The business of hip hop

🕔Jan 30, 2007
Hip hop is a culture, a way of life. And it doesn’t exist in northwest BC.

At least that’s what everyone told Justin Deagnon, an MC from Edmonton, when he first moved to Terrace in the summer of 2005.

But Deagnon, 23, known as Pocket to his friends, refused to believe them and soon, through word of mouth, a crew of about 20 hip hop heads had gathered who love the music as much as he does.

Many practice their art at home, not publicly, says Deagnon. The scene is here. It just isn’t organized.

So that’s what he plans to do: organize it while making it into a business.

With the help of 16/37 Community Futures—an organization committed to supporting small businesses—as well as his mom, Deagnon is applying for grants and loans totaling about $25,000 to start a local record label. With the money, he hopes to build a music studio, record several albums, host events and organize a music tour of northwest BC—all within six months. The proposed label name is Pocket Productions.

“I’m trying to showcase local talent,” he says. But there’s more to it than that.

Making choices

Deagnon grew up in a poor, rough neighborhood of Edmonton—“pretty much a ghetto,” he recalls. He started rapping as a teenager when he had no other means to express himself. Friends who died young motivated him to improve his and others’ situations.

You have a choice, he figures. “You can do what you can to change it or you can keep going with the way it is. I decided to change it.”

Hip hop just happens to be the medium that works best for him. “Growing up, rap was a part of the lifestyle I led. It was the only music that appealed to me and dealt with a lot of issues I could relate to.”

Deagnon admits to using some swear words in his songs, but said overall his messages are positive and socially conscious.

“In life and society, something really lacking is the message that just because this is how it is doesn’t mean this is how it has to be,” he explains. “Words, given the right medium and enough people listening, can be very powerful and can change people’s ideals.”

Sitting on an upside-down cardboard box, Deagnon clasps his hands and stares hard at the floor of his mostly empty apartment. After a few moments to reflect, he says, “I’m trying to add some light to a world that is really, really dark. I’m trying to keep people’s dreams alive.”

Through hip hop, Deagnon and his crew want to inspire others to create a better world and follow their dreams. The group’s name is Sky’s the Limit—“because the opportunities here are endless,” he says.

Hip hop breakdown

The crew now has three out of the four elements of hip hop: MCs (masters of ceremonies) who bust rhymes and rap original lyrics; DJs (disc jockeys) who play and mix beats; and a group of breakdancers, the B-boys, who have been performing at events and festivals in the northwest for a couple years. The only element missing, which they are searching for, is graffiti artists.

Some female rappers would be great too as they would add another whole aspect to the music, Deagnon adds. He knows a couple girls who could possibly join the crew but worries most may be intimidated because all the members so far are male.

Already, Sky’s the Limit has performed in Terrace at the Artful Cup and the Kiva, and in Kitimat for an Alcan telethon fundraiser. The B-boys have also taught breakdance workshops in several Terrace primary schools.

All of the guys are different—“artists in their own way,” Deagnon says. But they share one thing in common: “They are good-hearted people, very caring. None are wannabe gangsters or drug dealers.”

Many people associate hip hop with money, sex, and drugs. But, explains Sky’s the Limit DJ Kevin “Benny the Jet” Bennett, the “bling bling” gangster image people perceive as hip hop is actually rap, and that is only a small part of the scene. “Hip hop is more earthy. Hip hop is about living life.”

The real thing

Bennett, 22, defines his art as “mashing, scratching and juggling different records together to form one song.”

“It’s not manufactured. It’s real,” he says, comparing it to top-40 music. “You get into a zone. It’s like a high.”

B-boy crew member Zeke Terbasket, 19, describes a similar feeling he gets when he dances: “I feel I’m not really there at the moment. I feel I’m in another world,” he says, adding, with a shy smile, “as corny as that sounds.”

Terbasket explains that B-boying is, in essence, about being creative. It’s dancing through your soul—dancing to express, not to impress. “It’s a very positive art form. It can bring cultures together, and reduces prejudices and stereotypes.”

And, he states, the kids not only like it—they are heavily influenced by it. “The scene here is definitely growing,” he adds.

According to Tony deMelo, the manager of Terrace’s major music retail store and a prominent figure in the local music scene, the entire scene is “opening up.” New venues are allowing more artists to perform original music, though classic rock remains the most popular sound here.

Though Deagnon is confident in the appeal of hip hop and the talent of his crew members, he isn’t certain how Terrace and the northwest will receive Sky’s the Limit. But he’s taking the risk anyway.

“I believe if you really want something bad enough, you can make it happen.”