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New doc explores challenges for women in Montreal hip hop scene

07/16/2015 07:41 EDT | Updated 07/16/2016 05:59 EDT
When Concordia student Sarah Amira Aldridge thinks of all hip hop shows she's been to in Montreal — and there are many — something unsettling sticks out: "I can name you a bunch of male DJs, but only two or three that are women."

As a final class project, Aldridge, her classmate Rebecca Way, and her friend Bronwyn Worrick recorded 50 hours of interviews with over two dozen of Montreal's DJs, rappers, beat-makers, and singers involved in the city's hip hop scene.

The result,"Mic Drop: Where the Ladies at in Hip Hop?", offers a glimpse into an underground scene in which women are underrepresented, and the scene itself is undervalued by the city and province.

Aϊsha Cariotte Vertus, born and bred in Montreal East and heavily involved in the scene since she was a teenager, was one of the 26 artists interviewed in the documentary.

As one of the only women in Montreal under 25 who DJs with vinyl records, Vertus is often met with surprise when people realize she's the one behind the turntables.

She plays five-hour long vinyl sets every week — a feat for anyone. Many respect her for it. Others comment on how "cute" she is.

Not just a gender thing

Though echoing a lack of representation, many women in Aldridge's documentary are quick to mention that being in Montreal's hip hop scene is a difficult thing for anyone — man or woman.

"The serious problem is systemic racism in Quebec and I think that if there are biases against hip hop that show up bureaucratically, it's because of this," laments Hua Li, a Montreal hip hop artist also featured in the documentary.

Aldridge and Vertus point to a time in the 1980s when the Régie des Alcools would threaten to strip bars of their liquor licence if they allowed live hip hop shows.

"There's a lot venues that banned hip hop straight up." Vertus recounts in the documentary.

Hip hop's complicated relationship with the province has resulted in an "inability for the underground movement to have a cohesive, mutually supportive environment between artists, promoters, and those consuming the music," Aldridge says.

Despite the challenge of both gender and genre, the women featured in the documentary led her to believe that "there are so many talented women in the scene right now, and although a lot of them go under the radar, they are out there grinding and representing for the ladies."

For her part, Aldridge hopes that her documentary will start a necessary discussion on the state of women in Montreal's hip hop scene.

"We are exposing the divide in order to completely dismantle it," she says, so that we may "see Montreal's hip hop scene through talent and not gender."

You can see the premier of "Mic Drop: Where the Ladies at in Hip Hop?" this Saturday, July 18th, at 6p.m. at NoBad Sound Studios in Côte-des-Neiges.

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