Montreal’s hip-hop artists and activists combine music and social justice
Make some noise for the 6th edition of the Rap Battles for Social Justice series, which took place live from Reggies Bar on Sept. 28. During this edition, local hip-hop artists and activists took the stage to participate in a rap battle about climate justice.
Some big names in the Montreal hip-hop scene were present, including members of Montreal’s collective hip-hop band, Nomadic Massive. The group’s singer and emcee, Meryem Saci, co-hosted the event. Each artist was accompanied by the hip-hop and soul band Urban Science, hosts of the #LECYPHER hip-hop and soul jam sessions.
The goal of this rap battle was to raise awareness about pipelines, fossil fuels and the tar sand issues surrounding us. The event helped raise funds for Aamjiwnaang First Nation activist, Vanessa Gray, who needs support to fight her overbearing charges in court. Gray, along with two other activists, decided to shut down Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline on Anishnaabe territory. The activists were charged with counts of mischief for over $5 000 and are currently facing the possibility of prison time. The previous Rap Battles for Social Justice have raised more than $3 000 so far and organizers hoped to raise more by collecting donations at the door—it’s a pay what you can event.
There were two sides to each battle—emcees that were advocating for environmental justice, and The Duke and Bruce Payne, who expressed counterarguments. The Duke and Bruce Payne were the oil lobbyists, dressed in suits, walking around throwing fake $100 bills in every direction.
“Billions of gallons of wasted water, contaminated water, fauna slaughtered, forests replaced by pools and chemicals, so how’s that ethical?” rapped Dan Parker in a battle against The Duke. Students and activists also rapped slam poetry and recited poems about environmental justice. Each artist prepared and crafted their own songs and lyrics for the rap battle. “No more, no more, no tar sands, protect quality of life to all lands, respect the planet, live hand in hand, leave behind a legacy, not just a beaten planet,” was the hook of the first live performance that night by Dan Parker.
Dan Parker, the founder, coordinator and co-host of Rap Battles for Social Justice, has been working to unite the local hip-hop scene on the topic of social justice. Parker embarked on this journey in September 2014, and said it took a lot of work for people to believe in his project. “I was always into hip-hop, but I never felt comfortable going into the hip-hop scene because I felt like an outsider,” said Parker.
All that changed when he met Vincent Stephen-Ong, band leader of Urban Science and organizer of freestyle hip-hop nights where anyone can join and grab the mic. Parker said he felt free to take on the mic, participate and freestyle at Urban Science events—he felt it was more open than other hip-hop jam sessions.
Stephen-Ong remembers when Parker first approached him with his idea of rap battles focusing on social justice: “I was like, ‘You want to do what?’ I was very skeptical at first.” Once Stephen-Ong started working with Parker, however, he realized how determined he was. “Dan goes and he works, talks to people, he gets funding, he convinces various artists to be on board. I just keep seeing this event grow and grow, and it’s wonderful,” said Stephen-Ong.
“I asked Vincent [Stephen-Ong] about this project idea. He believed in it, and we’ve been doing these rap battles ever since,” said Parker. The very first rap battle happened in March 2015, and had a great turn out. “It was at Vitrola, a fairly large venue. Dan filled the venue—it was completely full,” said Stephen-Ong. Parker hosted the second rap battle at McGill University with Divest McGill, and a third with Divest Concordia last November. Success after success, Parker organized a rap battle against austerity with CUPFA, the Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association, then another for gender freedom.
Rap Battle for Climate Justice is the 6th event Parker has organized alongside Urban Science. “It’s a combination of the activist’s popular education meeting the cypher hip-hop freestyle community, and fundraising for a great cause,” said Parker. One of the emcees hitting the stage that night was Mutatayi Fuamba, a local artist currently working on an upcoming album. He has also participated in previous rap battles for social justice. “I think this event is an interesting way to approach the issue of solidarity of Native Americans. It’s fun and engaging. The energy is here. I want everyone to enjoy the show and fuck all systems of oppression,” said Fuamba. He said that, while the event is called a battle because people impersonate lobbyists on the other side of the argument, mostly, there is no debate. “We are all against fossil fuels—we are all for social justice and climate justice,” said Fuamba. He has been attending workshops at Concordia University to prepare for this event. “We usually have one-hour workshops with activists who talk us through the issues, and then we have a hip-hop workshop where emcee’s show us how to write rhymes and discuss the history of hip-hop,” said Fuamba.
The workshops are hosted by Rap Battles for Social Justice along with different faculties from Concordia. “For the rap battle against austerity we worked with SAF, Sustainability Action Fund and we worked with the Centre for Gender Advocacy for the rap battle on gender freedom. These workshops are open to everyone” said Fuamba.“It’s a cool way to get together as a community, have fun and talk about things that matter and jam,” said Fuamba.
For more information, check out The Rap Battles for Social Justice Facebook page.