Born with the gift of a golden tongue
"The rapper is like a painter with a brush”
Serge Lampron, 26, moved to Iqaluit looking for work, but he wasn’t after a job in social services or education, he came to Nunavut’s largest community to make it big as a hip hop artist.
“If you’re from a small town and you want to make it you don’t stay there, you go to the big city,” said Lampron, who is originally from Cape Dorset. “You go to Los Angeles or New York. So I came to Iqaluit, to do rap and get my music known.”
Lampron was born into an artistic family. Several of his cousins are carvers, one uncle takes photographs and his mother makes traditional Inuit dolls.
But these art forms don’t interest him. “I feel like hip hop is my only artistic gift,” he said.
You may not know it, but Iqaluit has developed something of a hip hop scene.
While veteran hip hop artists like DJ Mad Eskimo (aka Geronimo) have been playing shows here for years, a group of new artists have emerged in town, such as Baker Lake rapper Nelson Tagoona and Shauna Seeteenak, who wowed audiences at this year’s Alianait music and arts festival.
Others, like Lampron, have come to spend time in one of two recording studios, and to get a chance to perform live at bars or festivals.
“Iqaluit is a cultural melting pot,” said Alianait executive director Heather Dailey. “I look at it as the Toronto of Nunavut.”
“It’s an incredibly busy place, it’s not a sleepy little town,” added Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern. “There’s a lot of people traveling through here constantly, for medical treatment or meetings, and that fosters exchanges.”
Others come to dance, like Christine Lamothe, aka Lil’ Bear, or just, Bear.
She first came to Iqaluit in 2006 to teach hip hop dance at a youth summer camp, the kids loved it. “The kids really opened up,” said Lamothe. “They talked about family problems and other issues. It was a huge self-esteem boost.”
Lamothe now works in the Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth and is part of the performance and breakdancing group Kaiva, which draws inspiration from traditional Inuit forms like throat singing and drum dancing.
She also leads a bi-weekly hip hop dance class called the Hip Hop Spot, popular among Iqaluit youths.
It has served as a gathering place for some of the region’s brightest hip hop talent, such as Tagoona and Seeteenak, who regularly attend the sessions when they’re in town.
Lamothe thinks Iqaluit can help draw creative energy out of people.
“You have your role to play in your small community, and to step out of that role is very hard for other people to accept,” she said. “But if you leave you can try on new characters, try on new ways of being.”
Lampron, a husky guy with a big smile, first moved to Iqaluit in March 2010, taking jobs at the Baffin Correctional Centre and as a security guard at the medical boarding home.
He now works as a bouncer at the Legion bar and lives with his wife, Anirniq, also from Dorset, their 11-month-old daughter and two sons, aged five and seven. The couple has a fourth child on the way.
Family is an important theme in Lampron’s music; his hip hop name is Ataata, or father. During lunchtime on a recent Friday, as his family bustled about the home, he talked about why and how he got into hip hop.
“When I first listened to rap it was like that newborn feeling,” he said. “Then I realized I can rhyme. I can use hip hop as a way to get out my emotions and help me through everyday life.”
On the television in the living room a music video played for a song called “Watch the Throne,” which features two of hip hop’s hottest stars, Kanye West and Jay-Z.
“I been waitin’ for a long, long time,” runs the chorus, a sample of an earlier song by legendary soul singer, Otis Redding. “Just to get off and throw my hands up high / And live my life, and live my life.”
“The rapper is like a painter with a brush,” said Lampron. “And each rap song is like painting a picture with rhymes, each line is a little brush stroke.”
Lampron gave a sample of his own beats: “My name is Ataata, I’m trying to see if I can go overseas in Africa, I’m representing Canada, I’m hollering at America..”
He spit out another line: “Ataata, trying to make my flow perfect like a genetically engineered human being, Gattica.”
The last word is a reference to the sci-fi movie featuring Jude Law, Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, about genetically engineered astronauts.
Lampron cites his two biggest influences as Biggie, aka The Notorious B.I.G., a New York City rapper who was shot dead at 24, and 2Pac, or Tupac Amaru Shakur, a California gangster rapper who died in a hail of bullets at age 25 in 1996.
Lampron says he has been working on his music since he was 15 but it’s only in the past year or so that he has gotten very serious.
At 26, he is well aware that hip hop is a young man’s game, and that he’s not getting any younger. He is currently at work on his first demo tape.
“Right now I’m really hoping my career goes up soon,” he said. “I’m hoping by the end of this year, I’m really hoping, because it’s a long time coming.”