Paving a New Road 

Words, Photos & Video by Michelle Siu published in  The Globe and Mail

Familiar names like Drake and the Weeknd have been pulling Toronto hip-hop out of obscurity. The city may be coming to global prominence, but the music scene here, as elsewhere, is still fighting old stereotypes. When Nicki Minaj tweeted about the double-standard that applies to women in the hip-hop industry, she was echoing what many female MCs have known for years -- that it is hard to get your dues as a woman in the music industry. Eve, the Grammy-award winning rapper, called hip-hop “a male-dominated business.” Addressing women, she said, “we need to keep putting our voice out there.”

As Toronto’s once-underground scene goes mainstream, we are hearing new voices with different stories to tell. Female, queer, and trans talents are in ascendance – in 2017, fierce rapper Tasha the Amazon was the first female DJ to win best hip-hop video at the Much Music Video Awards. 

DJ Lissa Monet DJed the VIP lounge for Beyonce’s “Formation: World Tour.” Rapper DijahBS continues to bring a unique swagger to the stage while delivering lines about queer love and mental health. 

Powerhouse rap group The Sorority exude a playful brand of feminism, with lines like “Please don’t be that guy, assuming that we’re all the same. I cannot be controlled and no I don’t need to be tamed.”

As with other industries, Canadian hip-hop suffers from brain drain, as homegrown talent flies south to the US. Kiana “Rookz” Eastman, 30, has made it her mission to stop this. She is founder and director of Sandbox Studios in Toronto’s east end, which has drawn a diverse set of female talent, from NY rapper Cardi B to a host of emerging local artists such as R&B singer Faiza. Her focus is on moving Toronto’s urban music landscape toward inclusivity, by welcoming LGBTQ artists and those from marginalized communities at all stages of their careers.

These artists are standouts not simply because they defy the stereotype of a hip-hop artist. Their work speaks for itself: They are homegrown talent, plain and simple.

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