The hip hop scene in Western Canada is fairly fascinating for someone like myself who has observed it from afar. From what I’ve seen, it’s a fairly vibrant scene, and although there are certainly some acts with a populist, Swollen Members-like bent, the majority of the hip hop we’re sent has a decidedly underground and/or alternative flavour to it. In fact, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Swollen Members themselves were considered underground until they blew up on the Muchmusic and other places.
If I were looking for an example to illustrate this phenomenon, Factor’s Lawson Graham is pretty much a perfect example of this. One of the West’s busiest producers, Factor has been mentioned on the hill numerous times, both as a result of his solo releases, and his collabo’s with folks like Moka Only. Like many of his compatriots, Factor’s has clearly made some connections with a number of American underground hip hop luminairies. Guys like Sole, Kirby Dominant, 2mex, Pigeon John, Myka 9, and his label boss Ceschi all pitch in on Lawson Graham, no doubt because they appreciate the experimental spirit Factor brings to his production .
The album starts really well with two of my favorite tracks: Missed the Train and Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Change. The former features Guelph indie warbler and hip hop enthusiast Gregory Pepper adding some vocals to a catchy, wistful track (I love this song, hence I’m excited for the Factor/Pepper collabo under the nom-de-knob-twiddle Common Grackle), while the latter is a mesmerizing head-nodder from Factor that features Barfly, Heresy Mae, and one wailing guitar solo, that somewhat strangely, fits perfectly.
Those who’ve been around the underground hip hop scene for a while will be heartened by Anticon stalwart Sole’s appearance (along with Radicalface who sings the hook portion) on the dark Living In A Vacuum. Everyone in Western hip hop’s favorite Belgian crooner Nomad returns to bless the sunny, almost 60’s rock-sounding Oh Oh Andy with his particular brand of high-pitched, semi-accented singing.
Throwback sounding Mental Illness featuring 2Mex is at once menacing and light with thick organ lines and floaty female vocal samples, it works well. Popstravaganza is also rather floaty, and features some good work from the best Halifax ex-pat with a latino-MC name in the biz, Josh Martinez. West Coast underground mainstay Pigeon John unleashes his sing-songy delivery on the first part of They Don’t Know before finishing off Factor’s percussion-heavy track with a verse.
Some Canadian content finishes off the album, with Moka Only sounding perfectly at home over his Ron Contour-partner’s beautiful beat, and fellow Saskatchewanian Def3 comes fairly hard over one of the more aggressive, traditional hip hop sounding beats on Battle Scars. I know that’s a pretty brief thumbnail sketch for an album that has as much going on as Lawson Graham does, but I’d encourage you to check it out for yourself if you’re interested in really well-crafted hip hop that takes some risks and features some really top-shelf underground talent.
VIDEO:: Factor – Lawson Graham