Homegrown Hip Hop

Jonathan Steel, known by his nom-de-rap MC TurMoiL, has released his first CD, Black and Green. He’s also released a video for the album’s hit track, “Mr. Myagi.”

I must approach this review with caution, since despite Steel being a friend of mine, his brand of music isn’t. This is entirely my fault: I suffer from hiphophobia, a fear of rap. The first beats and the first yo are often enough to send me running from the room before the song even starts.

That said, Steel has mad skillz, tossing down ill rhymes with the speed, rhythm and acumen of a bestselling artist. It’s gotten him recognition: on this album, he works with producer Ace Ha, who has worked with Rock Mafia, Verbal Phantom and Selena Gomez.

Hiphop producers provide the beats, the electronic backing tracks and samples that artists rap over. Ace Ha’s beats are catchy and multilayered, heavy bass rumbling under synthesized drum tracks, funky vocal samples, and, oddly enough on the track “Singing,” a fragment of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner.”

Steel departs from standard rap clichés, braggadocio and posturing. In “Mr. Myagi,” directed by Gary Bremner, a stereotypical rapper slouches in huge gold chains, only to be revealed as a wannabe. Steel forgoes the chains and posing of his rival, preferring video games, puzzles, hanging with friends. The posturing is unnecessary since he’s real: the bling is all glitter and no gold, without substance compared to the Steel’s casual confidence.

In that light, the humour of the songs comes out. He revels in his tough-guy image, while comparing himself to a comic book character on “Villain”: “I’m the opposite of Superman/I’m Super Ass-hat.” He disses pop-rap stars on “Sub Par” (using language I can’t quote), and ends the album with a quotation from the movie Billy Madison.

There are positive messages as well: with his friend MC Kelvin from Kids, he sings “Fight For”: “If you had nothing left to fight for/Would you fight for the chance to live more?” “Raised a Man” is an emotional tribute to his mother who raised him alone.

A troubled kid, having been raised in several towns including Whitehorse and Drumheller, Alberta, attending 12 schools, Steel sings in “Ink Blot” about the even more troubled kid he could have been. It’s easy to see how hip hop lyrics of Eminem and Dr. Dre would appeal to him.

Steel has opened for touring Canadian hip hop artists such as Karl Wolf and Sweat Shop Union, in addition to Merkules, who appears on “Sub Par.”

He says of people hiphophobes like me, “I think people need to be more open to hip hop. People hear the word hip hop and they hear the word rap and they shut it down, without giving it a chance.”

MC TurMoiL’s Black and Green is available on iTunes. The video, Mr. Myagi, can be found on Steel’s Youtube channel, TurmoilTV.

Outstanding tracks: “Mr. Myagi,” “Sub Par” and “Fight For.”

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