They’ve infiltrated our universities, our art crawls, our festivals and our headphones. Maybe they’ve been here all along, and we’re the infiltrators. Who are they and what do they do?

They’re Hamilton’s hip-hop artists, and they’re not something you want to miss out on.

Lee Reed has been a Hamilton hip-hop fixture since the mid-‘90s. Reed gained prominence as the front man for the legendary and revolutionary group Warsawpack. Now he works on solo projects – playing shows all over Hamilton and releasing his own albums.

In a recent interview with the Public Intellectuals Project, which is a group of students, professors and activists writing about local concerns and academic debates, Reed talked about his musical and political role in Hamilton.Throughout the years, he’s been working with others in the hip-hop community to open up bigger clubs in Hamilton – the Casbah, This Ain’t Hollywood, Club Absinthe – to aspiring hip-hoppers so that they have a decent chance at exposure and success.

“The path I took with music locally has helped build bridges between the regular and hip-hop music communities,” said Reed. He sees other cities, like Toronto, as being divided between hip-hop and other musical circles.

Back when Hamilton’s scene was developing in the ‘90s, Reed, along with some other artists, helped make hip-hop a definitive part of Hamilton’s culture.

His work with Warsawpack involved live instrumentation, something that’s not often found in hip-hop scenes small or large. This, as well as years of networking with promoters and club owners, is part of how he has helped Hamilton’s scene become so integrated and diverse. Now, other distinctly Hamiltonian hip-hop groups like Canadian Winter play with live instrumentation to back up their rhymes – and believe me, it makes for a mind-blowing set.

While many of Reed’s lyrics have a radical edge, he insists that he doesn’t fully subscribe to any of the famous -isms.

“I’m not completely an anarchist, or a communist or a socialist or any of those things,” he said, but he believes that something needs to change. “We need to work towards a world without hunger, war, thirst … where people are treated respectfully and they treat their environment respectfully.”

However, he is not one to say that he has all the answers. He is a self-proclaimed critic, with the power to spark thought and emotion through his music. When describing how he is able to make a statement, he said, “I think I have the distinct advantage of poetic license. So, I can exaggerate, I can enflame, I can be vague, I can be open-ended.”

As a hip-hop artist, he doesn’t have to come to an academic conclusion in all of his arguments, but his listeners take away something from his music. They begin to see the cracks in the wall, and they’re challenged to draw their own conclusions. He’s unapologetic about his angry music, and it’s refreshing.

“I think I’m best defined by what I stand against with my music … and I think that’s how it manifests, as a loud and angry criticism.” Luckily for us, that angry criticism comes in the form of sick rhymes and dope beats.

At Supercrawl, he’s playing in the Roots 2Leaf Urban Arts Fundraiser at Club Absinthe, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15. Admission is by donation. There will be more than 16 performances, with break dancers, DJs, producers, beatboxers, emcees and a wall open for graffiti artists.

Part two of the fundraiser takes place at the Tivoli Theatre from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Roots 2Leaf is a free youth mentorship program that aims to empower youth through hip-hop.

Reed is also playing at Everybody Dance Volume 7: Super Crawl After-Party, at This Ain’t Hollywood on Sept. 15. He’s playing along with the Dirty Nil, BA Johnston and Toledo.

For the full interview with the Public Intellectuals Project, go to vimeo.com/49074075. You can follow him on twitter, @FreeLeeReed, and download his full-length album, Emergency Broadcast, for free at leereed.bandcamp.com.

 

Alex Epp


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