Hip-Hop in the Underground City

The music you are introduced to growing up can have a big influence on your life.

What music your parents or older siblings play for you in your impressionable years can set your musical path. If they make you listen to, say, John Denver, it might inspire you to become a country boy. Or,  it might inspire you to only listen to speed metal and NEVER visit the countryside. You never know, it can probably go either way.

One person who wasn’t influenced much by John Denver (so far anyways) is Jason Tait. As he relates, he was “introduced to Tupac and Biggie by family members” and “started rapping at 12 years old.” It was fun at first, but through writing gangsta stuff, his involvement with music was “disconnected from life trying to live up to the gangsta rap image.”

By the time he was 16, he was seriously involved in hip-hop – meeting other rappers and writing music with them. Despite the gangsta image, participation still offered community. Around that age, Tait met a friend in Winnipeg who was in a program concentrated on rapping – shooting videos and performing live. Finding an official group that was focused on hip-hop motivated Tait to do it as well. The friend became Tait’s mentor, and taught him “how to write bars and how to count – all the ins and outs of hip-hop.” Before this, he says, his rapping was “out of touch with real life. My friend asked me, ‘why are you rapping about stuff that isn’t relevant?’”

This changed Tait’s direction. Inspired by his talented mentor, Tait was encouraged to push his limits and reach his potential. Tait’s friend helped him recognize his abilities and focus on subject matter that was really important. Through this mentorship, Tait was introduced to inner-city and youth hip-hop orientated programs. Overall, conscious hip-hop offered him a more positive community than the image of gangsta rap ever could.

Moving on his own to Edmonton, Tait found iHuman and started doing shows for them – he participated in the inner-city hip-hop scene, and represented it in the wider community, performing all over Edmonton.

Last winter Tait was back in Winnipeg, and was told about an employment program focused on various elements of hip-hop – graffiti and b-boying, for instance, but no rapping. Tait decided to fill this gap, and proposed to the program that he become a mentor. So, for several months, Tait worked as a hip-hop facilitator. He organized writing workshops. Freestyle workshops. Open mics. As he says, “it was pretty awesome. It was fun.”

Now back in Edmonton, Tait is still heavily involved in the local scene. He has performed with Collective Conscious, Kriyple, One Deep, Brandy J., and lots of other local acts, as well as solo as Metatait. He is focused on conscious hip-hop – “what’s relevant about today.” This includes personal stuff, and allows him a positive outlet to express himself. “Writing a song or verse,” he says, “is a therapeutic way of dealing with challenges.” It also includes issues he sees around Edmonton. “Poverty. Drug use. Oppression. Marginalization by mainstream society.”

At the recent Truth and Reconciliation National Event in March, Tait performed at the TRC Talent Showcase. This was important because he used his generation’s music to express how he feels about residential schools to an inter-generational audience.

It helped him take what he has learned, and bring the issues to light in his music.

Tait also sees the impact he has as a mentor in the inner-city community. As a hip-hop youth worker at Boyle Street Community Services, Tait has seen firsthand what hip-hop can do:

More confidence in youth. Stuff that’s relevant. How they’re growing and changing.  When they rap about what’s going on – they don’t want to talk in an uncomfortable situation with a therapist they don’t know. They’re getting what’s inside them out – personal expression is therapeutic – subconsciously. Counseling in a way. Participating in a music community they care about matters to them and inspires them to deal with challenges and keep going.

Tait

Check out Metatait’s music here: https://soundcloud.com/meta-tait

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