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"