(Quebec) Just before entering the exhibition room with Aly Ndiaye, alias Webster, an old friend of his comes out all smiles. “I thought it was going to be in a small section of the museum, but when I saw it was in the main room, I said ‘Wow!’ It’s touching, because it’s our childhood, it’s our experience,” underlines Thierry Kayitana, who rapped under the name Masta-Kay at the time when Webster played within the Limoilou Starz collective.
“It’s 30 years of our lives on the walls of a national museum,” adds the latter. I’ve been intellectualizing and theorizing about the exhibition for years, but I didn’t think about the emotional side. When I visited it for the first time, emotion filled me. […] I saw two people who were in front of one of my texts that I wrote when I was a teenager and it was surreal. To see people, friends with whom I have worked represented, celebrated, it is a great pride. »
On words. The sound of queb rap should delight everyone those who identify with hip-hop culture through its rigor, attention to detail and its artifacts – CDs, cassettes, vinyls, promotional brochures, boom box and other essential items for MCs, DJs, breakers and graffiti artists. But since Webster also wanted “the general public to find what they were looking for and for it not to be too cryptic,” the exhibition offers a captivating audio circuit recounting the origins of hip-hop and its evolution in Quebec.
Anne-Sophie Desmeules, head of press relations for the museum, indicates that “60% of the journey is in the ears”. The institution has developed geolocation technology with three Quebec firms that modifies the sound environment according to the movements of visitors.
A headset is given at the entrance to hear the texts narrated by Webster and Jenny Salgado, aka J-Kyll from Muzion, as well as testimonials and, of course, music.
In six steps
Our first steps are taken in the Bronx, the borough of New York where hip-hop was born 50 years ago. It is also a happy coincidence that On lyrics opens in this anniversary year, because Webster began his efforts with the museum in 2020. It is subsequently explained that in the early 1980s, Montrealers of Haitian and Jamaican origin allowed rap to cross our border by bringing back cassettes following trips to their extended families based in New York. The first ones block parts on Quebec soil were held at that time and, in order to bring to life the unique atmosphere of these musical gatherings, the exhibition offers one with DJ Nerve on the decks and ParkaOne and Spectrax providing entertainment.
It is also possible to slip into a cypher, a circle in which rappers take turns declaiming their improvised prose. We hear, among others, Calamine, Naya Ali and Karma Atchykah.
The journey continued in the 1990s, when rap became “Quebecized” thanks to its numerous cultural mixes and the integration of joual into the lyrics. With this comes a fight for greater recognition, notably at the ADISQ gala. It is also about the stigmatization of hip-hop culture in relation to the negative values it can convey, as well as the issues of racial profiling and systemic racism.
What I would like people to remember is that the artistic and social wealth presented in this exhibition has been happening right under their noses for decades.
Aly Ndiaye, aka Webster
“Often the only entry point they had was media that portrayed who we were in a negative way. There, we adjust the lens to get a better view of what happened in people’s backyards for 30 years,” says Webster.
The exhibition ends with the themes Engaged and Transmission. It is emphasized that hip-hop culture must continue its efforts to integrate women and marginalized communities and that one of the ways to achieve this is to make it shine outside the circle of initiates. “We must continue to build, then cast our net even wider. For example, we haven’t really touched the English-speaking scene, but hip-hop in Quebec has long been driven by English-speakers. […] The important thing is to get institutions like the Museum of Civilization to understand the creative value of this culture,” says Webster.
On words. The sound of queb rap at the Musée de la civilization, until September 2, 2024