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Photo by Derek Mellon (Apt613 Flickr Pool)

House of PainT celebrates hip hop traditions and encourages innovation

By Jared Davidson on August 25, 2016





Thirteen years in, House of PainT has become one of Ottawa’s staple summer festivals. Combining the many elements of hip hop culture into one week-long explosion of breakdance, turntablism, graffiti, spoken word, rap and music. From Thursday August 25 through Sunday, Brewer Park (right across from Carleton’s campus) will be a refuge for hip hoppers of all places and times.

This year’s theme is decolonization. Underlying the proceedings will be an acknowledgement and celebration of the multiple cultures involved in hip hop and the ways they interweave.

“Hip hop is something that was inherited,” House of PainT General Manager Patrick McCormack points out. “It wasn’t necessarily created, but reclaimed.”

Part of the goal is to encourage dialogue between the many schools of hip hop, to help to foster dynamic community. For McCormack, this is essential to a vibrant hip hop scene; without it, the music becomes stagnant.

So the festival is about change, but it’s also about the past, its power and importance. With a lineup of artists that mixes the local and the distant, the established and the emerging, HoP mirrors the fluid nature of hip hop, a genre that is constantly in flux.

“We have an opportunity to cultivate more for our community,” McCormack says. “Our goal is to celebrate and elevate hip hop.”

Besides the festival’s great lineup of performers, which features Jesse Dangerously, Illa J, the Rock Steady Crew, Sarah MK, and Yusso, the celebration aspect of the festival is evident. But it is the way in which the festival elevates the Ottawa hip hop scene that continues to set it apart thirteen years in.

Behind the performances, HoP is a conference. Artists and industry members will be presenting new ideas, there will be discussion groups, there will be panels. From advice for emerging artist to commentary on issues with the way hip hop music is being supported, the HoP Knowledge Conference is a large draw, and clearly a focus for organizers.

For McCormack, that focus comes from the nature of hip hop itself. He says hip hop is about creation using the tools and means that are readily at hand. It is a culture that celebrates those who find new ways to mix old flavours, those who take what they have and spin it into gold. This has been central to the culture ever since hip hop exploded out of New York City in the 70s and 80s.

“They used what was available,” McCormack says, pointing out that much of that culture was about finding a way to make one’s life better: “it was useful for self expression, but also for creating economic opportunities.”

So, House of PainT, like hip hop more broadly, is about recapturing roots and remembering what is important about the culture, but it also about creating a sustainable musical world for old and new artists alike.

Hip hop in Ottawa goes back a long way, McCormack points out. The fact that this is the festival’s thirteenth year should be evidence enough of Ottawa’s deep hip hop history. There may be a geographical reason for this: Ottawa is relatively close to New York City, and Ottawa’s scene started around the same time as hip hoppers from that area moved northward.

Farewell to last year’s mural!! 🍾🍾🍾🍾🍾 #hop2016

A photo posted by #HoP2016 (@houseofpaint)

In the past, Ottawa has been called a “rock and roll town,” with bands like Nickelback and Metallica selling out our largest venues. Maybe that’s wrong. Maybe Ottawa is more hip hop than it is rock. The scene we have now is an extension of a scene that has existed for forty-odd years. In fact, some of the local acts on display this weekend have been in operation for close to half a century.

Clearly, the history is there, and as Ottawa continues to find its place as a cultural hub, the examination of our past will play a crucial role. This city’s place in the history of hip hop isn’t always the most salient subject of discussion, but it’s an important one.

However, while looking back is important, it is equally—or even more—important to continue the attitude of innovation that is so central to hip hop culture. House of PainT is an opportunity to do both. It is a recognition that the best hip hop music comes out of community and place.

Five years from now, we will be able to trace the beginnings of a new generation of local hip hop artists back to festivals like House of PainT. Whether in the audience or on the stage, they will be there.

House of PainT takes place at several venues from August 25 through 28. Tickets for concerts, graffiti exhibitions, turntablism contests and poetry evenings can be purchased at or on-site.