I recently sat down with the homie and Winnipeg hip-hop lover Bruce Lord to record an episode of his podcast Pluganomics. We had a couple beers at the Sherb and talked about rap, Winnipeg hip-hop history, the DIY attitude, punk music and authenticity. And some other stuff too. Then we got kicked out by the bouncer. It was rad. Check it out here.
I was walking home down Westminster, past Deno’s Pawn Shop, grocery bag hanging from my right hand, when I heard the swishing sound of someone in snow-pants rapidly gaining on me from behind. I try to exercise as much street ethics as I can, and so, I edged over to the left side of the sidewalk, allowing room on my right side for someone to pass. However, just as a woman in head-to-toe snow gear drew even with me, a black car came speeding down the lane by the Sherb and screeched to a stop right in front of us. Both the woman and I were a bit startled and stood wide-eyed, looking quizzically at the driver through tinted windows. My fellow pedestrian was visibly more distraught than I was, however, and almost immediately shot out like a rabbit, attempting to go around the front of the car. But as she did that, the car pulled forward into traffic, blocking her way again. Exasperated, she threw up her thinsulate gloves, fingers spread out, and cut to her left in front of me, apologizing in a panicked tone: “Everything is just happening at once.” I watched her for a moment, as she cut diagonally across the Sherb parking lot, wondering what exactly she meant.
This Sunday, I’ll be opening up for Greg MacPherson at the Good Will in Winnipeg. Greg, along with co-owner Cam Loeppky, run Disintegration Records, the label that I am currently recording my new album for. All the songs I’ll be performing at this show will be from this upcoming album.
The album is a continuation of the path I was on with my album Hearts, from 2012. I got sidetracked by putting out a couple rap albums since then, but these new songs are a return to the post-punk/rap hybrid thing I was working on back then. I like these songs, and I’m finally at a point where I feel comfortable performing them. Playing keyboards and triggering samples, all while switching between singing and rapping has been a new challenge for me. But I’m starting to get the hang of it. And this might be the first show I’ve played where that is apparent.
I’m considering calling the album Out of Nothing. It comes from the Latin phrase “nihil fit ex nihilo,” which translates to “nothing comes from nothing,” or “nothing comes out of nothing.” I considered calling the album Ex Nihilo, but that sounds too pretentious. I’ve also considered The Nothing From Which Nothing Comes. But I dunno. I’ll figure it out. It all stems from non-essentialist theories of identity; that our essence is nothingness. A lot of the songs are about that, so it seems appropriate.
Anyways. The show is an early one this Sunday, so come down by 730pm if you want to hear my new songs. I’ll be on not much after that. Then Greg goes on, and then Ted Turner, my partner from Loose Fit will be playing records to close out the night. Cool?
On Saturdays, Dj No Contact and I play records at Bar Italia in Winnipeg. As anyone who knows what Bar I is must be wondering: yes, it was a little strange at first. In fact, it’s a little strange every week. You see, Bar I does have a bit of a reputation. All the salacious rumours aside, it is more or less a Top 40 bar in the body of a lounge. So, when Dj No Contact and I started playing records there, we weren’t sure what to think. We were playing songs by DAF, Cabaret Voltaire, Tuxedo Moon… (or at least, I was) to a crowd of people dressed for Rhianna and Fetty Wap.
However, Bar I is a much different place in the summer than it is in the fall and winter. In the summer Bar I turns from a chill lounge where you can hang out with your friends and talk about literature and film while having some nachos and beer to a mini-nightclub carnival. It has great location, and one of the best patios in the city, so when it gets warm people want to be there. And most of those people have never heard of New Order. So, we spent the summer trying to please people by playing Madonna and the occasional MIA song, while slyly mixing in the post-punk stuff where we could. And we survived. And now that it’s fall again, we get to be a little more experimental with what we play. I’m going to put my Pere Ubu records back in the crates where they belong!
So, if you find yourself ever wanting to go out on a Saturday for a drink, but are not sure where to go, come to Bar I. The focus is on post-punk, but we like to dip into the stuff that inspired it (funk, disco, Krautrock) as well as the stuff it inspired (hip-hop, electro, indie). So come on down and make a request. We do play vinyl, but maybe we’ll surprise you with what we have.
With guests: MONA MOUSA, NESTOR WYNRUSH, ROB CROOKS, and members of RASTAMILS!
Witchpolice Radio, one of Winnipeg’s best-loved and longest-running music podcasts, is hitting the stage for the first time in 140+ episodes! Sam and Ryan will be interviewing musicians as usual, but our guests will be performing songs live as wel!
in 2007 an eighteen year old Toronto girl got on a greyhound to figure out what this poetry thing is all about.
Seven years later as a spoken word artist, motivational speaker, and jill of all trades, Mona Mousa is rooted in the theory that we can all turn our scars into stories. Moving audiences, and calling them to action for important causes, Mona has never been one for small talk in turn she works everyday to start dialogue and challenge societies norms.
Performing all over North America, she aims to use poetry to inspires people who haven’t found their voices yet. Her poetry sheds light on the struggles of mental health, sexual abuse and racial discrimination and she shares her personal experiences through poetry to encourage and empower others to be themselves and remain strong in the face of adversity.
Elliott Walsh is Nestor Wynrush. Born in Winnipeg, raised in Mississauga, this first-generation Canadian taps his West Indian roots to cook up an authentic pot-au-feu that can aptly be described as rap-soul, black & roll.
With a hustle unsurpassed on the Canadian Prairies, Wynrush is closing in on ten years of recording and performing his charismatic style of rap music.
Wynrush’s music is personal, sincere and unvarnished. It’s storytelling music informed by love, sorrow, and the overall immigrant experience in Canada. Never does he eschew his roots in favour of appealing to a wider market. Truth be told, without his roots, Nestor Wynrush’s music wouldn’t exist.
My name is Rob Crooks. I’m from Winnipeg. I make unconventional forms of hip-hop music. This is my bio.
I write songs. By the time I was 24 years old, I was selling CDs and traveling all across Canada performing them, from Victoria to Montreal. Eventually people started to notice the songs I wrote. Within a few years I had written songs for people like Canadian hip-hop veterans Ismaila Alfa (fka Mocean of Frek Sho) and Pip Skid. I’ve also written the bulk of Magnum KI’s material, including half of their 2010 self-titled album, which was nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award.
Nowadays, I’d just as soon take my sampler up on stage with me and pound out beats from the pads, and rap my own songs – or sing them – by myself.
RasTamils offer a beautifully layered and tasteful take on classic reggae rhythms while also weaving in some jam-band influence, the hooky pop components of simple ‘60s rock, and a vocal style that pays homage to heralded East Indian pop singers in a wonderfully harmonious package.
I can’t wait to leave this city and go to Saskatoon. Bridge city. Paris of the Prairies. Rapskatoon. When Soso joined Nestor Wynrush and I here in Winnipeg last month, I think for the first time it became obvious how well all of our music fits together, in some strange way. This will be another good show, and I am excited for it.
The next day I will be racing back to Winnipeg to perform at the West End Cultural Centre for the annual event Bands Vs. Filmmakers, a fundraiser for my favourite Winnipeg movie theatre, Cinematheque. The concept is a cool one: team a local musical act with a local fimlmaker, and let them collaborate for one night only. I have been paired with Ryan Simmons. Other duos include Pip Skid with Gwen Trutnau, Blunderspublik with Freya Olafson, Attica Riots with Deco Dawson, and Basic Nature with Forrest Macgregor.
It’s great to be able to help raise money for such a great place. I’ve seen some amazing films at Cinematheque over the years, and I plan on seeing many more. Tickets are $20 each and are available at the West End Cultural Centre.
The 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.
There 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.
My 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?”
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!”