Immigrant’s Son from Montreal’s West Island Claims to Be FLQ and Drops a Bomb
So, imagine you’re a twenty-something son of immigrants living in Montreal’s English-speaking and federalist bastion of DDO, a prolific hiphop artist who drops online EPs and mixtapes with a frequency that can’t be healthy, and who’s first full-length English-language album had both the Hour and the Mirror, Montreal’s English-language alt-weeklies, hyping you as one of the best upcoming local MC’s, able to combine « standard braggadocio with some intelligent introspection ».
What’s your next move?
Why, a double French-language LP and a single titled FLQ in which you give shout outs to Québec sovereigntists René Lévesque and Pierre Falardeau and spit: « Yes, I’m Québécois. No, I don’t know Canada. », of course…
Karma Atchykah drops a bomb.
You’re throwing around a lot of very charged imagery on your first single: the FLQ, giving props to René Lévesque and Pierre Falardeau. Coming from an immigrant… from the West Island… who is known for rapping in English… that confuses a lot of people who aren’t sure what you mean. Why don’t you tell me what you want to say with that song.
With that song I’m just trying to rally as much people as I can. To be in Montreal, to be a Quebecer, to me, means a whole lot more, especially in 2010, you know? I was born in the 80’s, grew up in the 90’s, I’ve been in Montreal for 28 years of my life. It really got diverse and I felt there was a need that we redefine what it means to be a Quebecer for these times. And I feel that FLQ was about Quebecer pride, but at the same time had shock value. That was the effect.
What was the reaction from Anglos, from your friends who know you from the Anglo scene?
[Laughs] The Anglos, I would have to say, focus much more on the vibe of the song, on the beat itself, the more the technical, musical stuff. And they definitely feel it’s a cool song. I don’t have any people who are… against the song, in that sort of way. Like, an Anglo station maybe might feel the FLQ reference was not something to joke about or this and that, but I really don’t have that kind of feedback going about. People definitely see that the song has that type of energy. Maybe it’s due to the fact I do music in both languages. Even though people have prejudice towards French music and say they don’t listen to French music, they’ll listen to my music and say « I don’t generally listen to French music, but I like your stuff. »
What about the other side? I was reading the comments on YouTube, and some people had retarded opinions and wrote stuff like: « It’s cool that one of our guests is representing Québec », as if you weren’t really Québécois. Do you get some of that?
I get a bit of « he’s not really Quebecer » and this and that. But what am I? I was born here, I’ve lived and worked here all my life. No matter how deeply involved I am with my origins, doesn’t change that my birthplace is still here. This is what I wanted to do with the song. It’s cool to be catchy, this and that, but you also want to have a discussion such as this. And it sparked that discussion. If you want to go down to the basics it’s really quite simple: no one is really at home here, no matter how many centuries you’ve been here, you know. I guess technically the natives are the only ones who can really claim that they were here before everybody, but even then, it’s what you do with your life that’s going to matter at the end of the day.
You have to admit, the Québécois are always a little bit insecure. A few of prominent artists have complained in the past that it’s badly seen in the Québec cultural community not to be a nationalist. Is this just your way of making friends in the industry?
I felt the need to demonstrate Québec pride for several reasons. One reason actually being the fact that this is my first French album, so I really wanted to make a strong point. I’ve always had the problem of people not necessarily knowing where I’m from. Especially the English music followers thought maybe… Ontario, or people maybe thought I’m form some part of the States and a lot of people would not know that I’m from Québec and Montreal. To me it felt right. A lot of the calculation was about what needs to be represented to make a distinct sense of this guy is from here, he’s repping here and he’s not trying to be from somewhere else. That might just be in the case of Québec, that you have to show Québec love if you want them to sense that, oh yeah, this guy’s from here.
But now you know that because you’ve rapped: « Oui, j’suis Québécois. Non, j’connais pas le Canada » [Yes, I’m Québécois. No, I don’t know Canada.], you can’t accept Canada Day gigs anymore.
If you ask me where I’m from, I’ll tell you Québec first. And that’s not a lie, not a front I’m putting up. When I was kid growing up, René Lévesque and people like that were still fresh in people’s minds and the sense of nationalism was very strong. The sense of Québec outside of Canada was very strong in my mind. As a kid growing up I wasn’t actually understanding that Québec was actually part of Canada. People talked about Québec so strongly I thought, Ok, this might be a country. I’ve always had a sense of me being part of Québec, even though I only knew Montreal. Would I refuse Canada Day? Well I guess it would be a little bit weird for me to do it, but it also depends when in my life I get to it. And I’ll still rep Québec before I rep Canada, regardless. I’m not gonna be doing Canada Day this year, that’s for damn sure, though!
You’re about 10 years younger than me. I went to a very multiethnic school in NDG where white Québec-born kids like me were a very small minority. I feel, maybe in Montreal, there’s a new generation who define identity differently. It’s not the federalist dream of a fully bilingual, bicultural Canadian nation or the old school Québécois image that some nationalists would like us to be. There is a feeling of else coming together. Do you feel that?
Definitely so. I could definitely say that for Montreal, for sure. In the rest of Québec it might be a little less diverse… and even that’s becoming more mixed.
Yeah, Québec City…
Québec City is definitely there too, but there are smaller towns, towns that are way more francophone, that are getting more diverse. Whatever it is, let it be. Whether it stays more homogeneous or it gets more diverse, I don’t really care, That’s just the natural course of things. I think it’s a cool thing, but there’s got to be an openness. There’s just got to be an openess.
How do you feel the majority in Québec is reacting to minorities? To the Immigration generation, let’s call it that? I wrote recently on how what you see on Québec TV looks nothing like what you see on the Metro. There’s something wrong, don’t you think?
I feel… it comes from both sides. If you’re the person that feels misrepresented, you still have to step it up a notch. If you want something to change, you’re better off trying to change it yourself. Perfect yourself. Be in their face, to the extent that they can’t really deny you at that point, you know what I mean? Is it fair, is it not? That’s a different question right there. But you have to do your part in order to have people notice you.
From my very first video, the 3-in-1, I got a response quicker than I expected, but on the other hand, I had made a conscious effort of making sure this thing made me proud and represented the people and got the diversity of me and my sound out there. That type of move is an example of how you get that diversity out up front.
Lots of political talk on my blog, so do you have any thought about politics you want to share? Sovereignty, independence, do you have anything to say about that? Does it matter anymore?
I don’t even know anymore if it matters. I think Québec as a culture, in Canada, is and alway will be something distinct, and you see it in the entertainment business. That’s my personal point of view, and I might be biased. I know people in Ontario might have a different perspective, but Canadian identity is a little harder to distinguish than Quebecer identity from the American and other influences. This is something Quebecers, in the present moment, have to be proud about. And keep that pride alive.
The question of an independent country really has to do with economics. If you don’t have a strong leader, to convince people about things, I don’t think Québec will ever be ready. I think one of the strongest ones was René Lévesque, ’cause he could even get an immigrant to feel concerned. I think if René Lévesque was still alive he would be convincing more people now. But who’s in the movement right now? You have to keep in mind some of the people who sort of wrecked things, like Parizeau being a sore loser… There’s some major faux-pas that were done. I’m not against it, but I’m not particularly for it, in the situation that we’re in today.