New West’s growing rap rep

Last night Douglas College helped kick off the opening of the annual Hip Hop 4 Peace Festival , a free, all-ages event now in its sixth year, the first time New West has joined the Vancouver-area party.

New Westminster isn’t exactly known for its vibrant hip hop scene. New West, on the other hand, most definitely is.

For readers not overly familiar with rap records or African-American urban youth subculture in general, the term “New West” has become part of the common language of hip hop – and, no, it wasn’t coined to describe the newly humble Kanye West still reeling from his career suicide attempt at last year’s VMA awards.

Plug it into your Google machine and you’ll turn up a slew of results that have absolutely nothing to do with the Royal City.

It’s the same reason so many shout-outs to and from rappers and n-bombs are riddled through the #newwest hashtag stream on Twitter – because for millions of people around world, New West means a rising hip hop scene centering around California-based artists rather than the original capital of British Columbia. Fo’ shizzle.

The history of rap music is inexorably linked with a long and bloody rivalry between West Coast and East Coast rappers. It’s sort of like America’s answer to Canada’s two solitudes, only with more rhyming, doo-rags and drive-by shootings.

He got the name Game.

The western contingent, largely connected with Death Row Records, include a variety of high-profile MCs who have now either gotten rich (Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, etc.) and/or died trying (2Pac, Mac Dre), but well-established veterans that have been embraced by the (white) mainstream are no longer really considered part of the left coast scene. It’s tough to maintain your Compton street cred when you’re a middle-aged, mansion-dwelling millionaire.

(I’d like to think these old school rappers would now be known as the Old West if country music hadn’t already taken it, but I digress.)

The best known example of the New West scene is the top-selling artist formerly known as The Game (now just Game), but it also includes up-and-comers like Crooked I, Nipsey Hussle, Bishop Lamont, Jay Rock (not the one from Trailer Park Boys) and Ya Boy, who are all trying to separate themselves from the original gangstas and build their own beefs with the East.

Of course, none of this has much to do with this weekend’s hip hop fest. Although commercially overshadowed by the antics of gangsta rappers, the real heart of hip hop music has always been more in tune with social justice and fighting oppression. (Well, that and breakdancing.) The performers and participants of the Hip Hop 4 Peace Festival, organized by the activist group Mobilization Against War and Occupation, would probably all much rather give peace a chance than bust a cap in anyone’s ass.

It’s much more Canadian, after all.

(This story was first published Sept. 25, 2010. © Copyright (c) New West Record

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