When the filmmakers of Hip Hop Eh survey people in the street about the Canadian rap scene, the reactions are equally divided among enthusiasm and indifference. It’s misleading – the latter is much more prevalent – but the enthusiasm isn’t misplaced. Canadian hip hop punches far above its weight: No other country outside the U.S. has produced as many international rap stars, from Kardinal Offishall to k-os to Buck 65 to, of course, Drake.
The only area where we might surpass the U.S. rap scene is in fretting over the state of hip hop. We certainly have more hand-wringing per capita, and Hip Hop Eh is a frustratingly representative example. Director Joe Klymkiw’s reverent documentary gives plenty of screen time to under-sung pioneers such as Michie Mee and Rascalz’s Red One. But instead of trading war stories, the interviewees mostly opine on why the domestic hip hop industry isn’t more prominent, and on the effects of downloading and the mainstreaming of rap on their commercial prospects. Spoiler alert: The effects aren’t good.
Given how small the Canadian industry is, Hip Hop Eh’s depiction of it is strangely narrow. There are no mentions of super-producers such as Noah “40” Shebib (Drake’s right hand man), Illangelo (The Weeknd’s collaborator), Boi-1Da (Eminem) and T-Minus (Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar), presumably because their music is too commercial for the doc’s “underground” focus. Nor does the film address the country’s francophone or First Nations hip-hop scenes. Meanwhile, the industry shop talk chews up far too much of Hip Hop Eh’s running time.
Listening to veterans like Maestro Fresh Wes talk about the importance of self-respect, and Peanuts & Corn CEO mcenroe expound on why he’s sticking to his independent vision, is inspiring. The doc’s central theme is that most of these artists are making subsistence-level money at best, but love of the art keeps the Canadian industry going. It’s the persistence of MCs like Moka Only and Kardinal Offishall that has enabled our top artists to thrive, Drake included.
Like a lot of home-grown hip hop records, Hip Hop Eh had to clear many hurdles to make its cinematic dream a reality. So if you care about domestic hip hop, you should see it. But there are still plenty of stories in Canadian hip hop that need to be told, and Hip Hop Eh should not be the last word on the subject.