From the Outposts of Hip Hop:  Masia One “Create something from nothing”

What is Hip Hop today? Something floating between Will Smith – Bling Bling – and bang, bang, you dead? Where does Masia One’s new CD, named after an Ontario suburb, Mississauga, fit into this equation?

In two years, this lady has launched her own independent Hip Hop career and company with nothing but love for the music and an Honours BA in architecture. Why do we want to listen to an architecture major? Is she going to teach this underground industry, gone mainstream, something about building a solid foundation?

First let's ask, what historically does it mean when an underground phenomenon goes mainstream? Can we say Jazz? Rock? Salsa? On the positive side, there is more money and more technology that goes towards a wider distribution and better recording.  It brought a bootlegged version of Public Enemy's, It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back to MasiaOne at the age of 7 in her native country Singapore. For anybody that doesn't know, if Asia bootlegs anything, it means there had already been considerable hype in the Western Hemisphere. This is where MasiaOne has confirmed hearing pure "Down South Flow" being delivered in Cantonese. This is the proof that this American phenomenon has become a universal medium, for people of various cultures and languages to express themselves.

On the negative side, however, phenomena that are mainstreamed are historically more formulated, ‘cleaned’ up and re-defined by corporations, media and politics.  
MasiaOne began her Grade 3 career in Vancouver, Canada, still not knowing what 911 meant or why her teacher and parents were concerned about the Public Enemy lyrics repeated over her notebooks. Several years later, she arrived in Toronto to study law at U of T, and then changed to an architecture major. To date, in all her interviews, she always quotes the classics, even though, today, the face of Hip Hop wears a variety of different masks.

If the money-makers and the booty-shakers are failing to measure up to the old standards, is this suburban Hip Hop going to succeed in the succession? Does Mississauga have/need the same kind of heat that produced her mentors? She’s got the love but she’s about Mississauga. She bought a Public Enemy cassette with a Bananarama tape. Does Chuck D know this?

First of all, Hip Hop, outside of the ghetto superstars, is not an overnight sensation. If Hip Hop communities are sprouting up in the ‘burbs of Ontario, you better believe it has already happened in the ‘burbs of the States. This is what happens when the media isn’t around to distribute – things will continue to grow right under our noses. Do you hear people say breakdancing is making a comeback? The hardcore dancers and battle organizers will tell you it never went away.

Secondly, fast money, sex and violence are not synonymous with Hip Hop -- although it has certainly always been fashioned closely with Hollywood. If you don’t want to believe me or MasiaOne, try some of these links with quotes from two of the pioneers of Hip Hop.

1. From a 1996 interview with 1996 interview with Afrika Bambaataa by  Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner.

2. Chuck D, is quoted here in an article, Hip-hop tries to break image of violence, b | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor 

 The Hip Hop artist is not measured by how violent or repressed his/her childhood was/is. It is this misconception that has middle-class kids running up to MasiaOne and spinning off lyrics like clones of Ludacris.

“Hip Hop is youth-culture based,” MasiaOne said. “Whether they can relate to the gangsta rapstar is not the point. They want to feel powerful. It’s an image that isn’t complex. Something they can easily emulate.”

“If there is anger in Hip Hop,” said TRX from the Stylordz, another Hip Hop artist out of a remote Ontario city, Hamilton, “it is as a tool of survival for the poor or those living a hard life. There is no reason for suburban kids to want to have a street lifestyle just to seem tough or cool. Art itself is a form of rebellion, the desire to be one’s own self outside of the rest.”

Defending a middle-class upbringing is just another side of MasiaOne’s identity that she is called to re-define. Since the start of her career, MasiaOne has repeatedly addressed the issues of being Female, Asian and Short. If Hip Hop is about telling the kind of stories that the media isn’t interested in, then MasiaOne’s got a few chapters to add. Seems that everywhere a person goes there’s another identity that needs attention. “Hip Hop is the environment to express everything.”

She’s not ashamed of backing the community of musicians that she has discovered in the ‘burb of Mississauga. “There is a family of musicians out of Mississauga that just do it all: Hip Hop, Rock and Punk. If you need a reason to explain why, blame it on Canadian winters, not much to do and their parents’ old collection of music. There is an introverted approach to music here. They just go into their basement and play with every kind of sound.”

Wherever Hip Hop is today, MasiaOne emphasizes her love for Hip Hop is a personal form of expression, diversity and independence, that even if she had gone into law or architecture, Hip Hop would still be involved in her life. And unlike much of the popular Hip Hop, MasiaOne does not compromise or sell any part of herself in order to get her record deal. In fact, at the core of her philosophy with Hip Hop is the outlook of a Buddhist.

In an interview with Verbalisms Magazine, she was quoted: “For my record release I plan to have a complete art show where I will perform the new tunes, make the flyers, have my paintings up on the wall...and probably cook for the party with some good Singaporean food! Damn, I love cooking. I'm not really paying any mind to industry standards of, "This is when you drop your single." and "Now this is who you talk to for a distribution deal." I'm getting the record out in circulation June 15th and just riding around on my bike and selling it. If distribution and other offers come, I'm being optimistic and expecting them to approach me.”

“My style stems from a love of Hip Hop culture, which I think is something that is lacking from a very profit driven industry. I also reinvent my own business; so really, I make the music that I want to make. This is a perfect reflection of how I think, from pen to paper right to the mastering process. I find too often, especially with majors that too many people dabble in the process and the end result is not the same as the raw emotion felt when the pen first touched to paper.”

“I represent Hip Hop through the way that I live, by representing me. A lover of life, purveyor of art.”

MasiaOne’s favourite performance is at Dundas Square, summer of 2002, “Performing with Ultra Magnus at Dundas Square with rain and lightning on the horizon.”

In an Internet thread called, “Mississauga’s most wanted”, off a discussion board,, radio talk-show host, Shoe Fleur, comments on the performance:

“… since I’m here: MasiaOne is phenomenal. She KILLS it live. Toronto is called the Screw face Capital for a reason, and if she can get an outdoor crowd on a Thursday evening IN THE RAIN to dance + yell + go nuts + hang on 'til the last note, then that really says something about her strength as a performer. Damn near miraculous, and one of the most beautiful things I saw all summer. I’ve only seen her live twice [both times with her band, Ultra Magnus], and I haven't picked up her record yet [I just moved back to the east coast, so I’ve got someone in Toronto tracking it down for me], but I’ve def got my eye on her.”

MasiaOne’s career comes from this desire for everything to come as an extension of herself: “Create something from nothing.” Identity, value, and belonging are cultivated within.

Hip Hop is a culture that exists because it is defiant to limitations and standardizing. It’s true form is impossible to package and commodify and MasiaOne’s career is an example of this. She is not just a rapper. She is a Hip Hop consultant, graphic artist, promoter, and a political and social activist. She is her own entrepreneur. She is as individual as she is part of her collective. How do you want to pin a definition on her or say now she has to fall in line?

When asked if she had any predictions for the future of Hip Hop, MasiaOne answered, “The music industry is like a bad bank loan. Corporations see Hip Hop as just an opportunity to sell to younger audiences. There will be huge financial losses and major labels will not have as much influence. Kids will take control over their own careers. More independent labels. More innovations. More licenses for creativity. Forcing the mainstream (who have the money) to go their way.”

Considering the strides this over-achiever has made in a two-year career, MasiaOne has the kind of drive that any industry would benefit from. Law and architecture lost out when MasiaOne decided to take on Hip Hop full time.

The new era of Hip Hop is not about where you came from but where you want to go. It is a double-headed monster, one with the passion for the culture and creation and the other, a head for business and direction.

Currently, MasiaOne is ‘pressing’ a 12" remix album for tracks off her debut record Mississauga and promoting her new video Halfway Through the City. She is working on a second album.

© lyw

*the Russian translations c/o Artyom of IDance