Straight Outta Winnipeg: a primer

A selection of videos from some of the city’s rappers and groups

This week, Maclean’s looks at the huge hip hop scene in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

There is a great, thumping noise emanating out of Winnipeg these days, propelled by a crop of artists bent on telling tales of their rough, windswept city. The city famous for the “Winnipeg Sound” of Neil Young, the Guess Who and a more recent crop of well-regarded indie rock bands is becoming better known for its beats and rhymes than its drums and guitars. There’s another twist: almost all these artists are native.

What follows is a selection of videos from some of the city’s rappers and groups. It’s not exhaustive; anyone wanting to see more should spent a couple of hours on YouTube. This is stuff that I really like.

Hellnback, Keep It Movin’

A veteran of the scene, Hellnback was a founding member of Native hip hop group War Party and Team Rezofficial, with whom he did the following track. I straight up love this song.

Young Kidd, Hometown

This is a track from half-black, half-Native rapper Young Kidd. A tale about Winnipeg’s infamous ‘North Side’ Central neighbourhood, Hometown is produced by Boogey The Beat (see below). Kidd is considered by many to be Winnipeg’s breakout star, and Boogey’s track is heartbreaking. The video is directed by Wab Kinew (see below), another hip hop artist who daylights as a CBC reporter.

Winnipeg’s Most, What You In It For?

Winnipeg’s Most recently won the best artist and best CD honours at the APTN awards held in Winnipeg earlier this month. The band’s performance of All That I know has garnered nearly 465,000 YouTube hits. Loud, gruff and angry, Winnipeg’s Most best typify the city’s hardcore rap style.

Pip Skid, Pip’s Kid

I know I’m supposed to post something from Skid Row, Pip’s freaking amazing new album, but this video is just too great to miss. Pip is a (non-Native) native of Brandon, Man., and has about the coolest day job on the planet: he teaches rap to disadvantaged kids in Winnipeg.

Lorenzo, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?

Originally a country singer, Lorenzo now raps about his life in Little Saskatchewan, a reserve north of Winnipeg. He had one of my favourite quotes from the trip. “On the reserves, I’ve had friends who were killed at parties. There’s a lot of violence. Maybe that’s what’s inspiring people to try to change, to send a positive message. That’s what I try to do. What’s me rapping about a gold chain going to do?”

Drezus, Never Be The Same

I like this track because Drezus, another heavy hitter on the scene, manage to sound both hurt and menacing as he raps about growing up without a father. “I hate your fucking guts/Call me stomach acid/You the only reason they always call me bastard.”

The Lytics, Big City Sound Girl

The members of this three-brothers-and-a-cousin band have Jamaican/Sierra Leone roots. Their music is catchy, poppy and relentlessly positive. Great stuff.

Wab Kinew, Last Word

Wab is a CBC reporter by day, hip hop artist by night. I love the chorus on this song, and dude can rap. “They ask me why I’m rapping/You really want the answer?/My mind is full of cancer/The relief is in the stanza/Advance the cause/For all the people who’ll never have the chance to pause.”

Magnum KI, No Way

Old school production, tasty scratching, addictive hook, killer track.

Boogey the Beat, The Making of a Beat

Not a song, strictly speaking, but this gives you an idea of how one of the city’s best producers operates.