Gone are the days when rap and hip-hop artists could proudly lay claim to their neighbourhoods and cities as their turf, says urban pop culture critic and observer, Dalton Higgins.
In his recently released third book, Hip-Hop World, Higgins takes vivid snapshots of the hip-hop culture internationally and concludes that the current hip-hop generation has fully embraced globalization.
“When you look at someone like K’naan (Somali-born Canadian poet, rapper and musician), he lives in Toronto, but he gets most of his tour opportunities in Europe, he recorded his album in Jamaica with the Marleys and he collaborates a lot with American rappers like Mos Def and Chuck Rock,” said Higgins, a former Share contributor.
“M.I.A. is a female Sri Lankan-born rapper living in England and closer to home we have Drake, whose father is African-American, his mother is Jewish, and he lived in affluent Forest Hills.
“If I hear great music from a producer in Sweden, I can have him produce my tracks and e-mail me the MP3 and I can rap over his tracks. You have a lot of albums that are put together that way now. You can record now with a producer based in any part of the world. This is what the changing face of the hip-hop culture is all about. There are now no more New York or North York rappers.”
A music programmer with Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, Higgins argues that artists around the world have taken hip-hop’s blueprint and fused it with their own music, dance rituals and art to create something new and innovative to serve their own community’s needs.
“I read a lot of books about hip-hop that talks about where it was, where it is at now and where it needs to go and I don’t agree with some of the opinions out there,” he said. “This might have to do with the fact that I grew up in a Caribbean household. When mostly American critics talk about the early formation of the culture, they leave out the vital contributions of Caribbean folk. What I argue is that dub poetry, extempo and other genres have had a huge impact on rap music and the hip hop culture.”
A graduate of York University who spent a summer doing graduate research on reggae music at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Higgins said that being raised in the diversity of Toronto provided him with a unique opportunity to observe the penetration of hip-hop globally.
“My interpretation of how the world sees hip-hop culture is going to be different from those who grew up in a homogenous environment because I am able to see a Cuban rapper, Polish break dancer and a Chinese turn table specialist in my own backyard,” he said. “That’s the huge advantage of growing up in such a diverse and multicultural city like Toronto.”
The book is available in most major bookstores, including A Different Booklist. The price is $11 for the soft cover and $18.95 for the hardcover (taxes included).
“It’s great that it’s in the independent bookstores, but it’s in the school system that I think it will make a great impact,” said Higgins, who has produced documentaries about the barbershop culture. “Young people will be able to see their lives played out in the book because it talks about hip-hop which is the most multicultural music out there. You can see kids from all kinds of cultures partying to hip-hop music. You don’t see that in the Blues, jazz, classical or rock music scenes.”
Higgins co-authored Hip-Hop and Much Master T: A VJ’s Journey.