Scratch, during his set. Photo by Alexis Rodriguez.
Earlier this week, Lula Lounge was converted into a world in which hip-hop reigned supreme. As part of Manifesto’s One City Series, hip-hop heads and curious media-types came out to support Toronto author Dalton Higgins at the launch his latest book. Hip Hop World —his newest contribution—is a thorough examination of hip-hop culture from a global perspective.
It was a good party with no pretentious dress code and no cover, and the crowd grew steadily throughout the night. Between performances and in an on-stage interview with Garvia Bailey, host of Big City, Small World on CBC Radio, Higgins provided background on the making of Hip Hop World, commentary on hip-hop’s bad rap, and the future of the culture, as he sees it.
Hip-hop’s ills have been well documented: the hyper-sexualization of women, the blatant disregard of the context from which the N-word came, and of course, the undeniable materialism. Higgins also “went there” (as Bailey put it) by challenging the idea that hip-hop is the last bastion of heterosexuality in the music industry. How is it, he asked, that in its more than thirty years of existence, there haven’t been any openly gay, successful commercial rappers?
But besides the usual critiques, Higgins also heralded hip-hop as a tool for social change and a way for international communities to tell their own stories of disenfranchisement and marginalization. Higgins promised readers would find surprising new information in Hip Hop World, as he did while researching the book.
DJ L’Oqenz kept attendees entertained with progressive rap music between sets, and DJ Dopey, former World DMC champion and resident DJ on MTV Canada, showcased the art of turntablism. Cuban emcee/poet Telmary spit socially conscious lyrics in Spanish and Wio-k and Grimace Love represented the Toronto rap scene.
The highlight of the night was, undoubtedly, a beatboxing set from Scratch, formerly of The Roots. Beginning with traditional hip-hop beats, Scratch slid seamlessly into easily recognizable reggae classics, and then back into some popular rap tracks. The audience was captivated—impressive, since eliciting participation from a too cool Toronto crowd is never an easy feat.