"From MC J & Cool G getting a major-label record contract in 1989 to Classified winning a Juno last year, Halifax has built a reputation both nationally and internationally for our diverse hip-hop community," says Michael McGuire, chair of Hopscotch Halifax, also known as producer, spoken word poet and rapper Hermitofthewoods. On Friday and Saturday the fourth Hopscotch Halifax, a festival of urban art and music, will feature over 20 MCs and DJs, local street artists, breakdancing crews and American rap duo The Cool Kids. Presented by HRM, Hopscotch celebrates and honours the importance of rap and hip-hop in Nova Scotia's art scene.
"In a place that is popularly known for traditional Celtic-influenced music, Sloan-style pop- rock and folk singer-songwriters, people sometimes forget about hip-hop," explains McGuire, who has a Master's degree in Halifax hip-hop history. "From Haltown Projects, Hip Club Groove, Buck 65, Sixtoo, Skratch Bastid, Backburner and more, this city has produced an incredible number of artists who have made amazing records and achieved success well beyond the Maritimes. Hopscotch showcases this and the diversity of the hip-hop community."
Kicking off with the cipher on Friday in Dartmouth Cove, a freestyle rap event with an art wall for live painting, the guest list includes some of Halifax's more well-known artists like Quake Matthews, DJ IV, Psyc Tha Prince, Ambition, Alfie and battle rapper Pat Stay.
The self-declared "sucka-free boss," Stay says there is so much talent here, and events like Hopscotch are needed to keep the hip-hop traditions alive. "For a small scene, all the up and coming artists all sound different from each other, which is a great thing," he says. How does the recently titled national champ keep so sucka-free? "I wear my sucka-repellent," he says, laughing.
Hopscotch will also feature breakdancers from Atlantic Canada who will compete in the Roast the Coast finals on Saturday night. Dancing, like hip-hop in Halifax, goes back decades.
"A group called JB and the Cosmic Crew toured around Nova Scotia malls in the early '80s, showcasing breakdance culture, and every neighbourhood in Halifax had their own b-boy/b-girl crews that would battle each other," says McGuire. "More recently, Hopscotch was co-founded by Drew Moore, whose Concrete Roots program sparked a massive resurgence in breaking among Nova Scotia youth." At its core, Hopscotch is all about engaging young folks.
So bring on The Cool Kids. Rap duo Sir Michael Rocks and Chuck Inglish are excited to hit Halifax. Since meeting on MySpace in 2005, they've created two standout albums, worked with acts like Pharrell Williams, Ghostface Killah and Curren$y, and embarked on solo careers.
"Music is that common thread that allows us all to share in something even though we have different ideas, beliefs or live in another part of the world," says Sir Michael Rocks. The internet, he says, has created global relationships between artists, but there's no place like home.
"Chuck is from Detroit and I'm from Chicago. We can live in different places, travel the world, and digest cultures, but we always have a sense of who we are because of where we were raised and where we learned our craft," he says. "The music influences the culture; it's the soundtrack to our lives."
Representing who you are through art is the essence of Hopscotch.
"Halifax and Dartmouth discovered hip-hop in the early '80s and we've made it our own ever since," says McGuire. "The cipher on Friday is an excellent point of entry into the community, giving people a chance to hear what a lot of local artists are about. Hip-hop is still more or less misunderstood. People who don't follow the local scene would be surprised at how many hip-hop musicians there are and how good the music they make really is." Word.
Hopscotch Halifax is an opportunity to see new and established hip hop artists, to experience or get involved in breakdancing and get down to The Cool Kids' golden-era hip-hop.
Hopscotch is a rap and hip-hop free-for-all that's all for free to engage all communities. "It's going to be fun and exciting, that's what it's all about," says McGuire.