The Skidegate Youth Centre is a far cry from a festival stage with strobe lights and chest booming bass. But in the small building a video projector sits on a black milk crate atop a folding banquet table at the front of the room with its bright light illuminating a white screen. A laptop covered in stickers sits beside a beat box and pounding electronic dance music pours from the speakers into the tight space.
An all ages audience gathers as Indigenous hip hop group Mob Bounce lays down the beats for a music workshop.
“Music has become our ceremony, our medicine, and our power,” says Travis Adrian Hebert also known as Heebz the Earthchild. Hebert is a Cree/Metis emcee and producer for Mob Bounce.
Craig Frank Edes aka The Northwest Kid, a socially conscious emcee and poet is the other half of the popular hip hop group. Mob Bounce has been together since 2010 when they released their first album, Mixed Blood Mixtape.
Given the title of their first album, it is clear that their identity is woven heavily into their work as musicians and as workshop facilitators. Their combined roots include Cree/Metis, Gitxsan, Nakota, Wetsuwet’en, Irish, Scottish, German and French heritage. “There’s a lot of intricacies there and it’s important to recognize the intricacies,” Heebz the Earthchild states.
Those intricacies also carry through to their lyrics. At the workshop, Mob Bounce handed out a diagram of a 16-bar verse with an iambic pentameter. The diagram showed how a line of poetry is measured out by beats made up of unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable like the word beLONG or by a short and long syllable like we played. It’s a crash course on the basics of rhyming which is the basis of the hip-hop rhythm. Each stanza has to have four rhymes before moving onto another rhyme or “it doesn’t have flow. It won’t sound right,” says Heebz the Earthchild.
Rap is not just monotone spoken word, says Heebz the Earthchild. “It’s like singing while saying things super-fast,” he says, smiling at the audience. “A certain melody will come out. I lend myself to the melody within the song,” he says about his writing method. The Northwest Kid believes “that music is our sacred space” and as such the lyrics come “from a space of truth. It does involve that ceremonial space. Sometimes they write themselves”. Lyric writing and rapping is not as easy as some people believe, which participants quickly found out.
Heebz the Earthchild wields the mic like a baton as he raps about cultural pride that reverberates with a peaceful emotion and measured rhyme. “I call to my nations, all my relations, we becoming whole in this circle formation, look how long we been waitin’, damn that’s some patience come on don’t mess the rotation, love love pass, that motivation for the ones who be hatin’ we risin’ from the fall, so let’s fly with raven, learn a few things about yourself in isolation then dust off the demon desolation, flying through the void in the midst of meditation, talking to spirit is a form of medication, talking to spirit is a form of medication.”
Mob Bounce brings together culture, tradition, environment, social injustice and the many layers of society through hip hop music and electronic dance music, which young people listen and respond to better than a straight-on lecture.
“I didn’t grow up with my culture. There was a lot that was not there. It was not my foundation,” says Heebz the Earthchild. “The foundation was the Westernized world of today. The intergenerational traumas were in our life and communities. There was a lot of alcohol in the home, drugs, and intense emotions and energies that were bouncing off of each other all of the time,” he says, and like a sponge, he absorbed that energy. But music came along and it was drumming and the power of words which helped him express his emotions and feelings, some in a positive manner. As a 29-year-old emcee, Heebz the Earthchild. has come a long way and he’s now advocating for connection with culture and youth empowerment.
The Northwest Kid, also found his way to a clean life. “Once I quit drinking – I was 21 and I had seen a lot. I didn’t like the way it made me feel. I needed to honour the spirit and part of that meant doing this work. I needed to make some big changes and decided that I didn’t need alcohol and drugs in my life anymore. Youth work made me respond to that healing journey and I wanted to share that with as many youth as I can!”
Sitting down to talk after a high-energy workshop the northwest hip-hop duo Mob Bounce emcees Travis Adrian Hebert also known as Heebz the Earthchild and Craig Frank Edes aka The Northwest Kid was a relaxing and laughter filled conversation about musical inspiration and appreciation. Musical influences can have an effect on the vibe, the style, the meaning of lyrics and the production of music which also effects the listener.
Heebz the Earthchild states American hip hop group, A Tribe Called Quest is always on his list. The Tribe called Quest is an 80’s rap group. Heebz the Earthchild also listens to Compton born rapper Kendrick Lamar aka K-Dot. Heebz the Earthchild also enjoys the inner city gritty recording artist and producer J Cole. He also likes other indigenous musicians like Anishinaabe musicians; MC/Singer/Songwriter Leonard Sumner whose guitar playing is as good as his lyrics and folk singer Nick Sherman. Heebz the Earthchild also lists musical giants like A Tribe Called Red and Buffy Sainte-Marie amongst his favorites.
The Northwest Kid lists two of his favorite artists, adding he admires them for the poetics in their work. He can be heard listening to hip-hop artist Ian Kamau and lists him as a definite influence. What list of hip-hop musicians would not be complete without dreadlocked American rapper, singer-songwriter, spoken word artist, musician, poet, writer, and actor Saul Williams. Williams has been featured on a Tribe Called Red’s latest album, We Are the Halluci Nation.
While some of the artists may not be well known to most, The Northwest Kid admires them as “super talented poets first, who experiment a lot with music. They are so talented.”
A surprising result of their visit to Haida Gwaii was an offer made to Jason Alsop to record his lyrics with Mob Bounce on a track called Gather Your Feathers. The song will be included on their upcoming album being produced by Revolutions Per Minute Records (RPM) in Toronto.