Where I’m From

Allow me to introduce myself… my name is Tara, also known (to some) as T-Love.

I’m a journalist based in Vancouver, Canada, repping for my city’s answer to the Village Voice and various other publications. I’ve been holding it down up here for four years plus, covering local, national, and international hip-hop. Nabbing exclusive interviews with the likes of Kanye and Game. Doing concert reviews and urban fashion features. Getting my hustle on and running around being the caffeine-guzzling, workaholic, sneaker freak, hip-hop fanatic that I am.

Last year I got a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts and fulfilled my lifelong dream of Getting the Hell Out of Dodge. I spent a lot of the year traveling around the world researching a book on international hip-hop. I hit seven countries in Asia, South America, and Africa. If you want to know what’s popping from Tokyo to Johannesburg, check up on it here.

I’m not just gonna post about global rap, though. I’m a New Yorker at heart (and soon in zip code too!), so you can expect this column to touch on any and everything that’s making headlines in hip-hop’s capital city.

But for today, I want to invite you all to come home with me. Regular readers of my blog know that I have a love/hate relationship with my hometown. I have big love for the hip-hop community that raised me, even if the rap fans here piss me off. I wish the righteous, holier-than-thou backpackers would give it a rest, and dudes would speak up when they’re trying to holler (instead of staring like serial killers), and people would dance more at shows, and white chicks would stop sporting dread locks and/or fronting like they’re Puerto Rican b-girls. I’m just saying.

We have loads of talent here. Pioneers The Rascalz opened the doors for everyone. They’re now five albums deep, and have numerous Junos and Urban Music Awards and MuchMusic Video Awards to their credit. Rascalz crew member Sol Guy has worked for Diddy and Lauryn Hill, and is now doing his own TV show 4REAL with episodes that feature M1 from dead prez and Mos Def. Sol is with his artist K’naan on tour with Damian Marley right now. Vancouver Island’s Nelly Furtado has sold 6 million records, won a Grammy, and done collabos with The Roots and Missy Elliott. Kia Kadiri has ex-Cosby kid Malcolm-Jamal Warner on her album. DJs Flipout and J-Swing hold it down on rap radio. Swollen Members is the city’s top-selling act, and they just got off tour with Ghostface. There’s a whole new generation coming up right now too, including Smoxz and Fourth World (my fam).

Plus, the city is home to numerous festivals, including the Sista’Hood Celebration, the 604 Hip-Hop Expo (what up Lalla), and the Vancouver International Hip-Hop Film Festival.

For all this talent, the scene has yet to blow. Van City hip-hop had a bit of a renaissance a couple of years back, but it’s fallen off lately. I know we’re going to get back, though.

I think part of the trouble is that our scene is so damn fragmented. All kinds of artists coexist here–bookish underground rappers, thugged-out crews, jazz/funk/hip-hop fusion bands, rap/rock dudes, feminist emcees, bhangra hip-hop heads, party rocking DJs, Native rhyme collectives, all city graff writers, conscious poets, and freestyle champs. We don’t have a definitive sound or style. Our scene is a big mash-up.

Which makes sense, given that Vancouver is one of those places that can’t make up its mind what it is. It’s a mid-sized city that has the feel of a small town. It’s stunningly picturesque when the sun shines and gray and gloomy as hell when it rains (which is a lot).

It’s one of the last bastions of ’60s free love flakiness, complete with Greenpeace warriors, barefoot bongo drummers, weeded out Jack Johnson fans, vegan hippie chicks, and aging sensitive ponytail men in birkenstocks (yep, open-toed sandals). But it’s also a site of tremendous wealth, with yuppies who careen around in Humvees, knocking back Dom with hundred dollar plates of fusion cuisine, and sporting designer jeans that cost more than most people’s rent.

Vancouver is a backwater spot with almost no music industry to speak of. Yet it has a thriving film industry that attracts Hollywood movie stars in droves.

It’s a relatively safe city that has a grimy underbelly–a skid row strip with some of the highest rates of HIV infection and heroin addiction in the Western world, plus loads of property crime, youth gangs, hustlers, and a fair bit of gun violence.

It’s a multicultural city where interracial dating is the norm and a good portion of the population is of mixed race. Yet it has one of the most racist US/Canada borders around.

It’s a foodie paradise with some of the best restaurants and freshest markets in North America, period. Thank God.

A strange brew, to be sure. But it’s where I’m from.

Lemme leave you with my Top 10 Van City hip-hop tracks. Anyone interested in West Coast Canadian hip-hop can keep up to date by checking the Futility Records message board.

The Rascalz feat Kardinal, Choclair, and Thrust “Northern Touch”
The Rascalz “Dreaded Fist”
Swollen Members “Deep End”
Checkmate feat Royce da 5’9″, DJ Revolution, and Concise “Raw”
Concise “Rock the House”
P Man “Bang Your Head”
Ndidi Cascade “Jah Souljah”
Kia Kadiri feat Malcolm-Jamal Warner “A New Foundation”
Fourth World “Bump, Bump”
Smoxz “1,2,3″

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  • http://www.hiphop-blogs.com Hashim

    hold up, Tara. Didn’t you just write a love letter to XXL on your blog last week? Was that before or after you were brought on to blog for them?

    Hmmm. That seems shady. Be clear about your affiliations when you hype something on your blog.

  • http://www.hiphop-blogs.com Hashim
  • http://www.unkut.com Robbie

    Hash, I’m betting you’re gonna be the first person banned from commenting on XXL.

  • http://source one

    no body cares about hiphop in canada
    why do people in other countries think that they have some sort of right to the music u dont and it shows in ur record sells america is were it started and also were it will remain

  • Tara

    It was before…but thanks for the sneak attack Hashim.

    “if you hating, get on your job” T.I.

  • http://www.all-inrecords.com STYLUST

    wassup Tara
    big up yourself….holdin it down the north. Rip your sleeves off CANADA we here…..good lookin out XXL

    peep Smoxz “The Canadian Rap Game Messiah” and “Stylust” Beats at:


  • Michelle

    Thanks for giving us a peek into what hip-hop scenes in other countries are like. Hip-hop is and has been blowing up like coconuts all around the world. Several years ago I considered writing my thesis on international hip-hop but in researching the subject found that there were hardly any books worth reading. Hopefully with the help of you and other writers, we’ll have a slew of great books on the global phenomenon of international hip-hop. And hurry it up – I’m almost done with “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop!”

  • daesonesb

    Vancity and seattle dont rep half as hard as they could. Look at minneapolis for christ sakes… they practically live in the arctic, but neither town really has an answer to rhymesayers… especially now slug has rights to all doom’s solo releases.

    The swollen members are outta the picture (too fuckin old) and frankly i dont think seattle really has shit all thats on enough people’s radar… maybe the blue scholars?

    I think it would be dope to get canadian rap news,,, but more with toronto and halifax in focus as well…

  • daesonesb

    best canadian rappers, (no order)

    The Pocket Dwellers
    Butta Babees
    Buck 65

  • bluerid

    i qoute you:I have big love for the hip-hop community that raised me, even if the rap fans here piss me off. I wish the righteous, holier-than-thou backpackers would give it a rest, and dudes would speak up when they’re trying to holler (instead of staring like serial killers)
    omg marshall i aint arquing with u ever again peace.u can smile now.
    ima listen to marshall mathers-eminem

  • Bostongrrrl

    T-Love, thanx for keepin it real up there in the Big “V”. You’re tellin the truth about the fans!! Can’t wait to caffiene up with you in the Big Apple. Peace from Beantown Baby!!

  • anon

    malcolm-jamal warner is a suspect. i don’t see how having him on a track constitutes bragging rights.

    daesonesb – your list is as weak as your grip.

    this shit is embarrassing.

  • daesonesb

    i dont have a problem with my grip, its my own

    who you like is a personal preference, and im sure you would have some shit on your list that’d make me laugh too.

    which artist on there dont you like?

  • JG Loc

    “No one cares bout hip hop in Canada”
    I think Ones time would be better spent tryin to learn how to blow himself, rather than offering up his ignorant ass perspectives on where hip hop should remain

  • Coop

    >>best canadian rappers


  • Rhek

    Vancouver up in XXL – word up. Congradulations Tara.

  • Anon

    “which artist on there dont you like?”

    that’s just the thing – i love all of those artists. what i don’t like is your claim that they’re “the best”. Buck isn’t even doing hip hop anymore (though when he was, he was dope), Butta Babees slid off the radar a minute ago, and much as i love N.I.Gel the Pocket Dwellers are a funk band, first and foremost.

    the list is safe, and it’s outdated. if this was 2002 i probably would have agreed with you a little more. you should have titled it: “my favourite hip hop acts in Canada” as opposed to best rappers. it’s not about personal taste this or that – saying something is the best, especially when you’re trying to represent an entire country of talent on a foreign website, does carry some responsibility. if you want to get into a debate, hiphopcanada.com is the place.

  • http://www.all-inrecords.com STYLUST

    my top 3 canadian rappers:


    also anyone know where don million came from?hes killiing it right now too. wheres the album homie?


  • daesonesb

    hahah that is a good observation man.

    yasee, i moved outta canada in 03 and havent came back since.

    im kinda out of the canada loop, and forgot that i had old info.

    Rapper is used in the broadest sense.
    NIGel to me, however, is and always will be a rapper … no one when i lived in canada could get me hyped in so few lines as he could.

    I was talking about buck 65 during the square one days, not the country twang and what have you.

    And K-OS is pretty timeless.

    I’ve listened to some much music hip hop in the past few years, and didnt feel any of the canadian artists, and so i went with what i knew man. No need to go agro on me.

    I was hoping this tara lady could educate me a little bit too, y’know?

  • daesonesb

    and you cant say that the northwest (van and seattle) is repping THAT hard. There is a lot of talent here, just not a spokesperson to mainstream hip hop in general. I live in seattle now, and all I hear on the radio comin down from vancouver is artists straight offa mtv interspersed with nelly Furtado and sean paul.
    Same with seattle hip hop radio, minus the sean paul.

  • http://www.thursdayplantation.blogspot.com lar

    peace to 4th World Occupents. peace to Van City. good to see some NW representaion up heah.
    and seattle, g*d bless us, is starting to get it together. names to watch from out 206 way:
    Parker Bros.
    Blue Scholars
    Common Market
    Oldominion/Grayskul/Boom Bap Project
    Cancer Rising(self-promo, well deserved)
    Abyssinian Creole

  • http://anewwaymedia.com Jmcarr

    Have some class people. Tara is good folk. She is true to the game, and will give a much needed perspective to the states.

    Good luck Tara. You always have our support at http://www.anewwaymedia.com.

    Peace in hiphop!

    J. Michael

  • http://source.com one

    look no body in the states cares about hiphop in other countries thats the bottom line just look at mis dynamite
    aint nobody buy that shit the so-called hiphop in europe sounds wack as shit who the fuck wants 2 hear some nigga or bitch wit a funny accent
    talk about hood life.we barely even listen 2 them ugly ass floetry bitches.get real.everyone can’t do hiphop.u people are better off just listening2 hiphop. a leave emcee’n to the pro’s in america.
    love to usa the greatest country on earth. p.s. yall can have george bush in europe.since he already owns tony blair and england.

  • http://www.futilityrecords.com dj neoteric

    Props to Tara Henley for the article! lookin forward to more installments.
    Peace to XXL for the column.

    Saying hip hop should be left to the US is akin to saying it should have remained only in NY.

  • 3menace

    –best canadian rappers

    swollen members (check out their site)
    sweatshop union

  • 3menace

    wtf is ONE talkin about.
    thats gotta b the most ridiculus shit i’v ever heard man.

  • http://www.giochi.miplano.org Giochi

    Hei! luogo che interessante avete fatto, ben cotto!

  • http://www.marshawj.org/toscana toscana

    E grande io ha trovato il vostro luogo! Le info importanti ottenute! ))

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