The Miseducation of Femcees: Two of Edmonton’s Female Rappers Show Love For Their Culture

This is the last in my series that explores hip-hop culture in Edmonton. I’ve discovered the strong voices that artists have and choose to share with their community, and there’s no better way to finish than to have these two powerful femcees voice their opinions about their culture.


Tzadeka and Mc Lovely are two female emcees or “femcees” whose rhymes aren’t just about experiences as a woman, but they’re about human experiences, inspired by their surroundings in the city. Tzadeka, whose name is inspired by the Hebrew word for righteousness, represents this to the fullest in everything that she does as a performer. Mc Lovely, for the last ten years has been rallying females involved in all aspects of hip-hop culture. Together, both give their opinions and insights about the importance of hip-hop to them and why people in Edmonton should take notice.

Who’s your favourite hip-hop idol?

Tzadeka: I’m not sure I can name my one and only hip-hop idol — but I will name some names. I love Bahamadia for her deep, smooth vocals, real life content and non-hyper sexualized persona. Jean Grae for her fierce sometimes angry flows. Lauryn Hill for being a sick MC as well as an incredible vocalist. Kinnie Starr for representing Canadian aboriginal femcees with an enduring need to challenge how humanity at large is ‘pornified’ and what that means for women in hip-hop and women in general.

I was first turned on to hip-hop by my older sister in the 90’s — Tribe Called Quest and Diggable Planets were my entry point. I love strength and integrity in music and I am inspired by, particularly women who exemplify it in an industry that promotes women as sex objects in so many cases.

Mc Lovely: I try not to idolize celebrities or performers. We are all just people. I treat everyone equally, with respect and dignity. I have opened for a lot of people who most would consider famous…. When it comes to my favourite MC it would have to be Black Thought from the Roots. His songs filled with lyrical skill, harmonies, and thought, have always moved me.

Picture taken by Flavor Edmonton.

Picture of McLovely taken by Flavor Edmonton.

What’s your definition of hip-hop?

Mc Lovely: My hip-hop is a reflection of my life in poetry form. A way of explaining life and emotions from love to frustration. Each song I produce is not some frivolous topic a label is making me rap about. It’s a defining moment in my life: that time I had my heart broken, that ladies night out with my best friend, my love of comics, a confession to a friend.

Tzadeka: Hip-hop is a culture, so it’s a constantly growing, expanding organism. It’s living. I think it’s almost beyond definition because so many artists are taking it to different places and fusing it with different cultural art forms and modes of expression.  I guess that’s how I see hip-hop — as a means of expression that’s not limited to music. It’s dance, visual art, beats and rhymes, lyricism — everything. Hip-hop has been adopted and adapted by so many communities, especially marginalized ones that it’s a powerful means of communication and expression of identity! I work in the inner city with mostly First Nations youth and I see how drawn these kids are to hip-hop and its ability to empower, giving a voice to those who feel they have none.

Photo taken by Tzadeka.

Profile photo taken by Tzadeka.

How has it influenced you as an artist?

Tzadeka: … I have been intensely inspired by hip-hop, but at the same time, I wouldn’t say that I’m exclusively tied to the genre. I was raised on world music, jazz, blues, classical and roots (my dad’s a classically trained cellist and lifelong musician) so I like to think that the music I create is informed by these musical traditions too. I started out doing spoken word as a teenager and it just sort of developed organically into something that resembles hip-hop. I have always been drawn to oral traditions and storytelling and so that’s kinda my point of origin.

Mc Lovely: As an artist, I am constantly changing just as my life has changed. Skill grows with every year. Hip-hop has been my routine for over a decade. It has helped me draw, write, design clothing, dance, smile. Hip-hop is the love of my life.

Do you think of yourself as an artist or as a woman artist?

Mc Lovely: I think of myself as a poet. Being a woman is usually only important to the men in the scene. “Oh look a girl MC — what an oddity”. When it comes to being a woman in hip-hop, I try to help other girls struggling or just starting out. That’s what my Promotions Company, Ladies United Voice, is all about. Whether a girl is a producer, rapper, DJ, dancer, graffiti Artist, clothing designer, I try to help so that she doesn’t give up. I support female hip-hop not because it’s better but because it is equal. We deserve to be heard.

Tzadeka: I think of myself as an artist and a woman artist. But I’ve found that especially in hip-hop a lot of people react with surprise that I’m an MC, not just a “singer” ‘cause I’m a woman. My aim for many years has been to work with girls and women to promote community and solidarity amongst femcees so that there is a safe space to create and showcase music in what I see as a very male-dominated genre. I don’t represent all female MC’s, but I am a woman. My lyrics speak to my experience in the world as a woman and much of the work I do in the community focuses on female mentorship and empowerment…so ya, I guess I do identify as a woman artist a lot of the time.

Photo taken by Kavan the Kid.

McLovely reading her favourite comics. Photo taken by Kavan the Kid.

Why in your opinion, is hip-hop an important part of Edmonton’s culture?

Mc Lovely: Hip-hop gives an outlet for expression to many people who have no other way of relaying their struggle. Edmonton has many poets and artists that want to influence how we interact daily.

Tzadeka: In Edmonton, there’s a pretty sweet little music scene and hip-hop is a part of it, but often I see the different genres sticking to their own and promoting artists that are similar to themselves.  However I have seen this start to change and open up more and more.  Punk bands, folk and indie rockers, hip-hop heads and reggae bands are all coming together and realizing we are all different flavours of the same musical substance.

Photo of Tzadeka performing taken by Kara Rain.

Photo of Tzadeka performing taken by Kara Rain.

Mc Lovely: That song you hear when you wake up that puts a smile on your face, the Mural you drive by on your way to work, the dancer you see in Churchill Square. It all becomes a part of who you are.

Tzadeka: I know there’s Edmonton femcees out there but I want to see more of them. I want to see them headlining shows, supporting each other and getting supported by all the dudes in the scene. I see this as really important. If there’s a show with all ladies on the lineup GO SEE THEM! Music is music is music and hip-hop is even more than music. It’s community, identity, and a voice from the margins. That’s why it’s important for Edmonton to hear it!

Take a look at the online edition here as well:

YEG Represent: A Look Inside Edmonton’s Hip-Hop Culture

“…[It began as] the voice of people who didn’t have a voice. Today, it’s our news channel — how someone from Edmonton can communicate with someone across the world.”

I’m hearing a revelation about hip-hop that’s very different from what I learnt as a girl.  Hip-hop was the anthem of “people with bad morals” as some teachers said.  But Sonny Grimezz, a DJ and member of Edmonton’s hip-hop music group Politic Live, tells me about hip-hop’s power. He’s one of many in Edmonton who understand the world better because of hip-hop. Critiques on society, politics, economics and neighbourhood events are all channelled through hip-hop culture.

Hip-hop (culture) began in New York as a reaction to injustice in the 1970s. Breaking away from carefree disco culture, hip-hop looked at the lives of marginalized people and used their struggles to create gritty, in-your-face emotions through DJing, rapping, breaking, and graffiti. Today, hip-hop uses its traditional roots and our modern commercial society to communicate to people across the world.

Hip-hop artists in Edmonton know that the culture has its problems and that people tend to focus on its darker side with glamorized violence and risky morals. “A lot of people get it confused. Many [hip-hop] artists rap about their experiences and what they’ve gone through… They don’t endorse certain negative things like violence, but other artists do.  Rap has both sides of the spectrum,” rapper Jo Thrillz confirms.  But the Edmonton hip-hop community believes that there’s more good than bad to hip-hop, and as the rappers of Locution Revolution told me, “there will always be people to school”.

Recovering hip-hop’s past

Taking the public to “school” begins with a connection to the past. This doesn’t mean Edmonton hip-hop artists rap rhymes like Grand Master Flash “…Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge…” or dress up in velvet tracksuits, rocking their b-boy moves to oversized boom boxes. Instead, they connect with the message that’s been there from the beginning — empowerment— and share it with the city.

In 2001, hip-hop culture was recognized for its goal to empower people with the Hip-Hop Declaration of Peace. It was signed by artists and agencies like UNESCO and the Temple of Hip-Hop, and was presented to the United Nations. To further this, the Declaration named the third week of May Hip-Hop Appreciation Week.

While Edmonton artists may not have signed the Declaration, many are fully committed to it. Hip-Hop in the Park, created by Locution Revolution’s iD, occurs the third week of every May to honour Hip-Hop Appreciation Week.  An event like this one, which just had its sixth running, not only showcases the culture to the city, but allows hip-hop to become “beauty in its purest form” as expressed by breaker Pharush.

Other artists, like painter Lorien Mahieu, agree with Pharush’s statement, saying, “[Hip-Hop in the Park] is a great place to watch, learn and build confidence as an artist.” The public also gains confidence in hip-hop artists when they see their passion as they perform. Mitchmatic, who has performed there four times, adds that it “works really well for changing people’s perception [about hip-hop]”.  The negative ideas people have about hip-hop change when they hear and see stories of ordinary lives becoming extraordinary.

“Imagine the strength, ‘cause momma there must be
The humility that must accompany begging for money
Stripped of all pride, but your baby’s hunger
Gives you the strength to be just another number.”

This verse from Wanty Wanty on Politic Live’s album, Ellipsis, helps listeners empathize with situations they might not live with, like welfare.

“…There are a lot of stories that aren’t being told,” says Politic Live’s Arlo Maverick.  He reflects on the Edmonton hip-hop community’s desire for us realize that we can empower each other by putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes — like the hip-hop artists before them.  He continues, “Hip-hop is very much about where you’re from. We take a lot of pride in our city. Politic Live’s Dirt Gritie finishes, “Being community-minded is a big part of who we are.”

The art of individuality

Many artists develop as individuals by sharing their talents with the community. “Why wouldn’t you share something that helped you find your identity with other people?” Pharush remarks with confidence, referring to dancing with his crew, United 1ne, fellow hip-hop dancers and DJ and mentor, Creeasian, at Churchill Square on Thursday nights.

Pharush’s identity as a breaker began with his determination to prove that breaking involved just as much skill and discipline as studio dances like jazz or ballet. He founded his crew United 1ne along with fellow dancer Poppin Fresh.

Pharush says, “People don’t understand the roots of b-boying — a b-boy or girl is their own person.” When he dances, he mixes breaking moves with other dance genres like salsa, First Nations grass dancing, and even ballet, to help people see the unexpected in breaking. Being open to other dance forms and cultures has taken him across Canada, particularly to help youth be comfortable with their identities. “Everybody has a creative potential — dance doesn’t limit you. You get to a point where you’re not thinking [when you’re breakdancing], ‘cause you’re in the moment.”

He’s seen many moments where youth feel proud of their dance accomplishments while working with friend and mentor, Conway Kootenay, who’s a member of Red Power Squad. The Squad uses hip-hop to empower inner city youth. Kootenay taught him about First Nations culture, and with this knowledge, Pharush began doing workshops in schools with United 1ne and Kootenay in Edmonton where he says they demonstrated “culture and not just steps” to students.

Edmonton hip-hop’s future?

Lorien Mahieu’s paintings aren’t what you expect when you think of hip-hop art or graffiti.

“Graffiti has always been a hard topic for me to discuss. I’ve often heard the stereotypical saying of how it’s not art, it’s just vandalism, but I love graffiti! In my opinion, it’s as beautiful as a Dutch landscape or impressionistic painting.” Mahieu admires graffiti’s form and style, but he doesn’t see himself as a graffiti artist or street artist even though his work is appearing at more hip-hop events like Hip-Hop in the Park.

Ideas about what hip-hop can be, like what defines graffiti, are changing. Technology plays a role in promoting this change.

The future of hip-hop lies in the past for some artists. Mitchmatic’s comedic 2013 Edmonton Music Award nominated song Why Don’t You Know? uses a track from the ‘50s to create a sound that’s distinctly fresh and different. Other artists like Jo Thrillz, who has wanted to be a rapper since he was six, capitalize on social media sites like YouTube to make childhood dreams a reality.

Five years from now people will either love or hate hip-hop — as it’s always been. But no matter how people feel, hip-hop will never stop being an experience that people react to. Locution Revolution’s Khiry Tafari believes people should always react to how artists work to improve hip-hop. “Hip-hop allows me to use my voice to do valuable work,” he says, “Maybe we don’t have a lot of people listening, but at the same time, what’s more important is making the effort to get them to listen.”

A YEG State of Mind: An Interview with Hip-Hop’s Locution Revolution

In Edmonton, as an entertainment and festival capital, many different cultures are celebrated. Hip-hop culture is a quieter force than many of the arts and cultures exposed throughout the city, but it’s growing strong. Hip-hop in Edmonton experiments with its own distinct sound, pulled together from the many art and cultural influences within the city. Locution Revolution is one talent creating their own YEG [“Young. Edmontonian. Gifted.” — a label promoted by local designer Solidaritees] sound that iD (a member of the group) told me is “grown folk-country-banjo-urban-rap hip-hop”.

How does Edmonton inspire your music?

iD: I would say it’s almost indirect — you don’t know it’s there, but it is. You listen to rap from around here and it has its own sound. You don’t hear songs about three feet of snow from rappers in California, but you hear three feet of snow raps in Edmonton.

So is the city in a way your muse?

Khiry Tafari: It’s about reping where you’re from. It’s a lot about making it your own and representing YEG.

So how does representing YEG make hip-hop stand out from places like Toronto?

iD: We have totally different sounds, especially if you look at Toronto and you look at Edmonton and they’re polar opposites almost — for the most part, Toronto has a more commercial sound and Edmonton sounds are more…

Khiry Tafari: Diverse.

iD: Yeah, there’s a whole lot of different sounds, and I’m sure Toronto has a whole lot that I haven’t been exposed to underneath the surface…but Edmonton and a Prairie rap sound comes right down to the dialect [here in the city].

I’ve noticed that here people try and get back to the roots of hip-hop — especially in trying to stand out and make people take notice of what you’re doing.

iD: Yeah and I think that’s something that just happens. You don’t try to be Edmonton [by MCing]… it grows when you develop a style, you develop a sound, and that’s how it’s developed.

Khiry Tafari: Hip-hop is very community minded…. We also realized no one would put us on the map unlike a bigger centre like Toronto, so we had to step it up.

Do you have a message for people who look at hip-hop as offensive?

Khiry Tafari: I’d say, let us perform for you. Someone who watched us and had his own [negative] notions of hip-hop once told us once “you guys have something to say” and he was just in amazement because he saw that rap and hip-hop is who we are and that our messages about living life comes through.

iD: Nobody is going to rap the same way as you — that’s what makes us individuals. Rap has so much influence, especially for kids coming up, and they often play a part because of what they’re hearing. So if you think about your song becoming a hit and everybody in the world gets to hear it, what is it that you really want to say? Do you want to be bragging about swag and popping bottles and hanging with models? You’ve got the floor use it! Otherwise people aren’t going to give you floor next time — it’s a privilege not a right to be on the microphone.

Khiry Tafari: When I was starting out, it was all about battles — about earning respect.

How is your music different from your fellow artists in Edmonton?          

iD: The dynamic between us is “unduplicatable”. Individually, I’m a country boy. I’ve got a whole different experience from growing up in the countryside. But together, we both bring something completely original to our sound.

Khiry Tafari: Overall, we’re not afraid — we’re entirely different from everyone else. He’s the country guy and I’m the city guy. For any one band to rise, to be the cream of the crop, you have to be different or have something going for you — that “it” factor. And together, we’re dynamic, we complement each other.

What’s the personal connection between you and rap?

Khiry Tafari: I never knew what I wanted to do [when I was young] until I started rapping at 22-23. I liked being on stage. Rap allowed me to use my voice to do valuable work. When I was a kid, I liked to prove people wrong — listening to De La Soul’s “I Can Do Anything” — I took that literally. But I was also athletic, but I also came to a point where I wanted to show people what I could do with my brain. I wanted people to see that I could do other things. And, I’ve developed other skills by being a rapper too — like being able to work with kids.

iD: Because I was willing to do the work [to become a rapper] it made me see that I can do anything!

What direction do you see hip-hop heading in the future?

Khiry Tafari: It’s hard to say…Rap music has been about borrowing from other sounds. Where we as musicians come in, we decide what our vibe [sound is]. You’re always going to get an original sound — my ear will always hear a different sound.

iD: With hip-hop there’s always going to be challenges and there will always be people to school.

Khiry Tafari: Focusing on the negatives [of hip-hop], means we’re going backwards, and we need to progress — and our words, our dialect have to show that peace, love, unity, and bringing up the youth for the future.

iD: Hip-hop is the future. It’s the only place that where you come from doesn’t matter.