Hip hop helps the medicine go down

She was fresh off the plane and felt a little heady from drinking wine with her “boys.” Nevetheless, Kia Kadiri was itching to go dog…

She was fresh off the plane and felt a little heady from drinking wine with her “boys.”

Nevetheless, Kia Kadiri was itching to go dog sledding.

The minus 30-degree weather didn’t faze the Vancouver-based hip-hop artist, who threw some long johns on under her jeans.

“I was up here for Frostbite (Music Festival) two years ago and really wanted to go dog sledding then, but didn’t get the chance,” she said.

This year she was only up here for a day and a half, to perform with Students Working Against Tobacco at Bring Youth Toward Equality’s annual youth conference.

“I realized if I didn’t go this afternoon, I wouldn’t get the chance,” she said, struggling to help harness the excited huskies.

Mushing is a far cry from freestyling and break beats, but Kadiri loved it.

“Let’s go, let’s go,” she yelled to the trotting dog team, peddling the snow with her foot.

By the end of the run, one finger and several of her toes were frozen and she was ready to warm up in her hotel room, but first she called her mom on Vancouver Island to tell her about the dog sledding adventure.

Kadiri grew up far from the Canadian wilderness, in Liverpool, England, and was six when her family moved to Edmonton.

“I had speech impediments when I was little,” said Kadiri, now famous for her double-time rapping speed.

“I did lots of speech therapy, choir, musical theatre and band.”

Although music played a role in her young life, Kadiri lived in skating rinks, training as a figure skater.

“So, I was listening to tangos and waltzes, learning to count rhythm and timing while everyone else was listening to INXS,” she said.

“I hated hip-hop when I was growing up,” she added.

It wasn’t until she graduated from high school in Victoria, where she had moved with her family, that music began to shape her life.

“I didn’t go to university because I didn’t want to go into debt,” she said.

“And around this time I met a bunch of musicians who were just jamming, and someone asked me to jam with their band, but I had never sang before.”

Kadiri began to spend time with “a 29-year-old Jamaican guy who grew up on the streets of Toronto and a 30-year-old kid who grew up on the streets of Oakland.

“They had streets smarts and started teaching me about hip-hop culture and, more importantly, they were my first black friends,” she said.

“They began to teach me what it was like being a black person growing up in the States, cause growing up in Victoria I was never really exposed to racism.

“That’s why I hated hip-hop when I was a kid, because I didn’t really understand it — what are they talking about, what are they yelling about?”

But these people are still experiencing racism and classism, she said.

“I started to really relate it to the culture of jazz, because there are a lot of similarities with oppression — and these voices coming from the black communities, hip hop is just an extension of that.”

All rap takes a feeling or an opinion and puts it to time, said Kadiri.

Unfortunately, hip-hop has been commercialized for mass marketing and has lost its original cause in so many ways, she said.

“Now people think, oh, it makes money to rhythm about guns and violence, let’s do this.

“These people are coming from rich communities rapping about being in the ghetto, and they really don’t know what it’s like.”

Throughout her 20s, Kadiri kept jamming with jazz musicians when she wasn’t hanging out with the hip-hop community, working with MCs, DJs and producers.

“It was funny, cause I was going to jazz school in the summertime and then hanging out with The Telepathics, whose DJ went on to spin for the Swollen Members,” she said.

Now Kadiri is one of the leading female hip-hop artists in the country and is an educator as well as a performer.

“Lots of people don’t want to teach people the tricks —how to rap or how to freestyle,” she said.

“But if you can count to four, then you can rap.”

Kadiri frequently teaches freestyle workshops at the University of British Columbia.

“It’s funny, I didn’t go to university, but I teach at them now,” she said with a laugh.

“Rap is poetry; there is so much intelligence in one or two bars of music.”

One of Kadiri’s songs, Contradistinction, uses all the “tion” words in the dictionary up to contradistinction.

“It was me being bored at home with my dictionary and it ends up being this super political, heavy piece.”

Another of her songs, called New Foundation, deals with the Vietnam War and why lessons learned there are relevant today in Iraq.

So, it’s important to break down the  stereotypes and the misjudgment that rap is just a bunch of kids who can’t stop swearing, she said.

Musicians tend to be the messengers of the different truths that are surfacing out there.

And music is an avenue in which people will listen, if it’s paved in nice beats and beautiful singing, she said.

“All of a sudden people are going to listen to an anti-war track; whereas, if I got all up in your face and started to lecture at you, it is going to turn a lot of people off.

“You can have a really serious message and you put it to a funk beat with a crazy track happening underneath and then all of a sudden people are listening to really heavy messages.”

And rapping for SWAT at last weekend’s youth conference, Kadiri and her “boys” proved that sugar-coating the medicine works.

Their anti-tobacco message was bolstered by break dancing, beats and freestyle rap.

With two members of the BBoy crew, Ivan De Leon and Colin Trickey, up from Vancouver, SWAT offered youth conference attendees lengthy head spins, long shoulder slides and some wild flips.

Kadiri was freestyling over the break moves, rapping about the poisons in cigarettes, while DJ Timothy Wisdom scratched and dropped beats in the background.

And the kids loved it.

SWAT mainly travels to various high schools in the Vancouver area, but have been commissioned to do touring shows.

This was their first time in Whitehorse.