For the Record: An Idea of the North | Exhibit Digest

November 26, 2019 | David

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Interior of exhibit with items on walls and records in cases as well as a tagged column

This reproduces parts of the exhibit, For the Record: An Idea of the North (with a small sample of exhibit items). Below are the four main wall text panels from the exhibit.

The exhibit was displayed in TD Gallery at the Toronto Reference Library from February 16 to April 28, 2019. Produced in partnership with Northside Hip Hop Archive, the exhibit illuminates the emergence of hip hop in Toronto. Exhibit curators: Dr. Mark V. Campbell and Dave DTS Clarke.

 


 

For the Record

For the Record—An Idea of the North is an interactive mixed media exhibition that excavates the nucleus of hip hop culture in Toronto by illuminating the foundational role Soundsystems played in the emergence of Toronto as a source of globally successful popular music. Traveling Soundsystems, dating back to 1950s Jamaica, such as Prince Buster's "Voice of the People", did more than simply play music, they built audiences, networked tastemakers and launched artists' careers. Soundsystems in Toronto innovated new sonic realities that ensured this city became "home" to a new generation of Caribbean migrant youth. Central to this process was the vinyl record which was both a tool for entertainment of the masses and at times an unknown archival mean of preserving history and culture. The vinyl records played by Soundsystems like Sunshine Sound Crew, Chic Dynasty, Macea, Killowatt, TKO and Powerhouse Divine Sound weren't solely sources of jubilation, but were also tools of community building, placemaking and identity formation particularly for a generation of young Caribbean and British migrants new to Toronto.

Across three generations, from the 1980s to the end of the 2000s, For the Record excavates "an Idea of the North" built upon Soundsystems and eventually DJs whose carefully crafted sonic landscapes nurtured what came to be known as the T-Dot and the 6ix. The exhibition's orientation, a reverse chronology, follows a narrative uncovered through interviews with DJs from three different eras. While much of Canada's identity has been built on the canonical visual art depicting rugged and serene wilderness, or bare landscapes, For the Record proposes we listen to the building of Toronto's urban identity over the last four decades. The exhibition focuses on the DJs, radio shows and Soundsystems that crafted an imagining of home and belonging through sonic innovations in black musics.

 

Reppin'

DJs were key to the rise of a T-Dot consciousness, pushing local hip hop heads to have pride in being from Toronto. Pulsating through the airways on any day of the week, radio shows such as The Real Frequency, Droppin' Dimes, Stylistic Endeavours, The GQ Wakeup Show and The Bigger than Hip Hop Show showed T-Dot's homegrown talent some love. Similarly, the Turntstylez Crew would make Canada proud at the 1998 International Turntablists Federation, DJ Dopey (of the Turntable Monks) would take home the World DMC Championship in 2003 and the Soul Controllers would take home a Justco Award from their mixtape Reggae Meets Hip Hope volume 8. Recognizing the importance of the DJ to growing the scene, the Stylus DJ Awards unified DJs from coast to coast, recognizing pioneers and celebrating the successes of Canadian DJs. Today, Toronto DJs and Turntablists continue to represent like DJ Vekked, seven-time DMC & IDA Champion, and DJ VTRN.

Yellow case with listening instructions with headphones plugged in and another image of a trasnparent tape with author and contact info
Left: Cassette listening station with Real Frequency show featuring Monolith. Right: "Ghet to Storm Pt. 2" by Soul Controllers featuring DTS & Motion, no label (no date).

 

Arrival

With the successes of MC Rumble, Michie Mee and Maestro — local artists all signed to foreign labels, combined with the parties and concerts made possible by local DJs, a groundswell begat a crop of hugely successful artists like The Dream Warriors. Stimulated in large part by the arrival of MuchMusic's Rap City TV program, independent record labels, magazines and more radio shows, a second generation of hip hop artists unequivocally claimed Toronto as the T-Dot-o-Dot. This renaming of Toronto by K-4ce, circulated by members of The Circle, Monolith and many other crews, certified Toronto as a hip hop vinyl hotspot and releases from labels such as Kneedeep Records, 7Bills, Treehouse Records and the imprint Beat Factory ensured that immensely popular radio shows such as The Power Move Show ans the Masterplan Show lit up the airwaves every Saturday afternoon and evening. Today, many of these vinyl records are still in demand in cities as far away as Copenhagen and Osaka, yet they also serve as archival items documenting the studios, engineers and producers that were at the heart of hip hop in Toronto.

A storyboard of a man in a bow tie and a conductor on a lined piece of paper and a award statue as a different image with the word MUCH in large letters with details of the award on the skinny base
Left: Let Your Backbone Slide by Maestro Fresh, video storyboard on paper, Northside Hip Hop Archive, gift of Joel Goldberg (no date). Right: 1998 Much Music Video Arts VideoFACT Award: Michie Mee, from the collection of David Cropper (1998).

 

Emergence

Despite years of party rocking by Soundsystems such as Killowatt, Sunshine and Chic Dynasty, hip hop's earliest beats arrived on Toronto's radio airways via Fantastic Voyage, a show created and hosted by a young Ryerson student named Ron Nelson on CKLN 88.1 FM. The Jam Factor Show on CHRY 105.5 FM followed Nelson's groundbreaking program, providing audiences outside of the downtown core access to hip hop via a 50-Watt community radio station. During the 1980s, performances and concerts were the focal point of young artists' passions; recording and pressing vinyl took a back seat to the liveness of The Concert Hall, with imported records from New York City circulating in Toronto. The acrobatics of wildstyle b-boys spread hip hop's innovative vibe far and wide, from Hamilton to Waterloo to Scarborough, evidenced by images from the Toronto Star Photo Archive. Eventually, as local artists recorded tracks, pressed vinyl and sought distribution deals, the sound of our city began to emerge, deeply interconnected with Jamaica's Soundsystem culture, without sacrificing the 808's boom bap.

One photo of man holding records with headphones one and another photo of a man break dancing on his head in a track suit
Left: Ron Nelson, Paul Regan, Toronto Star Photograph Archive (1984).  Right: Whole lotta breaking going' on, Tony Bock, Toronto Star Photograph Archive (1984).

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