by Mark Black
Any discussion of hip-hop in Halifax has to begin and end with Jorun Bombay. A legendary Halifax hip-hop figure, he’s worked as a DJ, MC and producer on 60-plus albums in the past 15 years. Haltown Projex was a group of MCs and DJs that existed in Halifax from 1992 until 1998. Spearheaded by Jorun and consisting of such Halifax legends as Buck 65, Bonshah, Tallis Newkirk and Shingai, the group’s beginnings were immortalized on the Buck 65 track, “Memories of the Passed.” Live performances took place at the legendary, but now defunct, all-ages club, Café Ole and the Khyber Club, both on Barrington Street. Many years ago Sean Jordan traded paper routes for rhymes and now goes by the moniker of Wordburglar. Inspired by Halifax MCs of the past, the Burg is one clever MC. The two met for a chat at Tribeca.
How did you get started in hip hop in Halifax?
Jorun: The first show I ever played in Halifax was Club 55 on Gottingen Street. I was like 16. I was opening for…MCJ. I had my set sabotaged because I was the young kid, y’know, little 16-year-old guy, ‘C’mon let’s tease him’ or whateverWordburglar: I performed with some friends in high school and we played Café Ole and it was just through someone at my high school who was putting on a music show there…and they put us on.Basically I just did little shows here and there and then when I finally had a cd to release, we did a release show in Hell’s Kitchen and that was just through people I knew in the scene and had worked on the album.
Today a lot of promoters network with bands through MySpace or the Internet. Jo, how did you get on your first bill?
Jorun: For that (the Club 55 show), usually people within the five-block radius (of the venue) went to that show. That was like the Uniacke Square crowd…I knew everybody there in the sense of, ‘well we hadn’t formally met, but we were all in the same schoolyard.’ They would know me as Emmanuel’s younger brother. ‘What are you doing here? You’re not a DJ?!’ And then I did my sound check and people were like, ‘Wow!’ Talk about coming out of nowhere. Bang! Bang! Bang!”I practiced for a year and a half then came out. They kind of knew me, but they…knew me as the guy in the playground minding my business. I lived in that five-block radius, I live across from the square for forever.Very different then than now. Now you have to go through an initiation period. The little so-called bullies in the scene want to put you through an initiation. I think it’s stupid. If you want to do music just go out and do music. I’ve never had to put people through that before and I’ve never been put through that. If you have the heart to do music go out and do it. What about the Haltown Projex?
Jorun: I’ve given a lot of people opportunities in town. We had a big show going on and I had a lot on my shoulders; I had to promote it and then DJ for 11 groups; I made all their music and had to mix it down in the studio and Classified heard about me, came to a show at Café Ole…and came up to me and said ‘Yeah, can we open the show? I know you don’t know us, but we know about you…I have your tapes.’And I let him.There were a lot of times at the beginning of a show, where I would say ‘Just to show that we are all here as one, the first 10 minutes are for the crowd. Anybody in here who has talent come up now and get it out of your system.’There were people who came out of that like…Tachichi (of The Goods) came out that way, Classified and a few other people. They weren’t put through the bullies, they just did their thing.Wordburglar: I used to go to those Café Ole shows when I was a little kid. I kinda lived right around the corner.
In 1996, Hand’Solo Records debuted the now legendary Bassments of Badmen compilation featuring Classified, Jorun, Buck 65, Sixtoo and Hip Club Groove among others. The compilation owed a debt to Jorun’s Haltown Meltdown recordings and featured some of those early crowd free for all freestyles from Café Ole.
Jorun: Tachichi’s first time on stage was as Little T. We had a host, my good friend Shingai …and I stopped the record, ready to start the show and he looked at me like’“Trust me, we’ve got one last guy. I know him, I’ll vouch for him, this guy will blow you away.’ He stuck his hand out, brought this kid up on stage and said, ‘Jo, bring that beat back.’Tachichi came on and there were people in the audience saying ‘Noooo, start the show!’…and then he did his thing and everybody’s cheering. And he got caught up in the moment saying, ‘I showed you!’And that moment is captured on the Bassments of Badmen.
That compilation seemed to level the playing field for MCs in Halifax. Is a compilation like that possible now?
Jorun: It could, but things have changed so much. Then we had no choice but to work hard, there was no internet. For that one show, we went to every area high school at 2am, to avoid the cops, to put up posters. It’s like a monsoon out and we’re putting up posters. But there was no frowny faces…it would be like, ‘Oh man I am so excited, I am wet, I am soaked, but this show is going to go off!’Now you can’t get kids off the internet. They make one little poster on Adobe and they put it up and they expect everybody to go to it and then don’t understand why people don’t go to the show. When I tell them you gotta to do the work, they said, ‘Ah, you’re just bragging.’I would rather have the internet then. There was no other avenue, you could put up the posters or choice number two, you don’t do hip-hop. Now there’s so many choices. Wordburglar: Now, especially with MySpace and YouTube, anybody can think they’re a superstar if your song goes up and you get a thousand hits or whatever. All these people sitting in their bedrooms putting this stuff online, on one hand it’s a great way to promote…Jorun: But it’s only one little tool. You can’t build a house with just a screwdriver.Wordburglar: You have all these guys saying ‘Yeah, yeah’ I’m an MC, I’m a Halifax MC…’ And it’s like, “Oh great! Ever do a show?” “No, but my MySpace has got all these songs on it.’Jorun: They don’t understand. MC means Master of the Ceremony; that means you’re the host of the show. If all you are is a rapper, don’t call yourself an MC.Put the rhymes away for a good long time and host the party. A rapper doesn’t do that, but they’ve got the balls to call themselves an M-C. They don’t even know what that word means. That’s a big thing that has changed.
What do you think worked about a place like Café Ole?
Wordburglar: There’s a few different answers to that…I remember it being literally all ages. You would have kids there and you’d have people of legal drinking age and that was what was cool about it.Jorun: Keep in mind what was next door…Wordburglar: Comic bookstore, Sam the Record Man…Jorun: And the Khyber… It was almost like a package. A lot of times after we closed a show at Café Ole, we moved the after party next door to the Khyber. Or we’d have a pre-show or whatever, we’d sell our tapes there and then we’d say “If you didn’t have money today, go next door (to Sam’s) tomorrow and you can buy our tapes there.”Wordburglar: That’s where I bought all my old Halifax tapes.Jorun: We were living in the moment. When he (Word Burglar) tells me stuff, I say “I never saw it that way.” I didn’t realize how people looked at it later.Sixtoo…we were just talking about this last week, we didn’t realize a lot of the stuff that was going…took it for granted…Wow that was quite the time.Wordburglar:: It was.
Do you think it’s nostalgia or were things really better back in the day (circa 1996-1999)?
Jorun: It really was that great.
What about Halifax today?
Wordburglar: It will always be the shows. All the MCs that I see out of Halifax that are doing well, are guys who are constantly doing shows and that’s how you do it. You’re just going to get better, see what works, see what an audience responds to and you’re just going to learn how to rock. When you go see rappers today like somebody like Kool Keith, people might go ‘Oh, he’s out there,’ but you see him live and he is an old-school MC.You see them…and they’ve honed their craft in front of live audiences. The internet is amazing for getting your stuff out to Italy, Australia and Japan, but you got to build up a good live show. There are people doing it in Halifax. There’s a good pocket of groups doing it. You see the guys who have been doing the grind for a long time, obviously Classified is doing a great job.It is weird because a lot of people do leave. Jesse’s (Dangerously) gone, Spesh(K) is gone …Jorun: Spesh is gone?Wordburglar: Yeah to Toronto…Jorun: He called me from Montreal one night because he was at a Kool Herc party…”Ohmygod Jo, I’m right beside Kool Herc!”Wordburglar: Right now there seems to be more MCs and DJs than ever. You have the Elements League going on…PRD is still going, started years ago by Process and Bix in front of the library and that is still going on.Jorun: Every time the city tries to shut down a place that is doing well in hip-hop, it keeps going. There is a transition period. The Khyber was the middle point, Ghettosocks was a doing a thing with Alpha Flight there, and the city shut the Khyber down, and then right after Sam’s closed, and then right after that the Marquee closed down…then there was nowhere to perform. But then…people just made do with what was around, ‘Let’s go down to this alley way and meet at five o’clock every Friday and do our thing and put it on the internet.’ Every time they make do with the situation.While we’re waiting, let’s keep doing stuff. This city has been going up, down, up, down, but the hip-hop thing just keeps going.Wordburglar: Hip-hop will always be a part of Halifax. If you travel around Canada everybody knows Halifax for its hip hop scene. It’s dope.
What are some of your favourite Halifax-centric lines by local MCs?
Jorun: I don’t know about Halifax, but Nova Scotia…J Bizzy stands out.You know you’re from Shelburne When…Wordburglar: J Bizzy has a lot of great lines. J Bizzy! Put out a new album!Jesse Dangerously had a good one, ‘Yes, yes y’all, I’m at the West End Mall’Jorun: Fiz (of Universal Soul) had ‘I’m walking down the streets of Gottingen, It’s hot again, too warm too warm, gotta take off the cardigan.’
Is there anyone from Halifax that you thought didn’t get the recognition they deserved?
Wordburglar: Knowself.Jorun: Nathan…Nathan…Wordburglar: Nathan C…Jorun: Ruffneck.
When was the last time he did anything?
Jorun: He has an album done right now. He’s dealing with life situations, he’s taking care of business…he’s got kids that always slows things down.