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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hip hop gets bad rap from federal funders, documents suggest

Ian Keteku, THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA - Only four hip-hop acts received federal grants in 2007 according to documents from the Canadian Council for the Arts, making it the least-funded genre last year.

Hip-hop music dominates Canadian record sales and radio play. Currently, on Billboard's top 100 chart, four out of the top five singles can be classified as hip-hop recordings.

Dance classes are chock-full of middle-aged wannabes eager to stay hip and fit.

With thriving scenes in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, notable hip-hop artists have also started popping up in cities such as Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Halifax.

Despite its obvious growth and popularity, documents obtained under the Access to Information Act from the CCA indicate that the genre might still not be accepted by the federal agency committed to encouraging the arts.

Applications at the CCA are judged by a committee which is supposed to represent Canada's two official languages, aboriginal peoples, cultural and regional diversity and an eclectic mix of musicians.

Applying artists in each category are to be judged by musicians representing a variety of musical tastes. But it does not appear that hip-hop artists were judged by their peers in 2007. Not one of the committee members who reviewed applications in the non-classical category was considered a hip-hop artist, according to assessment reports used by the arts council.

Almost 300 artists applied for funding in the non-classical category. Of those awarded funding, a majority of the 43 successful applicants were either classical or jazz musicians.

Only one rap artist was awarded a grant: Vincent Letellier, otherwise known as Freeworm, who raps evocatively about environmental causes.

Edmonton based singer/songwriter Mireille Moquin was on the non-classical panel and said there was no bias against hip-hop artists when the decisions were made.

"It is mainly based on how creative the project is, what jumped out as being out of the ordinary and original," Moquin said in an interview.

The judges need to look beyond creativity and realize that hip-hop music is now popular culture, said Mils Knight (DJ Mils), who represents the group Eekwol.

His duet was awarded a grant from CCA's Aboriginal Peoples Music Program. Although they are grateful, they say more needs to be done to recognize the influence that hip hop has on Canadian culture.

"It is a very popular genre and there is a large pool of talent in this nation that the government needs to acknowledge."

Knight said hip-hop artists also need to shoulder some of the responsibility.

"It is a competitive process and artists have to learn what the jurors are looking for, refine their application and also learn about the numerous funding options for musicians."

Other rappers say the committee's narrow selection of hip-hop musicians supports artists with already thriving careers, leaving emerging and independent artists out in the cold.

Marlon Wilson, also known as Young Mav, belongs to the Edmonton based hip-hop collective Politic Live. His group has released two critically acclaimed albums and three videos on Much Music, but still struggles to receive funding from the CCA.

"If you're a big name and have a record label that's backing you, you don't need the funding. The small guys get squeezed out," he said from Edmonton.

The only two hip-hop artists to receive a CCA grant for professional development were Romeo Jacobs (Red 1) of the Juno-award-winning Rascals and Eric San (Kid Koala), who is currently on tour in Australia.

Knight says we shouldn't be fooled by the glitz and glam of an artist's music videos.

"It's not like we are making crazy money, driving crazy vehicles, and flying in private jets," he said. "I still got to pay for rent and I got mouths to feed, I have bills."

© The Canadian Press, 2008

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