'This is the start of something': Prairie hip hop surges ahead of showcase

Five local hip-hop acts are playing a showcase Friday night in Winnipeg's West End, the culmination of "a sort of critical energy" in the city that's been years in the making.

"I definitely think that there's something happening in the scene right now," said Manitoba Music executive director Sean McManus. "There's a crop of young folks out there that we're really excited about."

Manitoba Music is hosting a showcase with 3PEAT, Len Bowen, Chris Bxnnxtt, Wynrush and CJ the Grey.

On Saturday, the city's hip-hop performers are invited to a roundtable discussion about what they need from the music association and what's next for artists.

Toronto's Taiwo Bah will be at that table. Bah works with FACTOR, a funding group dedicated to helping Canadian artists make albums.

"The [hip-hop] scene is structured a bit differently, and [FACTOR] wants to get more engaged," said McManus.

"When you're in Western Canada, and you're looking for hip-hop audiences to get in front of, they're not necessarily massive audiences, and you don't necessarily have as many mentors as you might if you were in one of the bigger centres."

Not necessarily massive audiences meant 20 or 30 people when the Winnipeg hip-hop trio 3PEAT started out about three years ago.

"We did shows — however many and as frequent as possible," said Dillin Morgan, aka 3PEAT's Dill the Giant.

But after a set at Nuit Blanche, they caught the eye of artists in other genres, and playing shows featuring mixed bills helped build a following.

"We've done shows with hardcore bands, metal bands, indie bands, other rap bands. We just opened for Begonia, which I think is the polar opposite of what we do, but for some reason it just kind of works together," said 3PEAT's Steven Teixeira.

"As long as you can incubate a vibe with who you're on the bill with, it doesn't matter who you're with."

Teixeira says Winnipeg's hip-hop scene is seeing obvious growth, in part because rap and hip hop are dominating pop culture and in part because technology has made it a lot easier to do it yourself.

"You can literally make a rap song in your basement or, you know, you can go to a big studio, it doesn't really matter. What matters is what comes up at the end of it," said Teixeira.

Chris Bennett, who performs as Chris Bxnnxtt, started a Facebook group for local artists in the genre, and now, there are about 120 performers swapping beats, tips and figuring out how to break through.

"We're all friends. We all see each other out at shows," said Bennett, a 24-year-old who has been performing for the past nine years. "That's the best part about it. It's friendly competition so that's what's creating such a great environment for it to breed."

McManus says despite the barriers that a small market brings, artists like the The Lytics have already had international success, showcasing in Japan, the U.K., Germany and the United States.

All of the artists on the bill say breaking into other markets is a next step for them.

Bennett will be performing more than a dozen shows in Europe in May and is releasing an EP before then. Meanwhile, 3PEAT is working on a western Canadian tour and is headed to Canadian Music Week in Toronto next month.

"Hip hop coming out of the Prairies is something that is unique … and there's definitely an appetite for it out there in the world," said McManus.

"We definitely feel like this is the start of something for us in terms of showcasing hip hop."

The Manitoba Music Hip Hop Showcase is at The Good Will Social Club at 625 Portage Ave. and starts at 9 p.m. on Friday. Tickets are $10.