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Hip Hop & Oakville’s Underground Rap Scene

Hip-Hop Kevin Hibbard a.k.a. Archaich performing with Euan Morgan at an open mic in Oakville.
Hip Hop & Oakville’s Underground Rap Scene
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About the Author

Mashaal Effendi

Mashaal Effendi is a writer and new Torontonian, having started the new chapter of his life moving to Canada in Oakville.Mashaal has worked as a writer in film, television, theatre, advertising, communications, and even in speechwriting during his time as a Toastmaster.An avid reader, video game enthusiast, and musician ( who presently plays drums for a band called "The Downgrades"), Mashaal enjoys gathering experiences around Oakville, and is ecstatic to be on the team covering events that breathe life into the community.

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In the 1970s, a fierce underground movement took the world by storm, that became known as hip-hop. Originating from the Bronx, NY, a man named DJ Kool Herc, a.k.a. Clive Campbell, laid down the foundation of a new movement, creating the Djing technique known as breakbeats, and using a sound system comprised of two turntables and guitar amps to produce rhythmic beats.

These beats were popularized and took the city by storm, spreading worldwide where musicians today from every corner of the world still feel this movement’s influence.

hip-hop merchandise: Stock Photo

Rap started in the Bronx, NY as an ideation of DJ Kool Herc. While the origins are debated, the movement has picked up critical acclaim and is practiced by communities worldwide.

You may recognize Kool Herc’s successors like:

Hip-hop has always been a voice of activeness, influential for generations. While its origin is still debated, the universal appeal of expressing oneself to a backing track, with a unique message, all while expertly keeping a beat is incredibly influential. Words such as “spin,” “flow,” and “crowd control,” are commonplace amongst the hip hop community, and Canada is no stranger to this movement.

Hip-Hop Stock photo of studio equipment.

Between Drake and the Weeknd, they share 10 No.1 albums in the last decade (Variety).

Famous Canadian hip-hop artists

An impactful movement with critical acclaim, one has to wonder about how the movement came about with so much success, and where Oakville’s hip-hop scene came into prominence.

Well, did you know Oakville has its own treasure trove of talent? Did you also know that  Oakville’s hip-hop community is ready to emerge in a big way?

Oakville Rappers performing at a local venue.

Oakville Rappers performing their set at Less Than Level, a popular local venue influential to Oakville’s hip-hop community.

Origins

To talk about Oakville’s tale of hip-hop, MCing, and rap, one has to look at the town’s history. Oakville News got to sit down with Kevin Hibbard who goes by his stage name Archaic. Kevin is an Abbey Park alumni, and unofficially Oakville’s best known rapper. Not because of accolades of commercial success, not because of his collaborations with well known and brilliant artists, but because of his dedicated engagement with the town’s many moving pieces that made the hip-hop scene emerge into what it is today.

Kevin Hibbard a.k.a. Archaic performing.

Kevin Hibbard aka Archaic performing his set at Less Than Level.

“Hip-hop was most prevalent in the 90s. That was the golden age, and even though Canada wasn’t getting a lot of attention and wasn’t on the map, we did have some artists from Toronto that got signed, we got artists from Montreal that got signed, and the sporadic artists from Hamilton, Mississauga, and the like. Oakville didn’t have anyone,” said Kevin, as he spoke about how Oakville has developed leaps and bounds, from a much smaller town not too long ago.

“The thing is, Oakville was never considered a place with much grassroots music culture. Especially when it came to hip-hop. It was predominantly outside the hip-hop sphere,” continued Kevin, relating the history of hip-hop in Oakville. “Most rappers from Oakville wouldn’t even say they were from here. They would just say they were from Toronto or Mississauga. All that changed in 2012 with a man named Sean Heaney.”

Sean Heaney, who Archaic referred to as “Oakville’s grand-father of hip-hop,” was responsible for kicking off Oakville’s hip-hop platform in a huge way.

Hip-hop Oakville rapper performing at Less Than Level

Less Than Level has given many aspiring artists a platform to express themselves.

Sean Heaney did this by:

  • Starting open mic hip-hop nights at Less than Level, which birthed a rise of talented rappers from Oakville.
  • Inspiring talent in Oakville to perform before live audiences.
  • Creating a platform for hip-hop artists to showcase their talent, establishing a venue that brought Oakville into the hip-hop world.
  • Helping bridge the gap between Oakville and other areas of the GTA, allowing other artists from the GTA to drop by at Less than Level, and perform.

These open mic nights were key to sparking Oakville’s hip-hop community. Kevin talked about how he himself, performed at Less than Level and grew as an artist, and while today, he is an accomplished activist and artist, he credits Sean Heaney and the owner of Less than Level. Sean is an old school hip-hop fan for sparking and supporting the journey of many artists who have at some point in time, dropped by Less than Level.

“I have always been a huge fan of hip-hop, so when it was suggested that we host open mic nights, it took no thought whatsoever,” said Jonny Joseph, the owner of Less Than Level. “We’re always excited to meet new promoters looking to support our local scene.”

“Without Less than Level, or without Sean, there may not have even been a hip-hop community in Oakville.”

Nightlite

Hip-hop Nightlight

Kevin Hibbard a.k.a. Archaic has branded his vision under the name of Nightlite along with his partner Providence the Poet.

In 2016, Sean passed the torch to Kevin. At this point, Kevin wanted to expand on a vision of his. Kevin enjoyed the process of passing the mic to others and was inspired at the thought of helping lend a voice to so many faces in the community. “It was great to perform, but what I enjoyed most was seeing how the open-mic inspired all the talent to get up and perform in a non-judgemental space.”

Hip-hop Oakville Rapper forforming their set at Less Than Level.

Less than Level has been a platform where many artists have been able to express themselves.

Kevin believed that Less than Level could be something much bigger than an underground hip-hop scene, envisioning that not only could it become the number 1 platform for artists all over the GTA, but what was happening at Less Than Level could do something special for the community. “A lot of people have a bad impression of hip-hop. I was looking to turn it into a platform that not only would reach Toronto but would also give back to the community in ways that are very related to the hip-hop game. Things like homelessness and drug addiction are things that I want to tackle.”

Supernova Poster

Supernova is a large-scale concert pioneered by Nightlite and hosted by Providence the Poet and Archaic.

Since Kevin’s de factor ownership of organizing the open mic from 2016 – 2019, it has now graduated to new heights by:

  • Organizing larger shows.
  • Bringing in B-Tier artists to perform.
  • Organizing an annual event called Supernova, headlined by local Oakville artist Byeme.
  • Sitting in talks with big names, to roll out projects for 2020.

Working with a talented individual Providence the Poet, a prolific rapper from Montreal, who presently lives in Hamilton, Kevin has done all this under his new brand ‘Nightlite.’

Providence the Poet is another well known Canadian talent that has contributed extensively to Nightlite’s vision.The most notable contribution is working with Kevin to bring Supernova into fruition. It is an annual concert that takes place at Less Than Level, with local talent Byeme who has seen radio commercial success, going as far as to be featured on Flow 93.5 FM radio.

Thumbnail of Provida the Poet in the Weeknd's music video.

Providence the Poet making a cameo in Nav and the Weeknd’s music video.

Providence the Poet has also been featured on Nav and the Weeknd’s music video in a cameo and is vastly relevant in Canada and Oakville’s scene. “The forgotten and abandoned city of love and positive vibes, Canadian hip-hop is a lost child that needs to be nurtured,” said Providence the Poet expressing his passion towards hip-hop and its importance in the Great White North.

Interestingly enough, Providence has many friends in Oakville. One notable fan of his work Chelsea Penner, who presently runs her own organic beauty company Remediz Inc. said, “It’s really phenomenal seeing Providence rise up in the community. I’ve always supported his work since he started rapping, but seeing what he’s doing for Canadian hip-hop and for Oakville? It’s truly inspiring. I’m proud to know him.”

Visionary Bridges

Future projects for Nightlite look to bridge gaps between Toronto and Montreal. Kevin and Providence are ready to activate the many areas of talent across Canada in efforts to raise the level of Canadian hip-hop.

The shows at Less than Level have been put on hiatus for now while the team at Nightlite look at even larger-scale projects to raise the community. Nevertheless, while Nightlite may no longer host sets at Less Than Level, they are going to be running shuttle buses from Less Than Level to new venues at Downtown Toronto and Montreal to commemorate where it all began in Oakville.

“We really want to graduate artists from studios or home-based sets to live performances,” said  Kevin. “There is a huge untapped reserve of talent within the community, and we’re looking to give hip-hop artists the support they need. Many of these artists don’t know how to make the jump to the big stage, and that’s where Nightlite comes in.”

The sets at larger venues would include paid tickets, different from the Oakville open-mics that were free. However, this would be in exchange for:

  • A much larger venue
  • Higher production value for artists
  • Bigger name tie-ups
  • Raising the bar in Canadian hip-hop that performers can leverage

More importantly, it would be an important piece of Nightlite’s altruistic vision.

Hip-hop Wall of graffiti.

Many view hip-hop with negative connotations such as drugs, violence, vandalism, hate and the like.

“While we do what we do at Nightlite because of our love of hip-hop, it is ultimately a platform for larger change,” said Kevin as he hinted at what would be done with Nightlite’s proceeds “We want to use hip-hop as a means of positivity in society, not just as a platform to showcase talent. We want to tackle the negative connotations that hip-hop has to it, and we want to help at-risk communities.”

A large portion of profits from the aspirational projects of Nightlite will  make their way towards charities dealing with:

  • Mental health
  • Communities at-risk
  • Homeless individuals
  • Food insecure communities

The Nightlite website will look to evolve from just photos and videos of people on stage to heavy involvement with the above communities, looking not just to donate, but make impactful contributions to their wellbeing.

Picture of opioids.

Opioid-related hospitalization rates rise fastest among youth according to a report by Statistics Canada in March 2019.

“Putting Oakville artists on the map and using hip-hop for positive change are not mutually exclusive. Nightlite wants to be a part of helping give back to the communities. What we could do is just donate things to something worth-while, and that would be great. But imagine how incredible it would be if Nightlite could be the reason at-risk youth could get out there and play basketball, and get a chance they would otherwise never have been able to. Knowing that Nightlite was out there pushing these dreams, now that’s larger than life. Those kinds of projects are part of our vision.”

Picture of children in a classroom.

Social exclusion, bullying, mental health challenges, and addiction are only some of the things that today’s at-risk youth face.

In addition to its philanthropy, Nightlife will be running Superbova annually at Less than Level.

Oakville’s Multi-Dimensional Hip-Hop Talent

Despite Nightlite, and its impressive array of talent, plus its extensive role in defining Oakville’s hip-hop platform, it is not the only contributor to Oakville’s emerging hip-hop scene.

Akil McKenzie acting in his music video 'I'm so Toronto.'

Akil McKenzie a.k.a Unsighted and Falling Motion on the set of ‘I’m So Toronto.’

Akil McKenzie, alumni from Sheridan College’s Film program who freestyles under the name of Unsighted, operates his own video production company Falling Motion Production and lives in Oakville.

Akil has dropped a singled titled “I’m So Toronto,” highlighting Toronto’s unique spirit by:

  • Calling out the Toronto Raptor’s recent win in 2018, highlighting it as a source of Torontonian pride.
  • Speaking about the diversity of Toronto, highlighting the multi-dimensional personality of Toronto’s residents.
  • Showcasing many of Toronto’s popular spots.

“I’m mainly a film-maker, so I do a lot of music videos, commercials, and things like that. I’ve filmed many artists, and I’ve even engaged with rapping with them,” explained Akil as he illustrated his many interactions with the hip-hop community as part of his profession. “I was asked why I don’t have any tracks so I just decided to take what I know and push it towards my own passion.”

‘I’m So Toronto,’ is inspired by the ‘I’m so Brooklyn Challenge’ where artists from many cities including Brooklyn and Chicago take to music videos and talk about the cities they came from and what defines them. “I live in Oakville, and I grew up in Toronto so I decided why not?” Akil said reminiscing about how he started rapping sitting in the cafeteria tables at Mayfield Secondary School.

Headshot of Akil McKenzie.

Akil Mckenzie currently lives in Oakville, and grew up in Toronto.

“I think it’s important to understand the emotional aspect of rapping. There’s so many thoughts on the forefront of your mind, and when you rap with your soul and put yourself into it, you start to realize that the bulk of what you express, is a real reflection of you. This is why I enjoy freestyle over sets, which is a bit different from the norm. I believe that’s the core of hip-hop.”

When broached about whether Akil is familiar with Nightlite, and when he heard about its many projects in the works, Akil was excited to offer his opinion. “I didn’t even know about the local hip-hop scene and I realize that there are so many opportunities out here.”

What about the female contribution to the Oakville legacy of hip-hop?

Well, King of the Dot, the world’s #1 rap battle league is based here in Toronto, receiving acclaim and attention from artists across border.  Previous installments of the league include personalities like  Drake and has been featured on Vice.

The first female MC to debut on the show was a girl from our very own Oakville, Tanya Wehbe.

“I was so fortunate to be the first female MC featured on KOTD,” said the current Beauty Expert, talking about the empowering win this was for women artists in local hip-hop. “There are so many women who were deserving of the opportunity, and to see how far its come now is surreal to look back on.”

Taha Ahmad, a Social Services student at Sheridan College talked about his aspirations to be a rapper.

Insights from Taha’s voice on the rap game were:

  • The Oakville community has access to a lot of production technology benefitting aspiring rappers.
  • The new generation of rappers should look to the old legends to help shape their direction.
  • It’s important to put yourselves out there despite whatever struggles you’re facing.

So what’s next for Oakville’s hip-hop scene. “Keep an eye out for Nightlite’s new projects. We’re in the talks with some great names, and we’re excited to roll out our 2020 vision,” says Kevin. If you’re an aspiring artist, give us a shout.”

To follow more on Nightlite’s activities, check out their Instagram handle. They’re launching their website soon with their exciting projects in the works including a new album in the works featuring Archaic and Providence coupled with other artists.

To end on a note from Akil, “If you’re interested in the game of hip-hop, look for an excuse to just do it. Once you start your journey, the pieces will line up. What I love most about rapping is it’s about the time you put in. You may not be the best rapper, but if you keep at it, you have an equal shot.”

It only remains to be seen what’s next for the Oakville rap scene, and what’s next for Canadian hip-hop.

 

 

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