Being known as the home of federal politics makes the city of Ottawa an easy target when discussing the possible existence of a city that fun forgot. Between artists passing it over in favour of Toronto or Montreal on large stadium tours, to having a reputable concert hall close its doors almost three years ago, it’s a fairly common title bestowed upon Canada’s capital when talking about anything musical. However, that idea is actually quite the contrary. Beneath the city’s straight-laced governmental appearance is an incredibly diverse grassroots music scene which offers listeners so much more than our Prime Minister covering The Beatles ever could.
A genre that is poised to gain major recognition in the city this year is hip-hop. While it used to be that most artists would end up leaving Ottawa in search of bigger cities with more opportunity, a new generation is seemingly set on establishing a scene within the city to put Ottawa on the Canadian hip-hop map. While new releases and performances continue to keep the hip-hop community from disappearing all together, a new initiative started by a trio of area producers looks to further build upon and foster the growth of said community.
The Ottawa Beat League is a quarterly hip-hop beat battle inviting beat makers from across the city to showcase their producing prowess in a live setting. Pitting anywhere from eight to ten producers against each other in a battle of instrumental supremacy, the competition is designed to test each competitor’s skills and abilities over three rounds. Combatants deliver a remix, a sample flip, and showcase their best beat while being judged on criteria such as crowd response, originality, and complexity.
Noisey sat down with co-founders DJ So Nice and Hyfedelik the Gypsy Sun before the inaugural event to chat about the newly created Ottawa Beat League and the positive effects they hope it will have on the burgeoning hip-hop community in the nation’s capital.
Noisey: Where did the inspiration to create the Ottawa Beat League come from?
So Nice: It started with me and fellow producer Circa Beatz three years ago. We’ve always talked about throwing a beat battle, but we never found the right opportunity to do it. The last two years, the two of us have been competing in them, one of which we won in Toronto. That gave us more inspiration and drive to put one together here. This year, Canadian emcees Relic and Ghettosocks came to me and said “Hey, do you know of any venues that would be into having us perform?” I know both of them make beats, so it seemed that this was the window of opportunity to start throwing beat battles in Ottawa. We decided to not only have them headline, but also make the opening act a big beat battle. We’re going to try and do this quarterly.
Has anyone else tried to host regular beat battles in the city before now?
So Nice: There have been a few in the past, as well as a few DJ battles that were very successful. But no one did it the way we wanted to do it. They would have people just bring their beats on CD’s and USB’s. We’re encouraging people to bring equipment out, or a laptop at the very least. We’re looking for those people that could bring an MPC, bring their guitar, or their keyboard, and actually give a bit of a performance. I haven’t seen that here in Ottawa before.
So it seems as if this community could use a bit of support. Is that your number one priority in creating the OBL?
Hyfedelik: That’s what we want. Other than the obvious, which is giving the spotlight to those who put work into their art, it’s to create that community that Ottawa needs. A lot of hip-hop is going on, but we’re still very fragmented. I think the biggest thing that can come out of this is those new avenues being built, and that ‘Ottawa sound’ more defined as we begin to influence and learn from each other. It doesn’t mean bite, it doesn’t mean copy, or imitate. It means recognizing that we live in the same sonic sphere. As both an emcee and producer myself, I have some connections to others in this scene, but I still haven’t met most of the competitors on this list before.
People tend to describe hip-hop in Ottawa as a scene that is small but dedicated. Do you feel it’s finally starting to play a more prominent role as a genre here in the city?
Hyfedelik: I think so, I really do. I looked at the scene 10 years ago and it was small. 10 years before that it was even smaller. So we have exponential growth on our hands. People are still discovering the art form. I got into hip-hop in the late nineties, so I only had about a decade of material to study. People born in the early 2000s, they have two decades to study. Now this new decade has even more. I think we’re going into uncharted territory here in Ottawa, I’ve never seen this many people doing this shit together.
So Nice: I wouldn’t call Ottawa a hip-hop hotbed, but it’s a good place to build a following, create a sound, and branch out from there. It’s humble. I know many great rappers here, I know many great producers here, and I get to meet a lot of others. Even though it’s not making big money, that’s not the goal. For a lot of us, the goal is to have a little bit of fun in our city with hip-hop. And it’s happening. At the end of the day, it’s not that hard to branch out to places like Montreal or Toronto.
Have you two thought of any other events that the OBL can offer to Ottawa’s producers?
So Nice: Perhaps a producers summit, or some sort of showcase. It would be fun to have some big name producers like Just Blaze or Alchemist to come in and headline and have a showcase with them. There’s a lot of possibilities that we’ve seen in other cities, and they work. We’re not opposed to trying to bring something else here.
Hyfedelik: Professional development sessions for producers in order to learn the business for themselves. Many of us don’t know they difference between what leasing and selling a beat is, and many of us don’t know that we could take it into publishing, commercials, movies. So I think that would benefit the community as well. We as producers tend to be fairly isolated because we have to work on our sound. But we can definitely teach each other. When the water rises in the ocean, all the boats rise, not just one. That’s what we’re trying to do with events like this, elevate everybody.
Calum Slingerland is a writer living in Ottawa - @C_Slingerland