Hip Hop Heroes
Article by Nick Hernandez
In the small office room of A324b Langara’s A building, there are two walls full of old Thor comic book issues.
Each wall has at least 25 issues on it, in which one wall has issue #380, where Thor is spinning Mjollnir in his hand as he is about to hit Jormungand in the mouth, while the other one has #147, where Loki and Thor are battling each other in front of Odin. A poster of Thor: The Dark World is also up on the wall, and Mjollnir is also sitting on a bookshelf filled with English books. Thor’s helmet is also at the very top of the bookshelf.
Amidst all the Thor comic book issues and replica in this room, there is one book that stands out from the rest: “The Anthology of Rap”, by Adam Bradley and Andr ew DuBois.
The room is Thor Polukoshko’s office, an English professor in Langara that teaches the poetics of hip hop to second year students. He also hosted an English forum about hip hop to English students as well, and wrote his master’s thesis on First Nations hip hop.
“As a white guy from the okanagan, I think the large appeal of hip hop for me has always been the lyrical aspect of it,” said Polukoshko. “There’s no other form of music that puts that much focus on lyrics and wordplay that hip hop does.”
For Polukoshko, comic books in general have played a big role in rap music, due to it being prevalent to youth culture in the 70s and 80s. Rappers don’t depict themselves directly as superheroes, but some like Kool Keith and Del the Funky Homosapien have personas in rap that are superhero-like in the comic book culture. With superheroes comes with supervillains as well, with the most notable one being MF Doom. Doom wears a mask similar to Dr. Doom from the Fantastic Four series, and depicts himself as a villain through his songs.
‘The list goes on and on about artists that play on that superhero aspect, but yeah they’ve playing on that,” said Polukoshko.
Rupert Common, a local MC from East Van, wouldn’t use a superhero alias when he raps because people might get the wrong idea of someone in a cape and rescuing the world. Instead, he uses Ru-Tang, the veganese art warrior.
“It’s a combination of being vegan, being a hip hop artist, liking Buddhism, and being an environmentalist,” said Common. “He is an art warrior, a.k.a. a jedi, a.k.a a wizard, a.k.a he’s in the matrix, but he’s not.”
Common started out as an MC four years ago, when he collaborated with a guy who watched his rap battles. He is about to release his first album soon, and includes a song called “Summertime”, which is his cynical look at summer being anxiety causing while other people listen to summer songs about summer being awesome. His influences in his raps came from Mos Def and Andre 3000, but lately, his biggest influence is the jedi from Star Wars.
“The jedi have to work hard cultivating their power and strength and to always be in love,” said Common. “They use their power to balance out their life, they don’t try to go and abuse people, and they hone their energy in a positive way.”
Other than rapping, Common also breakdances with his friends from Streetrich Hip Hop Society every Wednesdays in Yaletown-Roundhouse Community Centre.
For two hours, Common and his friends breakdance in a room with a Mac laptop and a speaker when there’s no DJ around. Enck Monzon devotes the two hours of the session into practicing his moves like his headstand, where he wears a jacket and cover his head with the hood in order to avoid friction of spinning on his head, while Andy Sum tries to perfect his chairflair, a move where you hold your body in the air with only one hand.
In the middle of the room where Monzon and Sum are dancing is Mattias Boon, who, at the age of 34, can still do the headstand.
He is the founder of Streetrich who came from a small town in Belgium in which he was breakdancing with his crew during parties and shows for festivals. He moved to Vancouver because his wife is from Burnaby, and was hired to be a community leader in the community centre. He started Streetrich in Belgium with the intention of teaching the four aspects of hip hop: DJ’ing, graffiti, breaking, and MC’ing.
“In my hip hop adventure, I started learning that hip hop culture stands for peace, love, unity, and having fun,” said Boon. “[Hip hop] really spoke to me because it’s hard to find a culture or place where all people are welcome, and where it doesn’t matter what financial background or what religion you’re from.”
In a way, Boon is considered a hero in hip hop. What he lacks in wearing a cape and being recognized in the streets, he makes up for it with a passion and determination of teaching breakdancing. He had a choice of not continuing the Wednesday sessions due to a back issue, yet he still hosted it after he recovered from it. Streetrich had a funding cut lost its DJ for its Wednesday session, so he improvised and used a laptop and speaker.
Hip hop is part of Boon’s life, and his personality of being passionate and sharing his knowledge of hip hop makes him a hero like Kool Keith and Del the Funky Homosapien.