Hip hop was born as a platform for individual marginalized voices to come together and be heard. No Bad Sound, a music studio located in Kent Park, held a night of anti-colonial hip hop last Saturday that took the genre back to these roots. Artists gathered at the studio to share their music, stories, and political messages, using music and spoken word to call attention to Montreal’s colonial past and present.
No Bad Sound Studios was established in 2007 as an initiative of the Maison des Jeunes Côte-des-Neiges. It aims to help local youth develop their music by providing a place to meet and offering workshops for singing, songwriting, rapping, beatboxing, music production, DJing, and performance skills. The studio presented this evening of anti-colonial hip hop in collaboration with grassroots radical media project Reclaim Turtle Island, which defends Indigenous land from resource extraction. Amanda Lickers, an organizer from Reclaim who put the evening together, highlighted these issues in her opening speech, stating, “There’s one [problem] called Line 9 that’s about to start spewing genocide in Turtle Island.”
The four performances – vocalist trio Strange Froots, instrumentalist Lido Pimienta, rapper Alas, and powerhouse headliners Shining Soul – kept with this political theme in varying degrees, from Strange Froots’ mostly unpolitical lyrics to Alas’ proudly anti-governmental anthems (she consistently referred to Canada as “Ku Klux Klanada”). Somewhere along this spectrum was Shining Soul, who placed equal emphasis on their music’s artistry and message. During their performance, Emcee Liaison of Shining Soul connected politics to his personal life by telling the crowd about the colonized land of the Tohono O’odham (translated as “People of the Desert”). The U.S.-Mexico border runs directly through the land of the Tohono O’odham, a physical illustration of how disruptive colonial endeavours have been to Indigenous communities. “Our [community’s] stories are still intact,” Liaison said, “but that push to resist is drowned out by these cities, by this concrete.”
While colonial oppression was the main topic of the evening, the artists also addressed other forms of oppression: Shining Soul member Bronze Candidate spoke about his goal to “face oppressive institutions such as patriarchy,” and Lido’s third song was dedicated to her friend “whose parents don’t like him being gay.”
In addition to their varying levels of political expression, the artists also demonstrated diversity in hip hop, pushing the genre to its limits. Strange Froots sounded like a soul/pop fusion experiment by Kid Cudi enthusiasts, and Pimienta was a roller coaster of drums and bass with a characteristic hip hop sensibility. Neither act would be considered traditional hip hop, but these artists clearly grew up in the hip hop generation. Froots lacked the aggressive edge shared by the other artists, but the trio was invited back onstage by Pimienta for a few minutes of improvisation. Their collaboration produced a fuller, more nuanced sound than any performer achieved on their own.
Alas brought a sound more typical of rap – for one thing, she actually rapped. The artist addressed topics such as land defence, staying true to one’s roots, and police brutality in an expansive and assertive voice. Her passion and hard-hitting (though somewhat cliché) beat, engaged the crowd, fostering a sense of political frustration and even anger, but also maintaining a strong sense of community. Members of the audience were united in their shared convictions.
Shining Soul, a duo from Arizona comprising Bronze Candidate and Emcee Liaison, was the most traditional hip hop performance of the night, featuring mid-nineties-style lyricism and sample-based beats. They were also the musical highlight; there was a confidence and familiarity in their performance that quickly gained the audience’s trust.
As mainstream hip hop strays further from its political beginnings, No Bad Sound’s night of anti-colonial hip hop was a lesson in how to merge art and politics meaningfully. Though the performances were not all explicitly political, the coming together of these artists as a community, framed by the message of Reclaim Turtle Island, was a political act. Even the lineup itself stayed true to the event’s mandate: No Bad Sound featured a female majority onstage and in the crowd, the result of a deliberate effort by Lickers. After all, as PassionFroot of Strange Froots explained after the show, “Hip hop was made by oppressed people for oppressed people.” Through distinct yet cohesive voices, these artists conveyed the notion that to protect anyone, you must protect everyone.