressive language system.

As specialized languages develop, such as the technical languages of the sciences, or the idiosyncratic vernaculars of sport, for example, words take on a multi-layered etymological history. This rich etymological history of a specialized language can often make it difficult for an outsider to penetrate the particular culture that the language belongs to. On the other hand, when said culture, despite its technical language, becomes popularized, through enticing ideas or images, it is often the specialized language that is the first to be appropriated and watered-down. This is because an outsider, who may not understand the etymological history of a certain term, will take it at face value. It is this superficial appropriation of terminology that helps spread the popularity of the culture. Eventually, the outsiders outnumber the specialists, and the culture itself is reduced to its superficialities.

To the people who consume hip-hop on the largest scale, and who have therefore appropriated it’s signifiers, Iggy Azalea is a more definitive representation of what hip-hop is than someone like, say, Marley Marl, to name one example. This type of watering-down of a culture is inevitable. Once a culture comes to be dominated by outsiders, in other words, once the consumers of a culture outnumber its participants, its meaning shifts from the technical usage to the superficial usage. This is an inevitable result of a culture’s “success.” Hip-hop is one of the most “successful” cultural movements in recent history. As a result, hip-hop has become fashion, a costume you wear on the weekends; hip-hop is something you buy at the mall.

But this is all too cynical. In some corners of the world, hip-hop is still controlled by its participants. In these cases, hip-hop continues to develop in a way that confounds the outsider. Thursday, April 23rd at the Cavern in Winnipeg, there will be a showcase of artists who continue to interpret hip-hop in just such a way. I am proud to be performing with soso, Nestor Wynrush and Lonnie Ce. The occasion for this show is soso’s new album Not for Nothing. soso, who will be traveling from his home in Saskatoon for this show, is one of the bravest and most authentic hip-hop artists I have ever encountered. He is a musical hero of mine and I hope you will all come down to watch his performance.

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Gruf the Druid’s Surface Area Album Release Party

by robcrooks ~ March 26th, 2015

10302093_10155295121885251_1778061248218926227_nThere are three concert memories I have in my mind at all times. One is the memory of some fool in the front row of a Public Enemy concert refusing an offer from Flava Flav to swap his Florida Panthers jersey for the latter’s clock necklace. All these years later, I still ponder from time to time where that shitty Panthers jersey ended up. Gathering dust in some elderly parents’ basement somewhere? Value Village? The landfill? Either way, that guy definitely did not know the time.

The second memory that I always keep with me is the memory of the entire crowd at First Avenue rapping the words to “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” during the Minneapolis stop of the first Wu-Tang tour after the passing of Ol Dirty Bastard. I’ve seen this happen a few times since, at various Wu-Tang affiliated shows. But the fact that, on this particular occasion, every remaining member of the Clan was there (including Cappadonna, Killah Priest and Buddha Monk), along with the proximity in time to the demise of ODB, made this one a little more memorable.

And finally, there was this one time at the Collective in Osborne Village, when I saw Gruf the Druid commanding a room full of people.

Riding the wave of the Druidry album, the Frek Sho Papercuts EP, and a growing reputation in Winnipeg’s slam poetry scene, Gruf the Druid joined with Dj Brace to release the Sound Barriers album in 2005. Although the album had more than a few mind-bending bangers on it, such as “You Ain’t Folk” and “The 464th Lesson,” to me, the most memorable Sound Barriers song has always been “Withdrawal.” As honest a meditation on money and the effect it has on a person’s psyche as you’ll ever hear, the song ends with a simple statement of a universal truth, that through the act of repetition, becomes transformed into the fevered appeal of anyone at the end of their tether: “I want money, I want money, so much money. I want money, I want money, so much money…”

It was the last song of their set. Gruf had the whole crowd, a packed audience at the once go-to venue, chanting along with him: “I want money…” After all, who could deny it? Sure, it may be a little gauche for the bourgeoisie to admit that they want money. But for anyone in that crowd who didn’t know how they were gonna pay their rent that month; or for anyone who had chosen beer over dinner that night; or for anyone who had walked to the village with holes in their shoes just to see that show, it was a low down, dirty truth. And as Dj Brace lowered the volume of the beat on the turntables, and Gruf gently laid the mic down on the stage floor, and facing forward, backed away towards the stage exit, the crowd continued to chant: “I want money, I want money, so much money.” It was a powerful moment, in a movement of many, for a hip-hop scene that once shared a self-same identity with the city’s downtrodden.

On April 4th, at the Good Will in Winnipeg, Gruf the Druid is celebrating the release of a brand new album, Surface Area, produced entirely by the Gumshoe Strut. The party will feature performances from Bazooka Joe (aka John Smith), myself and, of course, Gruf the Druid. Bazooka Joe will be performing some songs off the new record that I am producing for him, so get their early to check that out. Anchoring the night will be the one and only Dj Hunnicutt. Check out the Facebook event page for more details. And download Surface Area for free from Marathon of Dope.

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Downtown ’09 Now Available for Free Download

by robcrooks ~ December 11th, 2014

Downtown 09My new EP Downtown ’09 is now officially available for free download from Marathon of Dope! Please download, listen and pass it around! If you’d like a preview, listen to the song “Stab Somebody.” And please don’t forget, for those of you in Winnipeg, I will be performing every song, plus some others, next Thursday at the Good Will.

Here’s a little more about the EP:

“Winnipeg is a cold and isolated city, dirty and dilapidated. It is a city divided between the South and the North, by race and by class. It is surrounded, like most cities in the Western World, by cookie-cutter suburban homes, box stores and fast food chains. But in the gut of the city, in downtown Winnipeg, the very real divisions that make up its essence intersect in an anarchic clash of hedonism and despair.

It is this image of Winnipeg that serves as the backdrop for Rob Crooks’ new EP Downtown ’09. The iconic punk clubs and temporary speak-easies, the dive bars and late-night beer vendors, the dark alleys where drugs are bought, sold and consumed all make up the setting for Crooks’ story telling. The loosely connected coming-of-age narrative stitched together in these six songs guides the listener through the progressive stages of young adulthood, all in the span of a single weekend. From the earliest encounter with “City Sounds,” and the immature and not-so-innocent trysts with “Friday Night Girls,” to the moral hangover of “Monday Morning,” Downtown ‘09 is an often dark depiction of dysfunctional scenesters in a dysfunctional city.

Sonically, Downtown ’09 matches Crooks’ raw and rapid vocal delivery with the gritty punk aesthetic predominant in Winnipeg’s counter-cultures. The upbeat tempos and catchy hooks give the EP the feel of an illegal dance party, in an abandoned warehouse, ready to be shut down by the police at any moment. Guest appearances by Winnipeg hip-hop legends Pip Skid and John Smith help to round out this short, but detailed vision of the dark side of Winnipeg’s edgy and unpredictable nightlife. So why not spend the weekend in downtown Winnipeg, with Rob Crooks as your guide?”

 

 

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Stab Somebody

by robcrooks ~ December 10th, 2014

So, here is a song from my new EP, Downtown ’09. The song is called “Stab Somebody.” Although, the EP doesn’t officially come out until tomorrow, it is available for free download now. So please check it out, and share if you like it!

“Stab Somebody” is about a guy who has developed a drug dependency, and has gotten into debt trouble with his dealer. The story takes place at a dance party, where he is freely using drugs, dancing and trying to have a good time. While he makes his way through the party, from smoking a cigarette outside, to getting a drink at the bar, he keeps overhearing people spreading a rumour that someone is going to be stabbed at the party. However, he’s too concerned about having fun that he doesn’t realize, or maybe wants to ignore the fact that, the person who is in danger of getting stabbed is himself.

Up in a loft, in the spot, the bass is bumping heavy / Have a taste to your face, if you ain’t done already / We in the place, in the space, dancing and getting sweaty / Until that powder that I parachute rush out to get me / I need to chill just for a minute, let me get outside / To smooth it out, to cool it down and then I’ll feel alright / Who’s got a smoke, what’s the quote, fifty or twenty-five? / A quarter or two is affordable, who’s got a light? / A social ceiling of smoke and dealings makes it feel cloudy / Rumble like thunder, like lightning striking up all around me / I hear some phrases from conversations floating around me / Tiny quips from their lips, they let slip and here they found me / “He says he’s gonna get it, that’s kid’s really in trouble” / “He’s disrespectful, in debt to him, never on the humble” / “Can’t let the kid forget it, I guaranteed the drugs will” / “Last time I saw him he had the look upon him like the devil” /

They say that he might even stab somebody / They say that he might even stab somebody, a druggie / They say that he might even stab somebody / They say that he might even stab somebody, for money

The side walk talks and talks, meantime the music’s calling / There ain’t the time in this life for the ties you get involved in / I head inside just to vibe and get live and try to ignore it / My mouth is pasty so maybe I’ll pour some alcohol in / Blathering at the bar gets louder and mad and insaner / I’m on Saturn enamoured, I’m seeing neon tracers / The bar tender is wondering what drink he can make me / But all I hear is atmosphere chatter, I’m acting spacey / “He says he’s coming tonight, I guess that kind better hide” / “He say he’s bringing a knife, he won’t be coming to fight” / I have a drink, then I think maybe another capsule / Maybe a line just this time, I’m looking for the bathroom / “I heard that somebody saw him, he’s in here and looking for him” / “That kid has got real problems, let’s go before all the cops come” / I’m in the stall with a ball in my pocket, break out a key / Until he kicks in the partition and he’s looking at me /

He looks like he could even stab somebody / He looks like he could even stab somebody, he’s thrusting / He looks like he could even stab somebody / He looks like he could even stab somebody, I’m bloody

I don’t see their moves moving, just their eyes all shifty / A whole crowd has gathered to me, looking down and worried / Stare at the ceiling, a warm feeling in the light above me / “This guy just got stabbed by somebody!”

 

 

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Coming Soon: Downtown ’09

by robcrooks ~ December 9th, 2014

Downtown 09 Later this week I’m going to be dropping a new EP entitled Downtown ’09. It’s a collection of 6 songs that depict the sometimes dark side of Winnipeg’s nightlife. The songs form a narrative arc through the immature hedonism of one night stands and self-destructive drug use, leading up to a violent stabbing that brings the consequences out of the moral realm into the material world. Finally the album culminates in the epic hangover that makes one question everything.

The title Downtown ’09 is a reference to the film Downtown 81, in which a broke artist (Basquiat) roams downtown Manhattan going in and out of dingy, underground clubs, encountering a who’s who of New York’s new wave musicians and artists. I decided to reference this title because the journey embarked upon by the artist in the film reflects the journey that the narrator takes in this album: an aimless wondering through downtown streets, from party to party looking for something that is always just a few steps ahead. Of course, in Downtown 09 what is being sought after is never found. And instead of the grand streets of New York City, this album takes place in the despair-paved streets of downtown Winnipeg, the dark heart of the continent.

The reference to Downtown 81 also seemed appropriate because of the intersection of punk and hip-hop culture that is prevalent in both the film and the album. Although the album is a rap album, the punk influence can’t be denied (from the sometimes aggressive vocal delivery and catchy hooks to the Black Flag sample and the Bad Brains cover art rip-off).

Ultimately, however, Downtown ’09 is meant to be fun. But how can I show the fun side without the edgier dark side of fun? After all, the edgy dark side is what makes fun so fun, am I right? So, the beats are high tempo and the raps match them. I hope you like it. It will be available for download this week!

 

 

 

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End the War on the Holiday Rap Convention

by robcrooks ~ December 1st, 2014

dec18postersmallerThere is a War on the Holiday Rap Convention and we are sick of it. That’s why I have banded together with John Smith, Nestor Wynrush, Lonnie Ce, 3Peat and Cvlt Wvffle to end the insanity.

Every year when we report Haters assaults on the traditions of the Holiday Rap Convention, the crazy loons begin a vitriolic campaign to diminish me and this event. There is a reason why they are doing that. And it has nothing to do with Iggy Azalea.

Let’s take it step-by-step. No one tells you a person could possibly see a Holiday Rap Convention as an imposition of hip-hop. When the City Hall Holiday Rap tree here in Winnipeg was lighted no one threw themselves to the ground screaming about Dj Kool Herc. That did not happen. Winnipeg police did not round up the onlookers and force them into the Good Will a few blocks away. Nothing like that happened at the tree lighting. It was just a fun occasion.

Also you heard a hater on this program last night say the Holiday Rap Convention imposes hip-hop on him. But hip-hop is not an organized culture that can be imposed. There are many different styles of hip-hop that promote rap in many different ways.

Does the hater think the Holiday Rap Convention is promoting NWA? Three 6 Mafia? Wu-Tang Clan? What? After that interview the crazy Web site People emerged screaming that I’m wrong. Hip-hop is indeed being imposed. These people are so stupid it’s painful.

Hip-hop is a philosophy. You don’t have to believe Afrika Bambaataa is God in order to admire his breaks.

Millions of hipster kids admire Bambaataa as a great selector. In fact today’s pop culture was founded on hip-hop philosophy, that’s what shaped our music and slang. Again if you are stone-cold dumb and don’t understand the difference between hip-hop and rap, I cannot help you.

In 1987, President Eric B. made my point when he sent this Holiday Rap message to the American people, quote, “the Holiday Rap Convention is not just at the Good Will on December 18th, it’s a state of mind. To cherish Holiday Rap and the Good Will, to be plenteous in freshness is to have the real spirit of the Holiday Rap Convention. If we think on these things there will be born in us a Dj and over us will shine an emcee sending their dope lyrics and ill flows to the world.”

That’s from my private collection, by the way. Is Eric B. imposing hip-hop in that Holiday Rap greeting? Of course not. He is promoting a fun time at the Good Will, December 18th. Now the more intelligent haters realize that what I’m telling you is absolutely correct. Historically and scientifically but many of them don’t care, they want any hint of freshness out of the public square.

The haters want a new Winnipeg and the Holiday Rap Convention isn’t a part of it.

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Video for “Saturday”

by robcrooks ~ June 12th, 2014

Last year I was lucky enough to have the experience of a lifetime: touring across Europe with my friends from Zucchini Drive. I’ve been on many tours before, but never like that one. Twenty-one cities in just under a month’s time. We drove all over Europe from Spain to Germany and (almost) everywhere in between. It was refreshing to play in front of different crowds that I’m used to. They really seemed to get what I was going for over there. Not to say that I haven’t played many great shows in Canada. But sometimes back home people don’t know what to make of me: am I a rapper or a singer of strange indie-pop? In Europe they just didn’t seem to care. If they liked it, they danced.

This video was shot entirely during the European tour. The guy who you keep see popping up in the video is my good friend Tom aka Speed Dial 7 from the aforementioned group Zucchini Drive. Marcus Graap, also of Zucchini Drive, filmed most of the footage. Oh how I miss my European friends! The song from this video is called “Saturday.” It’s called that because its about how everyday is Saturday, which by default means no day is Saturday. This could be interpreted in many different ways. One way you could interpret it is that everyday is Saturday because you are still very young and your lack of responsibilities makes it easy to party every night. The other interpretation is that it’s never Saturday because you work so hard that there are never any days off. This song is about that duality.

This song is from my maxi-single Me and All of My Friends, which is free to download.

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Nomad Covers “Me and All of My Friends”

by robcrooks ~ May 30th, 2014

Nomad covered my latest single and I’m so impressed. He turned my upbeat indie-pop song into the sort of death-folk that I can only dream of making. Check it out:

When you ask one of your favourite contemporary artists to cover one of your songs, you risk the possibility that their cover version will completely eclipse your original. When I asked Nomad to cover “Me and All of My Friends,” this possibility was certainly on my mind. But the chance to have someone I admire so much re-imagine a song I wrote was too much of an intriguing prospect to cower from. I’m happy I asked and I’m even happier he accepted. The result is one of the coolest things I’ve ever been apart of.

Download the whole “Me and All of My Friends” maxi-single here.

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Me And All of My Friends Remix by Speed Dial 7

by robcrooks ~ April 8th, 2014

When I was putting together this maxi-single, I wanted to include some remixes. Plus, I wanted my friends to be involved in this project with me. Speed Dial 7 was the first one to return his remix.

I like this remix. The original song is sort of a dancey/indie-pop song. This version slows down the whole feel of it and makes it a little more like a rap song. (It’s the hi–hats.) It makes me feel like I’m in the club with all of my best friends; it’s the end of the night and we’re all drinking Champagne or something, and we’re celebrating because we just accomplished something super huge.”We did it guys! Who woulda thought we’d pull it off? But we really did it!”

This remix makes me feel like we’re all really successful people, the type who set goals for themselves and follow through on them. It’s like we work for ourselves, and we get up really early, at like 5am. Around 7pm we have a scotch and stare out over the city from our skyscraper offices. Then we do some cocaine to keep us working through out the night. Now all that sacrifice has paid off, and we’re sitting in a private room at a fancy Manhattan restaurant. “This was a huge quarter for us, people. We just couldn’t have done it without all your hard work and hours of dedication. Here’s to us and our continued success!”

It makes me feel like I’m in Goodfellas after the big plane heist. Or like I’m in Jay-Z’s “Roc Boy” video or something. We’re all like: “We did it guys! We made it to the top! They’re never going to bring us down now!”

It feels good. Way to  go Speed Dial 7.

 

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The Me and All of My Friends EP is Here!

by robcrooks ~ March 25th, 2014

 

FriendsCoverMy new EP is here for your downloading pleasure. Yay! Here’s some more information about it:

“After releasing three collaborative albums in 2013 (with Birdapres, Sugar Pill Gang and Magnum KI), Rob Crooks returns with his first solo release since 2012’s Hearts. This EP is a continuation of Rob’s exploration into the territory of post-rap and indie-pop, manifesting in two brand new songs that are as equally heartfelt as they are danceable. “Me and All of My Friends” is an ode to Rob’s peers, who just like him, are getting older and are starting to fear that they’ve wasted too much of their youth on quixotic pursuits. But instead of dwelling on what is lost, this song is an uplifting and life-affirming call to re-awaken the potential in each of us. As the final verse says: “it’s not too late.”

“Saturday” is an anthem for a generation whose weekends are vanishing, in one way or another. The vagueness of the lyrics, which refer to each day of the week as another day to “get down,” lends to a pluralistic interpretation of what getting down may actually mean. Some of us are in the twilight of our youth, where every day is a new day to have fun and experience everything we can, while attempting to hold off the realities of adulthood until a never-quite-present tomorrow. For others, every day is another day that we get down to work, grinding through the week towards a weekend that just never seems to come. Either way you interpret it, Saturday has become meaningless. Every day is Saturday, and no day is Saturday. “Saturday is just not real.”

To fill out the EP, Rob has invited some of his friends and contemporaries to remix his songs. Speed Dial 7 offers a remix of “Me and All of My Friends” that slows down the original, which manages to stir up the feeling of giving a toast to all of your friends from the head of a dinner table that you know may never be full again. Nomad’s folky cover of the same song emphasizes an almost painful concern for those same friends to truly find freedom again, freedom from whatever it may be that has come to oppress them. Finally, Winnipeg-based techno producer The Medicine remixes “Saturday” into a song that is ready for those of us who may finally have a weekend free to dance away.

The result of all this is an EP with many different textures, all of which reveal Rob Crooks as an artist who is maturing into something special.”

By the way, the beautiful art work was done by Patrick Skene. Isn’t it gorgeous?

 

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