Three years in, the $5 Rap Show continues to boost Toronto's indie-rap scene.
A few years ago, rappers Les “More or Les” Seaforth and Sean “Wordburglar” Jordan, along with Hand’Solo Records owner and hip-hop journalist Thomas Quinlan, decided to put on a few shows at Rancho Relaxo. The gigs ended up going better than expected. After a few shows, the bar’s management asked them to try something a little more permanent.
“I didn’t want to be responsible for producing a monthly night, but there weren’t a whole lot of places for indie hip hop,” says Jordan. “We thought the venue was great, and we knew a lot of local MCs and DJs who didn’t have a regular spot to perform at. Then people who were coming through Toronto looking for shows to play started hitting us up, so we said, ‘Why not just make it a regular thing?’”
The resulting “regular thing” was the $5 Rap Show, a monthly-ish indie-rap showcase that celebrates its third anniversary this Friday. According to Jordan, the crew’s mission is to create a “guaranteed night of dope independent hip hop.” The show’s name and price point were born of a desire to create an affordable night out for hip-hop fans.
“For artists, if nothing else, it means that their friends will come out,” says Jordan. “If they’re not willing to pay five bucks to see you, they’re not really your friends.”
While the $5 Rap Show focuses on giving shine to independent artists, its organizers stress that they’re not looking to spotlight raw rookies. Instead, their focus is on hard-working independent artists, with followings, who still sometimes struggle to find venues.
“We weren’t going to make it an open mic night,” says Jordan. “When you do an open mic, it’s too much of a grab bag.”
“We’re not looking for someone who has no fans and has never been on stage before,” adds Seaforth. “We’re looking for people who have some draw.”
Jordan says that one of the things he’s most pleased with about the show is the fact that it has allowed people who aren’t hardcore rap fans to see independent hip hop on a regular basis.
“I think it’s brought rap to people who may not have had a lot of exposure to live rap shows,” he says. “I’ve had people tell me that they didn’t even know there were live rap shows in Toronto. You’ll have guys like Ghettosocks and More or Les, and people will go, ‘Oh, they’re dope, but where can I hear them live?’”
Seaforth, meanwhile, says he’s happy to have helped turn Rancho Relaxo into a hub of Torontonian hip hop.
“There are other rappers who have come out to the show, dug the venue, and then started booking their own shows separate from our thing, so it’s become more of a hip-hop venue,” he says.
He adds that while one regular show can’t change the city’s hip-hop scene, he does feel like the $5 Rap Show has been part of a larger movement that has helped make live, local rap music a more common sight in a city where, even a few years ago, it was a rarity.
“Has it bucked up the rap game in Toronto or whatever?” he says. “No one venue or event can do that… But I feel like there is more happening, and we’re part of that.”