performing as part of NXNE at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Saturday (June 9), midnight. $8, $18/wristband. 416-532-1598 Rating: NNNNN
performing as part of NXNE at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Saturday (June 9), midnight. $8, $18/wristband. 416-532-1598.
t-dot microphone menace nishRawks knows exactly what sells in hiphop -- and he isn't going to do it.
Shout about bitches and bling bling, even if you "re an Upper Canada College old boy, and you're laughing. Just ask any number of Canadian MCs who have repackaged themselves as New York-style thugs for international appeal.
Nish, on the other hand, makes no such claims. The 24-year-old Scarborough MC, who hit hard this winter with his relentless flow on DJ Serious's single The Enlightening and its accompanying kung-fu video, is about as Canadian as you can get, right down to his unabashed hockey obsession.
"I was a goalie for years, so I want to do a song called The Crease," Nish laughs. "You know, "Step in my crease and you're gonna get slashed.'
"I love hockey and don't feel embarrassed about that. The only reason why someone listens to you is to hear something different. If you go out and kick the same stuff that everyone else is kicking, you'll just blend in. I just want to let people know that I'm Canadian and that it's cool to hype that up.
"We just got back from a western tour, and at each show I'd shout out the top goal-scorers from their town. People went bananas, because they could relate."
Beyond his rep as a plain-spoken Canuck MC, though, getting initial respect was hard for Nish, a Japanese Canadian performing an African-American art form. Heads inevitably turned when he first rocked the mike.
"A lot of Orientals are looked at as mainly DJs, breakdancers and graf writers," Nish offers. "When people find out that I rap, I get weird looks. At first people wouldn't even take me seriously. I had to prove it again and again, and now people remember me because I'm the Oriental kid who raps.
"I'm proud of my culture, so I make references to being Japanese in my rhymes all the time. I can't rap in that language, though, and I don't use my culture as a gimmick. I'm not the Shogun Assassin or anything."
After convincing people that he could in fact rhyme, Nish quickly hooked up with like-minded souls in the Scarborough hiphop mob that would become the Monolith clique.
The 10-member crew also includes characters like Dan-E-O, Grimace Love and IRS, and acts, in a sense, like the Toronto version of the Wu-Tang Clan, sporadically releasing posse cuts while its members each work on their own projects.
"I think every guy in Monolith is different, and that makes it better," Nish explains. "There's 10 different dudes, and we can't even agree on one song, which is why we don't do a lot of tracks as a whole crew."
The heavy-hitting style that runs through the various Monolith-related projects is also evident on Nish's solo material. The handful of tracks finished for his forthcoming solo debut, due out this fall, all ride on a lyrical steamroller, with Nish spewing out phrases as fast as possible but still keeping a sense of humour in his words.
As with the anthemic The Enlightening, the effect on record is devastating.
"The first time I ever realized how you could move someone with words was listening to Big Daddy Kane," Nish nods. "He could get a point across and do it with style and grace. It was amazing. It's like watching Gretzky play hockey. You see what's possible and you want to be that good, so you keep practising and practising.
"Because of that, high school was fun, but I didn't learn anything other than how to rap. Now the dude who sat beside me in class is pissed because I'm making moves and have a video and he's going to university. That's good for him, but it's not my fault."
These days, beyond the Monolith massive, Nish has been spending most of his time with the crew of downtown beat boss DJ Serious. The MC is a regular guest at Serious's Revues, including the recent Cross-Canada Revue tour, and the DJ will be producing much of Nish's forthcoming album.
The Serious crew has become one of Toronto's most respected hiphop units despite not having any of the city's big-name, major-label high rollers. Its eclectic cast of characters includes Nish, rising motormouth Unknown Misery and self-proclaimed nerd D-Sisive.
"What's great about this crew is that we all come from different places but still have a lot in common and are all hungry," insists Nish. "In a sense, D-Sisive and I are both outsiders in hiphop -- he's white and I'm Japanese -- and occasionally we'll step onstage and people will give you that sideways look.
"Give us a chance, though, and we'll hit you with something special."
From funk and twang to hiphop and house, NOW Magazine's NXNE showcase Saturday (June 9) at Lee's Palace captures the best of the fest and the diversity of the music covered in NOW, with a sharp focus on breaking new talent.
The night kicks off at 9 pm with deep jazz and grooves spun by rising Toronto DJ Blissom. Winnipeg mod pop duo the Telepathic Butterflies are next, followed by mysterious bluegrass beardos the Saggy Pants Boyz paying tribute to the old-time twang of O Brother, Where Art Thou? Upstart techno producer Manitoba steps up with his DJ mix of old- and new-school hiphop and funk, a perfect set-up for the raucous thump of Scarborough MC Nish Rawks and the Toronto hiphop all-stars.
Movement founder and new Play de Record co-owner Dee Jay Nav ends the night with house, latin, afrofunk and beyond.
$18/wristband, $8. 416-863-6963.