For all the success the Toronto hiphop scene has had lately, the reality is that T-dot largely remains a boys' club, with female MCs rarer than a mint-condition Main Source single.It's something producer/promoter Ebonnie Rowe took direct aim at when she created the female-friendly Honey Jam series, an industry-oriented showcase for women MCs, DJs, breakdancers and singers. Nelly Furtado is a recent graduate of the Jam's open- stage sessions, and with auditions now complete, the series returns to the Reverb June 3.
The cultivation of underground female black music is also the focus of Rowe's hot new series Brown Girls In Da Ring. The spoken-word night reduces the Honey Jam elements down to the barest essentials, bringing in MCs like Tara Chase and singers like Nicky Lawrence to spit their rhymes solo, with no beats to hide behind and just a mike for comfort.
"I call it Honey Jam unplugged," Rowe laughs. "It's a celebration of language, with no music beyond a beatboxer.
"It's also really intimate. There's poetry on the walls and in the bathroom stalls. You can't escape the enlightenment."
With Toronto's hiphop scene now grown up enough to be able to split into above-ground and underground scenes, the two nights seem more important than ever before. It's no surprise that when Rowe announced her "retirement" from organizing the Honey Jam series a few years back, fans and musicians piled on the pressure and convinced her to return within a year.
"We do this because no one else does," she explains. "If you're a female DJ, MC or breakdancer, there really is nowhere for you to go to get shine and not be hit on. There's great music, but we also provide a forum for people to be comfortable in.
"It's also very different from what else is going on in the scene now. So much of the music is glossy and overproduced now. Brown Girls is back-to- basics hiphop. A mike and words is all you need."
BROWN GIRLS IN DA RING with TRUE, JEMENI, STELLA BROWN, TARA CHASE, NICKY LAWRENCE and more, at the Kathedral (651 Queen West), Friday (April 6). $5-$10, guys free before 9 pm. 416-504-0744.