Music by VICE

Rappers Shouldn’t Be Underrepresented in Music Funding

Taiwo Bah, Project Coordinator at FACTOR wants to improve the way genres like rap and R&B are funded in Canada.

by Sharine Taylor
Jun 9 2017, 2:11pm

Photo By Jake Kivanc

During Bell Media's broadcaster license renewal last month, the Canadian Radio and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) adjusted conditions around how much required funding they were to contribute to the MuchFACT and Bravo!FACT grants. These grants have helped Canadian artists fund the production of music videos—MuchFACT alone has reportedly funneled over $100 million into projects—and as expected, the Canadian music community has not taken this well. Organizations like the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC National) have created a petition to reverse the CRTC's decision.

Outside of MuchFACT and Bravo!FACT, there are other avenues of funding like the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Media Development Corporation, SOCAN and FACTOR. FACTOR has primarily committed to helping English-speaking Canadian artists and music companies produce and license music as well as assist with marketing, touring and promotional costs. One of the conversations had amidst the potential MuchFACT cutback has been about how little funding gets allocated to Canadian rap and hip-hop acts. Past recipients include Kaytranada, Majid Jordan, DVSN and Belly, so if funding decreases, it's a major loss. Because of this Taiwo Bah, the current Project Coordinator, Sponsorships & Outreach at FACTOR, is doing his best to ensure funding is more accessible to Canadian artists.

Taiwo Bah. Photo By Kadeem Ellis.

Bah says part of his duties is figuring out barriers to funding. "I've spoken to—mostly rappers—but I've spoken to a lot of folks in terms of what the reality is for them," he shares. "Some of the anecdotal stuff that I've heard is, it's not just accessibility that's an issue… Some of the issues have to deal with more systemic things like administrative support… having the right people on your team or people that can handle the rigours of having to go through a application process and handling invoices."

Being part a media industry where things like an appropriation prize and FundmeFest can be conceived, let alone facilitated, the potential cutback or loss of grants could further marginalize already marginalized artists. Bah's work is especially important, then, as another component of what he is hoping to fulfill is to ensure future funding is distributed amongst diverse genres, including rap, where he mentions that unlike other genres, "there just isn't the same infrastructure that exists." Bah says, "I'm also tasked with doing outreach, and in particular, outreach to the genres and communities that we don't see a lot of representation from when it comes to applications. I would say a part of that is sort of doing a bit of research as well. So finding out why is that, what are the unique conditions depending on the different genres, what their needs are and how that connects into FACTOR."

Photo By Kadeem Ellis

A look into FACTOR's 2015-2016 Annual Report could give us some insight. The highest amount of funding, by genre, was offered to Folk with just over one million who had 265 out of 473 project applications approved, Alternative and Rock were roughly the same at 1.5 million dollars with 223 out of 415 and 235 out of 509 approved respectively. These genres were among the highest that received applications and were approved for funding. Genres like Aboriginal, Children and Urban were among the lowest receivers of funding with only six of the 11 applications for Aboriginal getting approved, six of the ten for Children and nine of the 35 for Urban. It is important to note that as of 2012 Hip-Hop became is its own distinct category and in the 2015-2016 year received $49K in funding, though, only 83 of the 240 submitted applications were approved for funding.

On what the difference is between Urban and hip-hop, Bah states that the categories predated its current employees but applicants self-identify their projects. "I would assume that we absorbed it as an industry catch-all term for contemporary Hip-Hop and R&B. We've talked about moving away from it since I've been here though." Another issue are gatekeepers—such as committees or jury panels—of these funding streams and their lack of diversity. On representation, Bah says, "I see that it is important for institutions such as [FACTOR] and others across the arts to have and to hire people like myself—whether it's people of colour or people of a particular lived experience—to be able to access the insides of those institutions because how else will those organizations grow and be relevant and create more access?"

After FACTOR jurors are chosen and applications from artists are submitted, the jury process begins where Bah says, "Jurors select the genres that they work in. So we send them applications that reflect those choices. So if you're a Rap juror, you adjudicate the Rap applications. Folk, same thing. Rock, and so on and so on." This is telling and further supports representation does matter and could potentially affect outcomes. The key to staying relevant is making sure rules are flexible. According to Bah, it's important to recognize that industry practices aren't the same internationally. He aims to ensure that FACTOR is accommodating those needs so that it's "easier for artists who depend on working those territories so that they wouldn't be dis-incentivized from applying to FACTOR."

Hell hath not runneth over (yet). Due to CRTC's major L, this is becoming more of a pressing and national concern. Though Canadian artists aren't skipping through the meadows—or plains—with cash from funding, there are still other options and we can count on groups like DGC National and other people to hold them accountable. Nevertheless, there is still much work to be done to ensure that improvements to Canada's music industry are being made for its artists to thrive.

Sharine Taylor is a great human being. Follow her on Twitter.