Black History Through Music: Talking With Andycapp
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Black History Through Music: Talking With Andycapp

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The term “Black History Month” has a scholastic sound to it, like a category on Jeopardy you skip in favour of Celebrity Rhyme Time. Yet there’s a lot to be fascinated by from Kush to Kentucky from Jim Crow to James Brown, and to tackle the topic it makes sense to look at what excites many people about black culture and history: music. While there are many great black artists who are movie makers, painters, and playwrights, it is the Western musicscape that has been dominated by black styles of music, from rock ‘n’ roll to reggae, from the blues to hip-hop, from jazz to funk, from disco to drum and bass. It has become the most accessible doorway into the world of black experience. This series explores how some Torontonians found music opened that door for them.
First up in this interview series is Andycapp, one half of the Gang of Two. They DJ at the Bang the Party night at The Boat in Kensington Market. It’s one of the precious and few nights that is about the music and the dance floor rather than an amplified soundtrack to getting wasted enough to pick up.
At twelve years old, Andycapp was first actively connected to black culture through b-boying. In just under twenty years, the Toronto DJ has been behind the decks spinning it all: hip-hop, house, acid jazz, jungle, disco, boogie, and new electro; “I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t influenced by black culture,” he admits. He remembers recording early house and hip-hop radio shows broadcast from Buffalo, and then bringing the tapes to his local record store. He would beg the staff to order him records and tapes.


Andycapp has a keen awareness of both the history and the evolution of underground music. “Although I believe that no one artist is responsible for creating a scene, I can think of significant performers, producers, and DJs who propelled a scene into the limelight,” he says.
He plots his influences and their importance in a logical sequence, as if on a timeline. He notes the role of Jamaican-born DJ Kool Herc, who brought to the Bronx the premise of Jamaican Sound—complete with toasting—in the 1970s explosion of DJ-centred, hip-hop music. ‘Capp goes on to link the artists whose fame came just after Herc, such as Brooklyn graff artist and host of Yo! MTV Raps, Fab 5 Freddy of Wild Style fame (the ’80s movie about the Bronx and the four elements of hip-hop). As hip-hop began to evolve, the MC became the dominant figure; “I think of Run DMC, Rakim, De La Soul, KRS-One, Public Enemy, NWA, all as pioneers in the hip-hop era of the late ’80s and early ’90s,” he notes.
“In the early ’90s, I was part of a crew in London, Ontario, that pushed the sounds of underground hip-hop,” he says. “In and around 1996 I turned my back on hip-hop, when Bad Boy Records ascended into the stratosphere.” According to ‘Capp, this is when “hip-hop had gone pop.” As a DJ, conscious of the overlapping layers of style and emotion so readily found in black music, Andycapp has little patience for empty party-goers who “wouldn’t know Chuck D from Chuck Berry.” Perhaps it is the careless attitude underneath the music that is “co-opted, warped, packaged and re-sold by the music industry” that frustrates Andy. “I realized hip-hop was now about material items and drugs,” he says. However, some artists would emerge to carry the torch and resist those trends: Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Blackalicious, Hieroglyphics, and other artists in the underground.
When artists in the ‘90s started to explore new territory in house, electro, techno, trip-hop, and drum and bass, Andycapp admits his interests shifted away from rap and hip-hop. He wanted his DJ sets to capture a depth of emotion to spread a message beyond anger and self aggrandizement. “I decided to go back to playing house and disco; I realized the music itself has an important role,” he says. He can place the lineage of techno DJs too. Andy marks the significant contributors to the underground from their entry point of ’70s to early ’80s disco. “I think of Larry Levan at The Paradise Garage, as well as Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy, Larry Heard, Juan Atkins, and Derrick May.” He is well aware of their prominence in essentially creating house and techno music in both Detroit and Chicago. The movies Maestro and Pump up the Volume: A History of House Music both do a good job of tracing the history of the dance floor at the time.
“Disco Sucks” became a t-shirt and graffiti slogan of the punk era and is still one of the most common musics to hate on, right after country. Yet Andycapp believes this is people’s reaction to the pop culture, soulless version of disco à la Saturday Night Fever and ABBA. Most people aren’t aware of disco’s huge influence, but Andycapp knows. “It started boogie, house, and techno and was sampled heavily in many hip-hop songs both in the underground, and in songs that have charted internationally. I try to explain disco; it’s an extended version of R&B and soul songs, stretched out for maximum dance-ability.” People that hate on disco are hating on the roots of the last thirty years of rave and hip-hop. Just as “rock ‘n’ roll” lost its roll and became “rock” and disco lost its roots and became about John Travolta in a white suit, all genres of black music hit the mainstream and mutate into something else. “I believe that once black music becomes appropriated, the community just takes it back underground and starts over again. That’s why disco is popular again. DJs and producers have managed to filter the old garbage and realize the real important quality product through compilations and re-edits.”
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When it comes to music with a message perhaps Andycapp’s favourite is afrobeat pioneer, Fela Kuti. Andy just came back from New York, and the highlight of his trip was seeing the show on Broadway. “Fela Kuti’s legacy is a huge influence that encourages the marriage between the musical and the political.” Kuti even formed his own political party and tried to run for president of Nigeria after writing best-selling hits like Zombie–an attack on the soldiers of Nigeria who mindlessly followed orders. The show was so moving to the Bang the Party DJ that he was, “so choked up I couldn’t engage in the call and response.”
As for music today? Andycapp muses, “I believe that most artists today have distanced themselves from the political because it doesn’t bode well in today’s market. I often hear that there is no scene in Toronto and I believe that it is because there is no basis from which to emerge and propagate. People are in a state right now where they just want to go out and party and forget about anything meaningful or anything that would require concentrated effort.”
Still, Toronto does have the Manifesto music festival of which Andycapp is a big proponent. “They have done what I think the hip-hop community has been trying to do for many more years than three. At the first festival in 2008 I was allowed to film backstage the preparation of artists, which included Maestro, Michie, Choclair, Sauks, Dream Warriors, and many more. After about two hours of recording I realized I was sitting in a room with all the people I not only grew up watching progress on Rap City and Soul and The City, but were responsible for putting Toronto on the international map as far as hip-hop and R&B is concerned.” With music, dance, seminars, graffiti and films, Manifesto spreads the word about urban music and art. Once again, music helps not only convey mood but also meaning.
Andycapp and his partner Rod Skimmins throw Bang The Party every second Saturday of the month at The Boat. Check out their site for discussion and info on music and its message.
Lyrical Postscript: Andycapp believes in the power of Fela Kuti’s music and says of this song, “Water is the essential element to life that has no enemy, no opposition. No matter what water may do we still need it. You may drown, it may flood, but regardless we all need it:”

“Water No Get Enemy”
T’o ba fe lo we omi l’o ma’lo
If you wan to go wash, na water you go use
T’o ba fe se’be omi l’o ma’lo
If you wan cook soup, na water you go use
T’o ri ba n’gbona o omi l’ero re
If your head dey hot, na water go cool am
T’omo ba n’dagba omi l’o ma’lo
If your child dey grow, na water he go use
If water kill your child, na water you go use
T’omi ba p’omo e o omi na lo ma’lo
Ko s’ohun to’le se k’o ma lo’mi o
Nothing without water
Ko s’ohun to’le se k’o ma lo’mi o
Omi o l’ota o
[Chorus]
Water, him no get enemy!
Omi o l’ota o
If you fight am, unless you wan die
I say water no get enemy
If you fight am, unless you wan die
Omi o l’ota o
I dey talk of Black man power
I dey talk of Black power, I say
I say water no get enemy
If you fight am, unless you wan die
I say water no get enemy
I say water no get enemy
Omi o l’ota o
Omi o l’ota o

Co-written by Brian McLachlan and Jaclyn Buckley.

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