A few dozen teenagers are getting the chance to pick the brains of one of Montreal’s most established rappers, as they strive to master their art and translate their struggles to rhyme. Along with fellow artists J-Kyll and Imposs, DRAMATIK is best known as part of the Montreal hip hop phenomenon MUZION. The group was called upon by Wyclef Jean to collaborate on Jean’s project 24 heures Ã vivre, a venture which propelled them to the front of the city’s stage and transformed them into role models for the youth of Montreal’s Haitian community.
Having grown up in a Montreal North household tainted by domestic abuse and strained finances, DRAMATIK, whose real name is Jocelyn Bruno, navigated the city’s foster homes and youth centres until finally landing back on his feet. Having achieved his path to stability, Bruno had something to say. He wanted to say it right, and so he set out to hone his art.
“Music really changes our societies, and societies, in turn, change music. It’s like a
form of resistance,” he explained. “Hip hop has always been, and still is, the voice of
minorities. And [performing for teenagers] makes us grow as artists, and remember what it
felt like to be at that age, in that state of mind.”
Though the rest is well-documented history, Bruno never forgot the power that words had had
on his life, nor his resolution to offer other kids the same opportunity to fall in love with their beauty and strength.
So when he was approached by RAPJeunesse to participate in the organization’s first edition of the Festival Ton Quartier, Ton Art…! , he jumped at the opportunity.
RAPJeunesse, an organization based in the boroughs of Ahuntic, Cartierville-Bordeaux and St-Laurent, is mandated to connect and assist with youth and vulnerable demographics within their communities through alternative interventions within the boroughs’ public spaces.
For the festival, Bruno was asked to coach young aspiring rappers from various rougher neighbourhoods in writing, beats, flow and, of course, delivery. The kids then prepared to perform at the final gala two weeks later, in order to have a shot at winning the studio time necessary to record a track of their own, set to one of Bruno’s original beats.
After the two weeks worth of contests, tutorials and training which ended with the Oct. 28 closing events, it had become clear to Bruno that efforts to include and reintegrate some of
Montreal’s most isolated youth were going to have to extend beyond the exciting events
of the festival. But for now, let’s go back the event that got the ball rolling.
Walking into Le National a few hours before the gala, the buzz of excitement and
anticipation was almost palpable. Teenagers, parents, technicians, artists and organizers
all blended into a frenzy of activity as last-minute preparations were made and the teens
practiced their songs and routines one last time.
“We have a few buses arriving any minute now with dozens of kids; it’s all rather exciting for our first year,” said RAPJeunesse event coordinator Maude Martin-Gagnon. “I’ve even had to hold some people at the door. Basically, we’re all just hoping to give the kids a platform to be creative, meet artists they admire, mingle with teens from other neighbourhoods and have a great time.”
In the name of creativity, rap and hip hop were not the only mediums teenagers could explore in the course of the festival. Tutorials and prizes were also offered in photography, dance, film, slam poetry, vocals and graffiti art.
Teens hit the stage to spin stories featuring their neighbourhoods, family troubles, complex relationships and the struggles plaguing Haiti, the country most of them consider home.
The teens were brought together seamlessly by METAZONE’s brilliant performance, followed by Bruno in his DRAMATIK persona. As he stood rapping in the crowd with his arms wrapped around the teens, who in turn linked arms and let go of any physical, geographic or racial divides, DRAMATIK’s bond with the young artists and fans was obvious.
ABC’Z was announced as the winner of the studio time, and as participants, families and friends all started streaming out of the venue, there was a sense of something great ending. But it was only the beginning for Bruno, who had just gotten confirmation of his hiring by the Cartierville -Bordeaux youth centre.
The youth composition and recording program had already been set up by previous youth centre worker Christophe Lareau-Desjardins when Bruno arrived to the centre’s recording studio. Whereas the previous projects had focused mostly on music production, Bruno has been trying to bring it back to basics and make sure the teenagers are writing and working on solid texts.
“Things are marvellous here,” he said a month after his debut as a hip hop mentor. “My biggest focus has been to get the kids to understand that it’s hard work. That texts need to be written and rewritten before they can be sure that words are all at the right place and that it flows properly.”
Bruno is not the only one to see the potential for rap as a learning tool for young students. High school teacher Natasha Sarter tends to teeter between optimism and prudence as a lover of all things hip-hop herself.
“It’s great stuff if what our teenagers are listening to and writing is eloquent and meaningful rap with a message,” she said. “But my concern is that hip hop isn’t quite what it used to be, and it seems to have lost a lot of its messages and lyrical sophistication. That being said, if they’re learning to use it in a context that values storytelling and communication, then I think it can do wonders in keeping the students engaged and interested.”
As he walks through the centre’s door every week, Bruno is greeted by a lineup of teenagers waiting for his input and ready to apply the rigour and discipline needed to polish their pieces.
“I also want them to understand that the fact that we’re producing in the centre doesn’t mean it should be minimalistic or subpar,” said Bruno. “Right now, we’re actually working on the release of an album in early spring and I’ve tried to make sure that my one-on-one time with all of them is helping them write good texts that are ready for production.”
And the biggest element of surprise in his new position? It’s nothing to worry about. “I’m really stunned at the amount of potential and talent that’s already out there compared to when I started off,” said Bruno. “I guess with the Internet and YouTube and stuff, they’ve had the chance to be much more exposed to what’s happening in the hip hop community and more access to the tools needed to try and do stuff on your own.”
A month into his position, Bruno is already looking forward to exciting new projects with great enthusiasm from the kids and workers at the Cartierville-Bordeaux youth centre.
“We’re working on getting some video equipment in now,” announced Bruno. “Then, once the kids have worked hard and long on their beats and songs, they can look forward to shooting clips and videos to go along with them.”
With a project that promises to include a whole new array of exploratory training opportunities including video production, it seems that creative social initiatives like these can do nothing but grow from here. And as teenagers start to follow their own paths toward a future full of curiosity and opportunities, it’s fair to say that Bruno has officially rested his case.