Hip hop knowledge is power

Dre Pharoh GigCity EdmontonThe meeting attracts about 20 young men and women from all races and walks of life. They take turns telling stories, asking questions, airing complaints. Some get emotional.

I keep expecting a guy to stand up and say, “Hi, my name is Dave and I’m addicted to hip hop!”

Because this is not a support group for recovering drug addicts. It’s the “hip hop knowledge cipher” that happens every Tuesday night at the Naked Cyber Café. Cipher means “sacred circle.” It’s a place for enthusiasts of the genre – more than a genre, a culture – to learn and talk about the artistic, spiritual, political, social and moral foundations of hip hop. It’s heavy.

The group leader is a heavy cat, one Andre Hamilton, also known as Dre Pharoh, previously known as Point Blank, also working under the alias Dedaliss; so many rap handles adds mystery to this character. He was Edmonton’s first rapper, along with his friend Bill Connelly – aka A-Okay – and others in what came to known as the DOPE Mob. In 1991 they became the first rap group West of Toronto to score a national record deal, Hamilton says. Their local shows drew thousands of fans. Hip hop cred established.

Hamilton refuses a phone interview, and instead invites me to join one of the meetings. I am not the only one taking notes. The Master talks, he poses questions, assures his acolytes that they can ask “anything.” They do. No holds barred. The race card is played. Sexism is tackled. On negative stereotypes in gangsta rap, Hamilton dials up an old school music video where some gangsta-like rapper runs down a list of things he doesn’t do, like carry a gun or smoke weed or rap about carrying a gun and smoking weed. Stereotype exploded.

A question goes around the circle: What’s the one word that sums up the state of hip hop in Edmonton?

“Eclectic” is one.

“Divided” is another.

Thankfully, discussion sidetracks the question before it gets to me. There are more videos, more insights, more discussion – all fueled by the powerful stimulant of high-test Caffe Americanos. It gets intense, yet always friendly. Hamilton stops a minor argument by gently invoking the sacred code: “The rule in this circle is that you don’t talk when someone else is talking.” Peace.

Name another genre of music that digs this deep into itself. OK, punk. Like hip hop, punk is more than music. It’s attitude, culture, fashion. Henry Rollins’ spoken word shows would certainly qualify as a punk knowledge cipher, although the “sacred circle” is reserved for actual punk rock shows. You don’t talk in mosh pits. You BOND.

NEXT: The Godfathers of Edmonton Rap

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