When I started writing this column, we were in the beginnings of what could be termed the “first generation” of prairie hip hop — pioneers made us believe that hip hop could be taken seriously in an out-of-the-way, white-bread Canadian province. With the release of local artist RationaL’s The BirthWrite LP, we’re witnessing the launch of prairie hip hop 2.0, and this 26-year-old rapper says the scene is flourishing, thanks to the hard work of those who came before.
“I love the local hip-hop scene here,” says RationaL (aka Rash). “I mean, dudes like Factor and Kay [The Aquanaut] have been putting it down for years, and we’re now starting to see a lot of younger dudes coming up as well. You gotta know where you came from to know where you’re going. Respect those that came before you.”
Rash fell in love with hip hop when he was about 12, although he admits he started his career on a lark, gag-rapping with high school buddies after watching the movie Whiteboyz, about a guy in a predominantly white Iowa town that dreams of being an MC. But once the joke was out of the box Rash began to take it very seriously, combining rap with his love of writing.
“I’ve always loved writing; I kind of just kept at it and continued to develop the skills,” he says. “To me, hip hop is like a relevant form of social commentary, the perfect form of expression.”
TheBirthWrite LP gets a fat release party at Vangelis on July 20th, followed by a western Canadian tour. The first single off the album is called “Cocaine Cowboys,” a cautionary tale about chillin’ with dudes that have a taste for the Peruvian marching powder. A lot of mainstream or gangsta rap would glamorize coke and crime, so I wondered, was this simply a story RationaL was telling, or did he have an anti-drug agenda?
“I’m not ‘anti-drug’,” he says, “but some people just really need to lay off the white. Seriously though, if gang-banging is what you live and what you know, then you should rhyme about it. As an artist, speak on what you know. I love some of Dre and Snoop’s earlier stuff from the ‘90s, and I’ve always loved Pac and Biggie, but as a whole, it’s just so watered down to me. I’ve met too many rappers who don’t live what they rap about.”
As much as playing a character can be fun, there’s a certain “realness” to prairie hip hop — perhaps because the artists want to be taken seriously on the world stage. So rather than posturing about living hard, RationaL focuses on writing what he knows.
“This is just life music to me, man,” says Rash. “Live your life, be yourself — find your passion and chase it. People may not always like your music or what you have to say, but they will respect your passion. The BirthWrite LP is just a reflection of my life: things I’ve seen, things I’ve been through, life experiences turned rhyme.”