Feeling, freedom & freestyle

Kicking off this evening, Kingston’s newest hip hop festival aims to be a revelation for attendees

Montréal’s Nomadic Massive is one headlining act at Push It.
Montréal’s Nomadic Massive is one headlining act at Push It.

There’s something I’ve been longing for in Kingston’s art scene since I arrived here in 2006. Though my appetite for indie rock of all shapes and sizes is always fulfilled, I find myself turning to iTunes for my daily dose of hip hop. I obviously haven’t been alone in my yearning, as the folks at The Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) are bringing eager minds, ears and eyes Push It: A Hip Hop Festival.

Kicking off tonight, the weeklong festival promises to ignite passion and thought with film screenings and multi-faceted live performances at various venues around Kingston. Kavita Bissoondial, one of the organizers of the event, explained the inner workings of planning Kingston’s newest hip hop festival.

“Hip hop has had a rough time developing its own space in Kingston as currently the live music scene is focused on indie and folk music,” she told me in an e-mail. “The local scene has really pushed hip hop and its audience to the margins as there is no longer even a club for us to go to.”

The lack of highly publicized hip hop gigs in the Limestone City didn’t affect OPIRG’s ability to bring in groundbreaking acts from a national and international scale. Drawing attention and motivating migration to the city’s burgeoning hip hop community is one of the festival’s goals, but Bissoondial said it also seeks to represent students at Queen’s and the larger community.

“There are a lot of people in the city who love the music and the culture who don’t get to take part in it here. We hope this festival will not only create the space for that to happen, but will also develop a community that can sustain the festival in the future,” she said. “There’s a definite need and desire for it in the city that has yet to be filled.”

The festival kicks off at The Artel tonight with a free film screening of Style Wars, an indispensable document of New York City’s tunnel, club and street culture of the early 1980s. The Artel will also host a screening of La Revolución at the end of the festival.

To jolt guests out of monotonous campus life, Bissoondial said the organizers enlisted the help of like-minded artists who question the norm, critically engage and dissect the current state of our society.

“These artists are doing really exciting and innovative work in hip hop right now and are being recognized not just in Canada for it but internationally,” she said. “They play shows in Toronto and Montreal all the time but this will be the first time Narcy and Nomadic [Massive] will be here.”

Rapping in both Arabic and English, one of the festival’s headliners The Narcicyst (a.k.a. Narcy) aims to provoke audience members and prompt them to situate themselves within the framework of society. Spitting complex lyrics addressing politically charged issues, he’s performed in Canada, Spain, the US and the Middle East opening for acts like Talib Kweli, Kanye West and A-Trak. A master of both academia and music, he holds degrees in political science, communication studies and media studies. Dubbing himself “your homie, the man in the mirror” on his website implies some of the identity politics at work in the rapper’s arsenal that will no doubt be encountered Thursday night at his show.

“The live performances are the heart of the festival,” Bissoondial said. “It gives people a chance to come together and experience the community we’ve all been missing.”

The cohesion of the festival is evident with a quick glance at who will share the stage with Narcy at Time to Laugh. Paired with DIY-driven hip hop artist, Testament, the show will be rounded out by Fallen Ones (MC Pyke and MC Infinite), two young homeless Kingstonians who seek recognition through writing about their experiences and struggle. With an already-established base in Kingston and a powerful apathy-shattering message, Testament states that he seeks to, “change hip hop and steal its soul back from the glorified violence, materialism, sexism and racism that the music industry creates, promotes and markets for their own capitalist purposes.”

Widely considered the most progressive live hip hop group in Canada, 10 skilled musicians and artists comprise the other headlining act, Nomadic Massive. Rapping in five languages, the Montréal-based group puts a global twist on their ribcage-rattling beats. The release of their self-titled record gave listeners an open-minded and socially engaged gift combining smart, sensuous poetry with samples and an array of vocal styles. Bringing their live show to Kingston promises a night fused with energy and live instrumentation from drums, bass, guitar, trumpet and trombone.

Unconscious Encore, an act in a similar vein to Nomadic Massive who expertly mix live instrumentation with intelligent rhymes will also take the stage on Friday. Redefining what hip hop can achieve, the unique group draws from a plethora of genres and has evolved from playing high schools in Kingston to prominence in venues across Southern Ontario.

Introducing interactive workshops to Push It with the FLOW Performance Crew will give the added opportunity to inspire both mental and physical involvement from the community. Established in 2006, the dance collective was created for one and all as a Hip-Hop club separate from the main Queen’s dance club. Focusing specifically around freestyle, the club aims to promote the freedom of dance while encouraging others to gain an understanding, love and feel for hip hop music. Promoting a positive outlook, happiness and family, the crew will teach a free open class on Saturday that fits perfectly with hip hop’s mandate. Leave your expectations at the door for this festival, when you go to Time to Laugh this week, you’ll encounter something with a bit more fire than the same old strumming.

“Hip hop ignites a whole range of artistic expression,” Bissoondial said. “Coming as it often does out of conditions of marginalization, hip hop culture stops at nothing to make paths of self-expression, whether that’s through DJ-ing, breaking, graffiti or MC-ing … this all comes together in live shows, the truest form of hip hop in which artists connect with, inspire and move the audience.”

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