When you think of New Brunswick, hip-hop isn’t the first musical genre to come to mind. As a traditionally conservative province with a rabid love of folk music, the environment can feel hostile to artists trying to break the mold.
Still, hip-hop keeps a cult following in Fredericton that’s visible on social media, if not the streets. L.A. $ole and Monark, two of Fredericton’s top hip-hop artists, garnered 1,500 views on YouTube for their song “STR8 NASTY,” which was released last August.
Artist Phakt Zilla has performed across the Maritimes, and hit views over 5,000 on older songs like “East Coast,” as he continues to perform.
But what motivates these artists to keep pushing for success in a difficult environment?
Fredericton-based artist Eric Claybourne, also known as Ceeb Dread, said his love of other people and the music that he makes is what keeps him going. Claybourne came to Fredericton in 2002, with a local scene that was already underway. He was homeless at the time.
A defining point was the night Claybourne gave up his bed at the homeless shelter to attend an open mic night. The D.J. there gave Claybourne a place to stay and helped him find a place to call home.
Now, Claybourne keeps his past experience in his heart and continues to raise money and hold events to help homeless locals.
“If I was able to feed two people through the soup kitchen, then I’m doing something right,” said Claybourne.
He said his experience of homelessness helps him see the humanity that many might miss in their day-to-day.
“When I was homeless, I had the opportunity to sit and watch people pass me by and pay no attention to my degree of humanity. Sometimes a homeless person doesn’t want any money, they just want to be acknowledged as a person,” said Claybourne.
Phakt also has morals near and dear to his heart that steer his music path. When describing his morals and inspirations, Phakt said the influence of his five children shaped his work.
“My daughter was sampled into the music that I’d done, so they get to listen to it and know that they played a part in this, and were a part of this music,” said Phakt.
Born in Washington, D.C., Phakt has a crisp American accent that lends credibility to everything he says.
Since becoming a father, Phakt said he’s been trying to include lessons into his music, keeping his children in mind. His song, “Father Figure,” discusses his relationship with his father and how it pioneered his devotion to his children. In that song, he echoes the lessons his father taught him, including the importance of patience, family and respect to his mother.
“They know my music, they share it at school and they talk about it. I have a responsibility to make sure they can listen to it [and] they can become an audience and not have to be censored,” said Phakt.
Both Phakt and Claybourne acknowledge the barriers faced for hip-hop in New-Brunswick, but continue to thrive, nonetheless.
“I think this is a province that has a hard time letting go of tradition,” said Phakt. “A lot of other music genres have been bigger, and more representative of the provinces. I think it just takes time for them to realize that this music is welcomed by the people, the music rapidly spreads.”