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The Saviour of CanCon

Abdominal Up till now, the most publicized rapping about Ontario’s capital has been found on the infamous guns-‘n’-gangstas DVD The Real Toronto, which doesn’t exactly paint a favourable picture of the city or its hip-hop scene. So naturally, when MC Abdominal and his collaborators Note to Self asked Mayor David Miller to record an introduction to their positive, spirited track “T-Ode,” he was — as Abdominal recalls — “gung-ho.”

“Word on the street is, you’ve got the unofficial Toronto anthem!” Miller declares at the outset of the song, which big-ups everything from the CN Tower to the Leafs to the Danforth’s tzatziki (rhymed with “graffiti,” natch). “T-Ode” is a slice of catchy (if slightly goofy) braggadocio that kicks off the Do Right records compilation Required Listening 2, due to be launched this coming weekend at the Global Hip-Hop: The 4 Elements festival at the Harbourfront.

Over lunch at one of the “corner cafés” to which he gives props to in “T-Ode,” Abdominal (a.k.a. Andy Bernstein) tells of how on tour in the UK and Japan, he is “always rocking various items of Canadian-related clothing — my CBC shirt, Maple Leafs jerseys, my Roots hooded sweatshirts — I’m a proud Canadian, proud Torontonian. There’s other big hip-hop cities like New York and LA, but Toronto’s always been under-represented, so I felt there was a niche and wanted to fill it.”

Abdominal and DJ Fase will be playing a set at the festival, which also fills a niche: it’s designed to present the four elements of hip-hop (rapping, DJ-ing and production, breakdancing, and graffiti) with free performances and workshops.

While the city’s indie rock scene has been amply hyped, its hip-hop remains, with a few exceptions, obscure not only to the world at large, but even to most Torontonians. “When we do shows at the usual venues,” says Abdominal, “it’s cool, but the problem is when only the usual suspects come to those shows.”

The Global Hip-Hop festival, with a full slate of free shows and workshops including everyone from Wyclef Jean to “Phil the Rhyming Chef,” will feature local talent in the context of national and international acts.

“The world’s bigger than Toronto,” says Abdominal, “and I think we’ll make the most impact [here] by thinking bigger and really setting our sights high. The more successful international artists we have, and the more Toronto becomes known as a hot bed for hip-hop, the more our confidence will rise.”

Abdominal himself has had exposure outside of Canada, largely due to his collaborations with England’s DJ Format. Soon, he’ll be touring to promote his solo debut, Escape from the Pigeon Hole, which also features “T-Ode.” The album is an eclectic showcase for his flow, which is good-humoured (even when he’s railing against those who stand on the left side of escalators), intricate, and technically demanding — on the track “Breathe Later,” he unleashes a verse which lasts for 16 mid-tempo bars without pausing to inhale.

Not every track is G-rated like “T-Ode”: most notably, “Radio Friendly,” with production by turntablist extraordinaire Cut Chemist, intentionally (and hilariously) fails to live up to its name.

So how will all of this go down at the Harbourfront?

“It’s a family thing,” Abdominal acknowledges. “We’re doing the late-night session, so we’ll gauge the crowd.”

And if David Miller is in the audience?

“We’ll have to mayor-ify it.”

— Originally appeared in The National Post, July 21, 2007


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