Emergent Rappers Refresh the Local Hip-Hop Scene

Shades Lawrence and Bea da Vinci Brought Us Back Home

Shades Lawrence is heavily influenced by Lauryn Hill,for her beautiful, beautiful poetic flow, social and political consciousness, and her overall bold delivery. Courtesy Magassy Mbow

The hip-hop culture of Montreal is alive, thriving, rooted in social justice, and constantly celebrating each other and the forces that came before.

On my somewhat informal quest to discover the local hip-hop scene, I fell head over heels for emerging artists Shades Lawrence and Bea di Vinci. Last Wednesday at Casa Del Popolo, hip-hop artist, producer, and poet Lawrence launched her first video for the song “Formidable Time”.

As the audience settled into the room, Magassy Mbow from Strange Froots led us into a heartfelt and organic acknowledgment of the event taking place on unceded Kanien’kehá:ka land, then passed the stage to di Vinci, who began the evening with spoken word pieces.

“Something that I really believe in, that I try to portray through a lot of my art, is activism through art, using it as a tool for community organising, as a way to educate and mobilise people,” said di Vinci. “Using a media that appeals so strongly to emotion is really an invaluable thing to use for enacting change.”

Di Vinci dove into song, owning the stage with confidence and attitude. Her flow was on point, revealing an impressive comprehension of cadence. She delivered sharp and smooth lines that bounced across the venue.

“It’s a mutual exchange,” said di Vinci, “I feel like when I communicate this message to them, they’re receiving it. I know they’re receiving it. And I get it back.”

While hip-hop can be about the demonstration of skills and the celebration of individual talent, the Montreal scene is collaborative, it’s about the community.“I find it’s like a family,” Lawrence said about Montreal’s hip-hop scene.

“Everybody knows everybody and they’re all really respectful and welcoming […] Everyone has been so accepting and it has made me feel right at home,” she continued.

Di Vinci echoed Lawrence’s sentiment, stating that the Montreal hip-hop community is particularly supportive. She added that Montreal is unique for its beautiful energy, vibe and culture. She explained that while it’s a tight community, there are many opportunities for artists to perform.

“Any show you go to, no matter how big the crowd is, the energy is always there. It’s really dope,” said di Vinci. “People are very into the hip-hop culture, of music, of dance, of, you know, artistry.”

Lawrence brought director and producer Lily Alexandre on stage for a round of applause and congratulations. Courtesy Magassy Mbow

Names of other femcees, emcees, producers, actresses and actors of the local and larger hip-hop scene poured into our conversations, speaking to the intrinsic collaborative spirit of the genre. Both Lawrence and di Vinci were quick to share singer-songwriter Lauryn Hill as a significant influence.

“One of my top influences right now: Lauryn Hill, definitely,” said Di Vinci, almost diving into a flow. “She just had this beautiful, beautiful poetic flow, but she was so socially and politically conscious, and the way that she delivered it was so bold.”

Lawrence shared that she brings something unique, because she is “highly influenced by the women in [her] life.” She continued that she is also heavily influenced by “women emcees, femcees, they’re called sometimes. So, Lauryn Hill is really the big one, for sure.”

Hill pierced through both the music of Lawrence and di Vinci, but their common admiration for the hip-hop trailblazer transcended into a deep respect and praise for one another. It was visible that both artists genuinely esteemed the other, and valued their work, creating a warm and sincere environment that wholly engaged the audience.

After a short intermission, allowing us to grab a drink and relax, Lawrence took the stage. A few groovy notes started to play, and she began her set with her song “Back Home”.

Lawrence explained that for her, hip-hop is about using poetry and beats to tell a story, and to talk about empowerment, and to talk about the struggle.

“To talk about surpassing the struggle, too. They are stories of hope, and that was something with hip-hop that drew me in a lot,” she said.

That night, Lawrence performed for the first time “East Van Story”, relating her time living in East Vancouver. She performed with vulnerability, which established a relationship of trust between the artist and the audience.

“I started to produce my own music and to put my hip-hop lyrics and poetry to beats,” explained Lawrence.

She shared that out of the desire to “add a little bit of musical flair to [her] poetry,” she taught herself how to produce music on Logic Pro X. Having myself dabbled with the software (unsuccessfully), her polished and professional-sounding songs are all the more impressive to me.

“That’s part of the process. It’s just, having the courage to stand up on stage, having the courage to share, having the courage to have other people hear the music,” said Lawrence.

After di Vinci’s opening and Lawrence’s performance, the evening culminated with the viewing of the “Formidable Time” video.

“We really worked hard on it. We sat down and really plotted out each shot, and each location to try and find the ones that would fit the song the best, because “Formidable Time” is a song I wrote about Standing Rock and around the time of the U.S. election, when Trump was elected. So, we really wanted to reflect the power of the water, and the political energy in the music video,” explained Lawrence.

Lawrence brought director and producer Lily Alexandre on stage for a round of applause and congratulations, then someone pressed play. Keeping true to Lawrence’s aesthetic, the videoclip is carefully crafted while remaining simple, and is rooted in an urban landscape.

“That’s really the theme of the song for me, it’s empowerment and resistance, and continuing to grow together and build together, and the collective struggle for human rights,” explained Lawrence about “Formidable Time”.

For hip-hop enthusiasts desiring to partake in the social aspect of it, the Montreal hip-hop scene has a lot to offer. I realised that it’s moving at the speed of a collective pulse; artists and iconic venues building a foundation; a fertile space for the explosive, the refreshing, the daring.

“What I hope to communicate through my performances is the common human spirit; that we all have something in common that makes us strong. And, whether it’s through story telling, or lyrics grounded in social justice, I hope to communicate that we’re all connected,” concluded Lawrence.