Spirit of Hip Hop

Spirit of Hip Hop

The debut album as a solo artist from Grammy Award-winning Toronto-based engineer David Strickland is really three records in one. On the one hand, Spirit of Hip Hop is a testament to Strickland’s reputation as one of the most respected audio technicians in the rap game—the sort of guy who can rope in legends like EPMD and Redman for features with a quick phone call. On the other, it speaks to his status as an Indigenous rap trailblazer and champion; he hands over several of these 16 cuts to rising First Nations MCs like Snotty Nose Rez Kids and Que Rock, and invites veteran Cree/American music photographer Ernie Paniccioli to deliver an opening spoken-word address on the deep-seated connections between Indigenous and hip-hop cultures. But the album also serves a greater purpose than merely showcasing its creator’s connections. Though its genesis dates back four years, Spirit of Hip Hop’s unflinching observations on racism, poverty, and police brutality mirror the conversations that have dominated headlines through much of 2020. “It’s almost creepy,” Strickland says to Apple Music. “It's like the record was made for this time. You can never predict this sort of thing. A lot of it was relevant before, but it's really relevant now—that's blowing my mind.”
Spirit of Hip Hop covers a vast amount of terrain, both musically and geographically, but it’s unified by Strickland’s strategic use of Indigenous chants and the irrepressible posse-cut energy that courses through these guest-laden tracks. “Questions Last” thrusts you into the urban core of Winnipeg—aka the perennial murder capital of Canada—through local MCs Jon C, Charlie Fettah, and Bubblz’s street-level commentary and Strickland’s gritty Wu-Tang-style boom bap. That hardcore vibe also permeates the raging anti-colonialist narratives of “Turtle Island” (the Indigenous term for North America), though the patois-tinged chorus from Halifax R&B singer JRDN inspired Strickland to frame the track as a dancehall song. But while Spirit of Hip Hop directs much of its MC firepower toward dismantling systemic power structures (no more so than on the ready-made defund-the-police anthem “Rez Life”), it also makes room for more personal statements. “Time's Runnin' Away” features one of the final recorded performances of Toronto rapper King Reign, who died suddenly in 2016, an event that Strickland channelled into the ominous production of “Helpless,” a frantic account of reservation life (courtesy of Naskapi duo Violent Ground) that also speaks to more universal anxieties over mortality. “As a producer, you're not singing or rapping, so getting my emotions through is a different thing to convey than when you're the artist,” Strickland says. “That song wasn't just about the rez, it was also about how I was feeling—a lot of people close to me had passed. So there was a lot of ‘How do I get these feelings through as a producer?' I never imagined myself doing a producer's album. Producing songs is one thing, but doing a whole album, you’re really putting yourself out there.”


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