#LECYPHER celebrates year two

Founder of Urban Science and #LECYPHER hosted two-year anniversary event

If you’ve ever wondered where to hear live hip-hop music in Montreal, #LECYPHER is your answer. Hosted by the collective Montreal hip-hop band Urban Science, #LECYPHER is a live hip-hop jam session that happens every Thursday night at Bleury Bar à Vinyle.

Musicians and emcee’s gather to play hip-hop as a collective. It is the first and only live hip-hop jam of its kind in Montreal. #LECYPHER celebrated its two-year anniversary on Oct. 6 by hosting a tribute to legendary live hip-hop group, The Roots. The event was hosted by #LECYPHER’s founder, Vincent Stephen-Ong, who is also the saxophone and keys player for Urban Science. Milla Thyme, a Concordia student majoring in music and one of the emcee’s of Urban Science, opened the event by performing songs from his new EP album, Eternally the Student. It’s the first time he has released material as a solo artist, and he wrote all the music on this album, he said. His hip-hop, jazz and funk vibe got the whole audience captivated from beginning to end. Mark the Magnanimous, one of the founders of ArtBeat Montreal was the DJ of the night. There were also delicious chinese BBQ wraps offered by Brothers Ku of Restaurant Dobe & Andy.

Urban Science began its journey when its founder, Stephen-Ong, visited New York City in 2013 for a gig with the hip-hop group Nomadic Massive. While there, Stephen-Ong, along with Nomadic Massive, went to see the former guitarist of Kalmunity, Jordan Peters, perform at a Thursday night jam session called The Lesson—where top musicians perform pure hip-hop every week. “A few months later, I went back to The Lesson and brought my horn,” said Stephen-Ong. “I got the chance to perform on stage and I jammed. There was nothing like that in Montreal.”

In June 2014, Stephen-Ong decided to bring the idea of a live hip-hop collective to Montreal. He had started to ask himself, “What if I got some people together and did a private jam session?” With ideas for a guided improvisation hip-hop band, he gathered a few musicians together, contacted some venues and eventually got a spot at Le Belmont—Urban Science was born.

Still, Stephen-Ong said he felt there was a lack of a regular hip-hop event in the city. “If you were a hip-hopper in Montreal, there wasn’t a jam session in town that happened regularly. If you were a instrumentalist that plays hip-hop, forget about it, there was nowhere to go. I created #LECYPHER nights because there was a void to fill,” said Stephen-Ong. Urban Science moved from Le Belmont to it’s current location, a smaller venue called Bleury Bar à Vinyle, where they started #LECYPHER nights.

The goal of the #LECYPHER is to specialize in hip-hop music professionally. People might mistake the event for a funky jam, but Stephen-Ong made it clear that it is purely hip-hop.”You can’t go up and play a random funky thing. There’s a language, a sound, an aesthetic to hip-hop that must be respected,” said Stephen-Ong. It’s a jam session, but Urban Science wants to keep the quality level of performances high.

#LECYPHER is not to be mistaken with an open mic event. “This is a collaborative jam session. You need to play along with the band and listen to what’s going on musically. It’s in the nature of the event to collaborate—it’s a hip-hop community,” said Stephen-Ong.

Milla Thyme performs his new album live for #LECYPHER’s two year anniversary. Photo by Frederic Muckle.

Urban Science rotates between 20 different members. On any given Thursday, there will be regulars and newcomers playing together. Sometimes there are guest hosts or well-known hip-hop artists. “I think Montreal has top-notch talent.That is why we have a 20 piece crew, so we can keep our local nights and do more projects as well,” said Stephen-Ong.

Urban Science has also played at The Montreal International Jazz Festival in 2015 and 2016. The band has even welcomed the reggae hip-hop group Les R’tardataires, from Belgium, to their #LECYPHER nights. “A lot of people from the local music scene know about us so, when international artists come to Montreal, they hear about #LECYPHER,” said Stephen-Ong.

Urban Science is also working on a new project, called Urban Science Brass Band, which will be a New Orleans-style marching band that will be jamming to Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre with trombones and tubas. “We have emcees on mega phones that are rapping while we walk. We did Montreal’s first ever hip-hop parade,” said Stephen-Ong. Urban Science is known for their live jam sessions but they want to be known for their original songs too. “We would like to make a document of our original music,” said Stephen-Ong. Urban Science will also continue to perform for The Rap Battles for Social Justice and have a few upcoming battles scheduled.

Keep in touch with Urban Science on social media for details about their upcoming events.


Rap Battle for Climate Justice

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.

Local emcees grabbing the mic rapping about Climate Justice. Photo by Ana Hernandez

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.

Activists rapping for climate justice. Photo by Ana Hernandez

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.

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