Don’t even try to play coy, y’all weren’t up on Canadian hip-hop until Kardinal Offishall unleashed the crossover smash “Bakardi Slang” in 1999. A frenzied, uptempo club-oriented jam that captured the toast/rap, highly ragga-influenced vibes emerging from the shores of Toronto, Kardi appeared to have finally directed some Stateside attention towards the great North.
Far from being a juvenile scene, Canadian hip-hop has boasted an embarrassment of talent from its birth- Maestro Fresh Wes garnered acclaim for much of his earlier work, even scoring an underground banger with Gauge in the mid â€˜90s, while Michie Mee, Canada’s most influential female emcee and the Rascalz have sculpted lasting musical legacies that have inspired a stream of artists in their wake. Far from being a feeble facsimile of American sounds, Canadian rap tends to draw heavily from Canada’s broad West Indian heritage, a heady melange of calypso, dancehall, roots reggae and hip-hop that pulses with vibrancy and invention. Behind much of Canadian hip-hop, however, is a grassroots sincerity and ingenuity that lies submerged beneath its dizzyingly diverse musical influences. Much like it’s East Coast cousin New York City, the metropolis of Toronto thrives on rap music, and nowhere is this more evident than in its subterranean, independent scene, where this sincerity permeates the drudgery of urban life and transforms the concrete jungle into a celebration of life-affirming hip-hop. Enter the Soliva Spit Society, a quintet that has put forth a work that is always earnest, always creative, and always passionate.
As warm analog static and a subdued guitar riff gently introduce a pulsating drum, we are treated to a gloriously mid-90’s posse cut reminiscent of vintage Hieroglyphics crew output. This is an influence that permeates the entirety of the EP- the quirky delivery juxtaposed with more sedate production, the calculated interplay between the emcees. However, while this quintet has certainly absorbed certain lessons from the West Coast godfathers, they are far from rehashes of messrs. Casual and company, as each boasts a highly distinctive, personable flow that exudes charm and character. Intent on steering clear from battle rap clichÃ©s that plague many of their underground contemporaries, they engage the listener in a host of creatively-structured concept tracks- “Open Doors” is a formidable collage of thoughts, as the sparse production allows the emcees to flex their highly individual styles in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, speaking on topics like insincerity and false friends. “Dollar To Give”‘s whimsical, half-beatboxed production boasts a Roy Ayers-esque keyboard loop and an infectious hook, as the group uses the song as platform to ask the perennial broke emcee question- “anyone got a dollar to give?”. “Carpenter Space”, meanwhile, offers a painfully earnest deconstruction of the underground artist’s struggle, highlighted by such humorous bars as “I’m trying to sell my CD, but that’s not hard, but we’ve got school, got job, credit cards” and “All these criminals who got shot so many times they hard of hearin'”. Of further interest is the stellar production of “No You Didn’t”, the album’s closer, driven by inventive percussion (sounds like tablas) and brawny, rumbling, droning bass.
If one minor gripe can be lodged against this otherwise sterling piece of work, it would perhaps be the fact that the emcee’s identities are strangely concealed. While Serebral makes certain to introduce himself in spots, the voices behind the Hiero-informed soundscapes remain anonymous. The enigma thickens in the CD booklet, featuring hand-scrawled portraits of the crew. Of course, this can always be interpreted in a positive manner and a logical extension of the crew’s convictions- to craft music that is driven by ingÃ©nue, as opposed to elaborately constructed facades and images. While this release lacks the expansive musical influences of their peers, this EP is no less effective as a testament of the teeming promise that abounds up north. If you are a fan of older Hiero crew, Living Legends circa Mystik Journeymen, early Visionaries and a smidgen of Black Star, and would like to see such influences reinterpreted in a technically superior, creative and impassioned fashion, please do yourself a favour and visit www.spitsociety.com