Need proof that urban music is the hottest sound in Canada right now? Look no further than the meteoric rise of Drake, Classified, or A Tribe Called Red.
But when people talk about East Coast music, rap and hip hop usually aren't the first genres that come to mind.
The Urban East Music Conference is looking to change that.
Urban artists have converged on Saint John to strut their stuff, talk shop, and attend panel discussions on making it in industry.
The conference is being presented by Musik Iz the Motive and Momentum Canada.
From New York and Croatia
Dwayne Marcial, aka DJ Slim, is the curator of the conference. He's been working on bringing the rap and hip hop-focused event to Saint John for years — but this year was finally the right time to execute the vision.
"We have people from New York, Croatia, Cleveland, and all over Canada," he said. "It's a great thing for this city, for Atlantic Canada and for Canada. It was important for development — giving guys from New Brunswick a chance. There's a lot of talent here but we haven't had the resources to guide people."
Torontonian Taiwo Bah works with FACTOR Canada, a public-private partnership that supports Canadian musicians. He stopped in Saint John for Urban East as part of a Canada-wide tour to connect with artists in under-represented genres such as rap and hip hop.
"The big difference between those genres and the ones that are more established like folk and country is that there isn't as much of an infrastructure," Bah said. "A lot of the institutions that exist exist for the purpose of advancing indie rock. That means we're behind the 8-ball when it comes to opportunities for hip hop."
"It's about how we can make resources accessible to people of colour just the same as white people," Bah said. "This is empowering people underground to do the work themselves, and support them in doing it."
Rapper M.A.R a.k.a Mr. Light It Uppp said it's important to have a conference that focuses specifically on urban genres.
"It's teaching me the game, how it goes, and I'm all ears," he said. "You meet good people, it's good networking, and you learn a lot."
For artists who feel like they can't make it in a place like Saint John, he said, "never believe in small-town jitters because that's not even true.
"The internet is bigger than everything right now, so you can absolutely make it in a small town."
Award-winning artists, Jay Z's nephew
The idea behind the conference, according to Marcial, was bringing together music industry representatives and artists from around the world to mentor young artists from the East Coast.
An all-ages showcase at 8 p.m. Friday at the Kent Theatre will feature performances by J-Bru, Miracle, Rude Dowg, Old Self and Kam Speech, B Noq, NDRW, Fortunato, Gage Major, Kielly Koyote, Luca$, Wilz, Jugghe$d, and UDA
Music Nova Scotia 2015 African Nova Scotian Artist of The Year Reeny Smith will perform with award-winning Saint John singer-songwriter Sadie Donahue at Taco Pica at 9 p.m. Friday.
On Saturday, the keynote speech will be delivered Rel Carter, founder of 'Carter Wisdom Management and ambassador for his uncle, business mogul Jayz's D'Usse cognac brand. Carter acts as artists and repertoire coordinator for RocNation records.
The event wraps up on Saturday evening with an after-party at Club Rewind.
Need to share
Marcial hopes events like Urban East will remove the barriers that still exist for urban artists.
That includes more rap and hip-hop friendly friends — which are in short supply everywhere in Canada, but particularly on the East Coast.
Toronto-born rapper Cash Dough said it's strange that the stigma still exists when urban music dominates the national and international charts.
"The gritty place where hip hop started is a scarier thing for Canada to grip on to," he said.
"Canada likes to pretend like we don't have hoods or troubled youth. Canada is looked at as sunshine and rainbows. But there is a lot of bad stuff that is going on too, and you gotta let the world know what happened to you and get it out there."
"This is about us sharing experiences in order to grow."