Lee Reed: Anarchist Rapper Shares Perspectives From the Frontlines of Indigenous Solidarity & Anticapitalist Struggles
For almost three decades, Lee Reed has been stomping stages and studios, spewing his unique brand of anarchist rant-hop. From his time as a member of the legendary Warsawpack to his solo work, Reed has been committed to revolutionary struggle, environmental justice and the fight for a better world, voicing antiauthoritarian and anticapitalist politics through […]
The post Lee Reed: Anarchist Rapper Shares Perspectives From the Frontlines of Indigenous Solidarity & Anticapitalist Struggles first appeared on DIY Conspiracy – International Zine in the Spirit of DIY Hardcore Punk!
For almost three decades, Lee Reed has been stomping stages and studios, spewing his unique brand of anarchist rant-hop.
From his time as a member of the legendary Warsawpack to his solo work, Reed has been committed to revolutionary struggle, environmental justice and the fight for a better world, voicing antiauthoritarian and anticapitalist politics through hip-hop.
In this lengthy interview, we spoke with Lee Reed about his music, political organizing and the state of revolutionary rap at the present moment.
To start, wondering if you could share some stories of how you got involved in making music and connecting it to radical politics? Have you always considered yourself a DIY and a leftist artist?
For me, the road to radical politics actually started with music. I was a kid in the early/mid ‘80s when hip-hop first stepped out of New York and onto the world stage. And I LOVED it. All of it. Every rap song I heard. Every rapper I heard. Bits of rap culture that made it into movies and TV. I loved it all. And at the core of that early rap music was a stark, dark, social commentary and anticapitalist analysis. Distrust (or full blown hatred) of government, cops, courts, politicians, landlords, schools, etc. And that anti-establishment lean, that deep anti-American critique was found in pretty much all hip-hop music back then. Sometimes it was on full display, other times, it was buried in poetics and storytelling. But it was always there.
I didn’t really understand it at the time but that early rap music hit me like a good history teacher. It was shaping my worldview. And as an angsty teen boy, that adversarial worldview took hold of me and stayed. Throughout my teens and 20s, I was driven by “protest music”. And that started with rap. A stand out for me was Public Enemy’s first album Yo! Bum Rush The Show! (1987). A friend of mine had traveled to the States and brought me back that album. And it helped shape me more than anything I can think of. It was the first rap album where I was conscious of the expressly revolutionary message. I understood what Chuck D and Public Enemy were against, and I could see how they were using their music to fight back. And I loved it. That album was soon followed up with 1988’s more famous It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, which I also loved. The beats and flows were amazing but, it was the message that got me. And drawn in by that revolutionary message, I started looking for it in other kinds of music. Which led me to punk. I got into The Clash, Dead Kennedys, Crass, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, DOA, etc. And then in the early ‘90s, Rage Against the Machine. It didn’t really matter what style of music it was—if the message was revolutionary or radical, I was probably going to love it.
It wasn’t until the later ‘90s—in my late 20s—that I tried writing. Schooled on 15+ years of revolutionary music, writing revolutionary music came naturally. From the mid ‘90s when I started writing, through to today.. it’s all I’ve ever been interested in writing. Like if it didn’t have some political message or purpose. I wasn’t interested in writing it. With the exception of a couple arty “guest appearances”, everything I’ve ever written has come from a place of revolutionary struggle, and voicing anticapitalism, anticolonialism, antifascism, etc. So YES, I’ve always seen my music and my writing as “leftist”, or radical, or revolutionary, however you want to call it.
DIY though? When I first started doing shows, and touring with Warsawpack, and I became part of the “music scene”, we didn’t call what we were doing “DIY Culture” but it was. We were organizing our own shows, spaces and events. We were touring on no budget. Sleeping on floors and couches. Sharing networks, shows, gear, and contacts with like-minded artists. Doing our own art, design, promotion. The Hip-Hop scene didn’t really embrace DIY. Most rappers were trying hard to build something that fit the wider music industry (finding agents, managers, “record deals” etc). But the way me and my musical comrades went about it—we were definitely doing it ourselves, and building in a DIY way. Even if we didn’t know what to call. I didn’t really think of myself as part of DIY culture until later in my career, but I’ve always been DIY.
At the time when the DIY Conspiracy website started around 2005, we were all fans of Warsawpack. Can you talk a bit about this project for those who were not familiar with their music and existence? What was it like working with a label like Propagandhi’s G7 Welcoming Committee back in the day?
That’s so nice to hear. Yeah, Warsawpack was a magical time that opened a lot of the doors I walked through for my solo work after. It was my first taste of a real music project, and we had a really great time doing it. We were well loved, by music fans and critics. Selling out clubs everywhere we went. Playing big festivals. We were on TV and in newspapers. Getting interest from folks in the States and Europe. It seemed like we were becoming big.
We were a 7-piece band. With drums, bass, guitar, keys, sax, baritone sax, flute, a DJ, and me rapping, or sometimes yelling and/or singing over it. We were a musical monstrosity that took up way too much space on a stage. Haha. We defied easy categorization. We were too heavy to be a rap group. We were too jazzy and funky to be a punk/ska band. Too rock’n’roll to be a jazz group. We never really had a genre that we fit. But that served us really well and made us stand out from a lot of the music around at the time.
We were only around from 1999-2004. Just five years. Life took some turns, and some of the younger members had school to get to. And we were doing really well, but it still wasn’t at the level where it was a full-time job for seven people. We came back from tour in 2004, having made as much money as we could have made. We sold out all our shows, sold all our merch, cut as many cost corners as we could, but it wasn’t nearly enough to keep the engine going. So, instead of half-assing and slowing down, we just called it quits. But it was an amazing five years.
We released our first album in 2001 (Gross Domestic Product), and later that year G7 Welcoming Committee was in touch about re-releasing the album on their label. Chris from Propagandhi and Derek from the G7WC office flew out to Ontario to see us play a couple shows (including an opening spot for Fishbone) and before they flew home, we had signed a deal with them. We re-released Gross Domestic Product, via G7WC, in 2002, I think? And then our second album with them in 2004, Stocks & Bombs. They were supportive of everything we did and really helped propel us to some underground infamy.
And on a personal level, they were super cool folks, all of them. Obviously, their politics were solid. But they also had an excellent sense of humor and were warm, caring folks. It was a really great time and they had a really great network of people around them (other artists, and the G7 diehard fans). I don’t think I’ll ever be involved in something that fun again. Can only hope!
What does hip-hop mean to you? Can you draw some parallels and differences between radical hip-hop/rap and the DIY hardcore punk scene? Do you think it’s easier to do agitprop and be self-sufficient as a solo hip-hop artist compared to being in a punk band?
For me, hip-hop has always been a type of folk poetry. We could talk for a long while about hip-hop “beats” and the revolutionary nature and potential of those beats, especially in the earliest days (sampling was very revolutionary!). But, to me, hip-hop is defined by folk poetry. It values authenticity. It wants you to speak from experience and from the heart. And the most important defining feature, it’s important to note: hip-hop is Black music, born, very specifically, from the African diaspora living in the urban United States. It came from communities that included Latino, Asian and White folks, but the soul and backbone of hip-hop is unarguably Black. And so, it’s important to keep that front of mind. As a white dude making hip-hop, I am constantly checking myself. Am I being authentic? Am I bringing something unique to the dialogue? Am I adding something to the culture with my work? Am I a good guest in the house of Hip-Hop? For me it’s important that I am a good guest in the house of Hip-Hop, that I’m not copying the work of black artists; that I am adding something new and unique to the genre; my perspective, my battles, my voice. And I think I do that. I try at least.
Your follow up question, wanting to compare the DIY hardcore punk scene and the radical hip-hop scene, a few things come to mind. First, there is the simplicity around both types of music. It is comparatively quite cheap to make a rap or punk record. You don’t need an expensive studio or sound engineers to make a great rap or punk record. You just need the right people, the know-how and a DIY ethos. Both genres stand out in that regard I think. And I think, for that reason, both genres lend themselves to working class communities. They are accessible, DIY types of music.
It manifests differently. Maybe my Canadian perspective is skewed (things are weird here, haha). In my experience, every sizable city, and even in some towns and “areas” there is a DIY rap scene. The big difference between the two communities (rap vs. punk), from what I can tell, is that hip-hop isn’t properly inter-city yet, let alone international. Like, hip-hop doesn’t share as well as punks do. I mean, it’s there, and I know LOTS of rap artists that build in a DIY way. Experimental/alternative rap (I’m thinking of my Fake Four homies for instance) have a growing DIY community, nut not like the size and scope of punk, in my experience. Not as well beaten a trail for DIY artists. Not as many expressly DIY spaces for it, not as many well-established artists into it. It’s there but hip-hop has a lot to learn from punk when it comes to sharing and growing collectively.
I should note, I’ve only toured Europe once, but did see that sense of “community” between cities and nations was waaay more evident there than here in North America. Like, I think DIY rap/hip-hop is closer to where I’d like Canada and the States to be. (I really hope to get back again).
Returning here to what hip-hop “means to me” though, and about authenticity and having “my own voice” in hip-hop. It’s this exact discussion. This is what I want to bring to my hip-hop table. This DIY punk culture. And that’s what I’ve always tried to do. When most rappers are chasing “deals” and Me and my musical comrades were playing for activists, organizers and frontlines. We were doing shows at points of protest, raising fists and funds for projects, bringing revolutionary rap music to blockades, marches, occupations etc. We were trying to soundtrack the struggles in our communities and use music as material support for campaigns and radical organizations/organizers. That pursuit and practice of DIY culture brought authenticity and “realness” to our work. We have definitely built our own lane in hip-hop here, and a unique voice of our own. And it’s, very much, modeled after (and often around or even, within) the DIY punk scene.
Please give us more insight on your discography and benefit records for various causes? How did you start releasing your stuff with Sage Francis and his Strange Famous label?
We put out two full-length records and a demo EP as Warsawpack. Just after Warsawpack, I was in a short lived group called People’s Republic that put out a demo EP. And as Lee Reed, solo.. I’ve done four EPs, three full-length records, and a bunch of “guest appearances” (maybe 15-20?), plus a handful of singles.
Benefit records? I’ve done a few. In the past couple years, I’ve released two “benefit singles”. One was for the Hamilton Encampment Support Network (HESN), a local Hamilton group that does solidarity work for folks living in tents and encampments. Six HESN members were arrested, trying to prevent an encampment eviction. The song “Drop The Charges” was released to bring light to their arrests, and raise funds for legal support. You can find this on my Bandcamp.
I also helped set up a fundraising page for music in support of Wet’suwet’en land defenders at the Gidimt’en checkpoint. They have been fighting to protect the Yintah (their traditional lands) against a proposed pipeline running through their unceded territory for years. RCMP (our state police) have been forcing this development through at gunpoint, without “free, prior and informed consent” (the necessary legal standing for projects on Indigenous territory). I released a song called “Get The Fuck Off The Yintah”, as a message to settlers, like me, and the Canadian state. If you look for this song on Bandcamp, it will direct you to the song on their fundraising page: Wet’suwet’en Hibi C’in. I’ve had the honor of performing this song a number of times at Wet’suwet’en events, including a protest out front of RBC Bank in Toronto, with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs in attendance. I was so proud to stand with them.
I’ve also done some tenant/housing organizing in Hamilton. At one point, in 2018, I was helping with a rent strike in the east end of the city. A four-building high rise complex was fighting against an “above guideline rent increase”. Tenants collectively withheld their rent in protest. To do this, they needed funds to pay for costs associated with the housing court (The Landlord Tenant Board). I released a 5-song EP called “The Steal City EP”, with all proceeds going to the tenants legal fund. All the songs were about gentrification and the housing crisis. This was probably the most critically acclaimed work I’ve ever released. It became the #1 album that year on local community/campus radio, and it was nominated on the Polaris Prize longlist. You can find this album on Bandcamp, under “Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network”.
But really, when it comes to fundraising—performances and events are where I bring in the most money for causes. I’ve played and organized tons of fundraising events over the years, with particular attention paid to Indigenous Solidarity work, and housing and anti-gentrification work. Raising fists and funds for local causes/orgs/campaigns is a big part of what me and the squad do. We’re always happy to take the stage for comrades!
The connection with Strange Famous happened back in 2018. I got to open for Sage Francis at a show here in Ontario. And he LOVED our set. He came out from behind his merch table, to the front of the room and rocked out with us. Like a diehard fan. It was kinda surreal. I’d loved and followed Sage for years. So, to see him digging the set like he was. This was some of the sweetest musical affirmation I’ve ever felt. Like, this guy’s a seasoned VETERAN and here he was bugging out at our set! Was an amazing feeling. When our set was done he approached me about doing a release via their #SFDigi, Strange Famous Digital collection. After a couple chats, it was all sorted out. And “Before & Aftermath” got put out through Strange Famous.
I’ve really enjoyed working with the Strange Famous fam. Sage and the dude running the label (Storm Davis) are super sweet guys. The actual “deal” is really straightforward and easy to understand (no lawyers needed, haha). It’s a deal that was written by an indie artist. You can tell. Haha. I’ve connected with some of the other artists on the label. Did a guest vocal for Seez Mics. Done a couple pieces for Mopes. And working on a whole concept album with the producer Aupheus, from the UK. I’ve made a ton of new fans, from the States and Europe. And it helped propel me to my first European tour a few years back. It actually went really well for a first tour. I was prepping to return and then fuckn COVID kicked off. So the plans died. But someday I hope to make it back.
Sage and the label have been really cool about my politics. Early into the discussions, I worried my music might be “too radical” for them. They dismissed that right away. Said they were proud to stand by my music and not to “pull punches” with the material. It’s been a really great working relationship. I plan to put out my next full length album “Pitchforks and Torches” via Strange Famous in 2023. If all goes according to plan.
In the activist movements, there is a lot of anonymity and people who work on art personally, but find it difficult to bring that creative expression of their political activism into the public. Do you think that the proliferation of hip-hop as an art form and the boom of digital communications make it easier to reach the public as a radical artist?
It’s hard to bridge those worlds—organizing and art. Being “public” about revolutionary politics makes you a kind of target. Not just of the state and cops, but for your class enemies, who will work to expose your politics to employers, destroy relationships, get gigs canceled, etc. It’s often easier to keep those things separate. I know quite a few organizers that make art (music, visual or multimedia) but don’t create much art that confronts or comments on politics. I would love to see more political art, but at the same time, I don’t blame people for shying away from it. I think most artists just want to connect with people through their work. And It can be very limiting, and a more difficult road, to try to connect on political terms.
With the proliferation of hip-hop and digital communication is it easier to reach people with radical art? Hip-Hop as an art form is definitely worldwide now. Probably the most common genre on the planet. People listen to and create hip-hop everywhere. And I think the form, rooted in the language of struggle, lends itself to revolutionary messaging. As we’d noted earlier, the roots of hip-hop have always been revolutionary. And I think that comes out on the world stage. For instance, I don’t know much about the artists doing it but I know revolutionary hip-hop is a lot more common in Central and South America, places where revolutionary thinking is more front and center in political discourse.
To me, in the English speaking world, hip-hop seems to be growing less and less revolutionary over time. And seems to be getting subsumed by the capitalist apparatus more. The underground is still there to say it. And some artists will touch on aspects of it (primarily re: cops and prisons). The earliest days of hip-hop were, in general, the most revolutionary. And it’s just been sliding backwards since.
Modern digital communications can definitely help amplify things and help artists and radical organizers reach other places and people. Look at me doing this interview now for instance! And artists and radical orgs seem to find ways to harness those platforms. But I find it fleeting. Things change. Platforms come and go. And platforms can also turn on us. Look at the way groups like SubMedia built up tens of thousands of followers, and wracked up millions of views on Facebook.. then had their accounts throttled and suppressed. Or Sole, having his page just PULLED! As helpful as those platforms can be, they can also be a weak point for artists and Orgs. I don’t think we can rely on them. I think we need to bring the DIY ethos to the digital realm. Cultivate our own pages. Develop and use our own mailing lists for direct engagement. Try to use the reach of the internet but not its typical path.
Is your goal to stay underground and what do you think of activists trying to make a living by compromising their DIY ideals? Do you feel comfortable with funding leftist art through grants or state-sponsored programs? Have you got any criticisms from peers in the hip-hop scene or reviewers for being too political?
Staying underground? Well, I plan to keep making the type of music that I’ve been making. Which, almost certainly guarantees I’ll remain underground! Haha. What I do is very niche. And definitely not most people’s tastes. It’s been that way since day one for me. So, not really any disappointment or surprise over that. I love what I do. I love my musical comrades. I love our musical community. I don’t see any change to that formula coming.
As far as artists “selling out” or compromising their ideals, I think it’s complicated. I am blessed that I have the support I have, and I’m able to do what I love. But, really—I work a fulltime job to afford this life. If I was trying to survive only on art, I would have gone hungry twenty years ago. So, I don’t really feel it’s fair for me to pass judgment on what other artists do or don’t do to make their living. I say no to festivals sponsored by real estate, developers or banks. These are (by far) the highest paying gigs. Without them, an artist would need to have a HUGE underground following to make up that money difference. I can think of maybe 5-6 rap artists in all of Canada who enjoy this status. The rest of us either have jobs (like me) or they take gigs that they don’t really want. So, I feel bad passing judgment on my peers, and what they might do to make rent and eat. I can draw those lines but it’s not for me to say what other artists should do.
What bothers me is talking about revolution, making mad cash off of it.. and THEN being a sell out.
For instance, Rage Against the Machine toured recently. They played a festival in Ottawa sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada. The bank that is financing the pipeline in Wet’suwet’en. They flashed images of Indigenous solidarity, under an RBC logo. THAT is selling out to me. THAT is trash. THAT should be called out and ridiculed. Those guys are multimillionaires. They could go without playing that bank sponsored festival. They could play whatever place, and under whatever circumstances they wanted. The Indie/ underground artist that nobody has heard of? It’s not easy to say no to money when you’re this artist.
Grants or state sponsorship? I think this is better than corporate sponsored gigs. And, at least in Canada, there is quite a bit of room for artistic expression and autonomy with our granting agencies/orgs. I COULD get grants saying the things I say. Maybe? I also see the trap of trying to create things that will get sponsored, or receive grants. It can become like an addiction for artists. I have music friends that NEED the grants to keep going. And I don’t think that’s a healthy long-term artistic path. For me at least. Would I take a tour grant or specific funding for a recording? Probably. Do I spend any time figuring out how I can easily get grants? No.
Do I get criticism from hip-hop peers about my politics? Yes and no. I get a lot of love from other rappers. Locally in Hamilton, I go to rap shows. I support local rappers. I try to support the local scene. And local rappers don’t really criticize my work (to my face or online anyway, haha). I also just don’t fit in with most of their events/bills. I am part of the scene here but also apart from it. My shows aren’t really typical rap shows. My audience is more diverse than that. I don’t often book other rappers for my shows. I book bands or producers or more experimental sounds. I mix genres. And my audiences like it that way. They aren’t really there to see a rap show. They are mostly there for the politics and the message. So, I don’t get a lot of push back from the rap community. I really am in my own lane here.
Wondering if you think that the global mainstream music industry and a lot of successful but still independent artists have become more “woke” in recent years, supporting various social justice struggles, but often just in passing, without this being translated into long term engagement?
I think we’ve always had that dynamic to some extent, for example from major label musicians or Hollywood actors. These “stars” become attached, briefly, to some sort of struggle, like a passing fashion. They promote it (often with shitty analysis), and then it fades into the background of their career. We’ve always had that. I think nowadays we see/hear more of it. Social media has artists “weighing in” on everything. Having an opinion or talking about everything. And this breeds more of that “passing engagement” I think. And as the discourse gets more “woke”, these artists reflect that back, positioning themselves as a “woke” voice or thinker, trying to capture that spirit.
I think, in general, this just acts like a “safety valve” for the pressures of a struggle. Like, people now feel like they are “doing something” by simply talking about it. And that can really deflate a movement. Confusing “awareness” with action. It’s a step back for real organizing. But, at the same time, it gets complicated when you start to consider how revolutionaries reach outside their bubble. How to get young people involved, etc.
You look at the politics of representation in mainstream culture for instance. How do you quantify Beyonce’s revolutionary influence on some 12 year black girl? When Beyonce shows passing support for Black uprisings, that girl could be forever changed by that passing opinion. That girl may go on to become a capable abolitionist and organizer. That girl could go on to help lead an uprising in her city. It’s easy for me to dismiss the stuff that stars say, but what about the 90% of people that aren’t exposed, even a little, to revolutionary thinking. Maybe they need to hear that? I’m not sure.
But as much as I make fun of mainstream artists “taking up causes”, I don’t think it’s always bad. Seeing stars like Mark Ruffalo or Leonardo DiCaprio speak about indigenous struggles against resource extraction in Canada for instance, you can sometimes see a positive effect. When they help get these subjects into film festivals, help finance projects about the struggle, visit the sites of struggle, to help drum up media, or donate money and appearances. When they leverage their influence for material support, that can have a positive effect on the struggle. Even if it’s fleeting, those bumps in support aren’t really a bad thing.
It’s important to note that it doesn’t mean shit if there isn’t solid ongoing organizing on the ground. If the “frontline” is just stars talking about things and raising money for NGOs, it is useless. If the stars are centering and supporting the work of real frontline organizers, like the indigenous land defenders here. This is not necessarily a bad thing, in my opinion.
Please tell us a bit about your activist work outside the music. What kind of political organizing and strategies do you support?
In the past ten years my focus has been on housing/gentrification and indigenous solidarity work.
Most of the organizing I do is rooted in housing issues in Hamilton—supporting tenant organizers, helping form tenant committees, stopping evictions, stopping rent increases, fighting for repairs and maintenance, researching and confronting landlords, mutual aid for tenants, etc. Housing is the single most important issue in my city. It affects everyone I know. Rents have increased about 100-200% in the past ten years. Home values have tripled. Our government incentivized investment in housing some years back. So, in Canada, homes have become investments instead of shelters. This financialization of our housing has made the average home-owner very very rich. It made the cost of living impossible for lower income Canadians, like seniors, people on government support or pensions. Our parks are swelling with encampments. There is not enough shelter space. People are dying in the streets. It’s a total mess here.
Tenant organizing can be very rewarding. It is uncomplicated in its approach. As tenants, we are ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, fighting against the Landlord. This cuts across lines of race, ethnicity, language, background, etc. It builds connections on the basis of class. It teaches people class consciousness. It teaches people that they are stronger together. And ultimately, it shows them that they can win. Organized tenants will wrack up wins. They can force repairs. They can stop a rent increase or charge. They can prevent an eviction. Once tenants realize the power they have together, they are a formidable force. And building this sort of tenant power has been a big focus over the past decade.
As an anarchist organizer, I’m looking to foster direct action and confrontation outside the institutional channels. I am not interested in putting together a strong case and fighting landlords at the Landlord Tenant Board (like housing court here). I am not interested in appealing to politicians or government agencies for help. I am never going to campaign for “good politicians” or voting. I believe the only way to win is to confront and fight your class enemies outside of their systems and rules. Building your neighbors skills and confidence to wage these direct fights, learning to fight together, and building capacity for bigger and bigger actions—that is how we will win.
While housing remains my biggest organizing commitment, I also make time for Indigenous solidarity work. All the anarchists I know do. Canadian anarchists have been building relationships with indigenous organizers for a long time—spending time on the lands and at the frontline; organizing material support for sites of struggle; providing boots on the ground for actions, etc. When a group of Indigenous organizers put out a call for help, my comrades will do their best to hear the call. Sometimes this means supporting a road or rail blockade. Sometimes it means showing up at an occupation or action and camping. Sometimes it means sourcing and running supplies to Indigenous organizers. We take direction from Indigenous leaders, and do our best to support their tactics and campaigns. I have built connections at a number of different sites of indigenous struggle and will always do my best to show up when asked. Sometimes this is through music (fundraising or playing sites of struggle), but most often it is through labor, and providing a set of boots or helping hands.
In a historical sense, the struggle for Indigenous sovereignty is THE defining struggle for my country. Canada is quite young (155 years old). It is built on genocide and resource theft. My generation and younger Canadians are waking up to their complicity in these crimes. And many are answering the call to stand up and change. For many folks, this means turning up at marches and demos, or sending money to frontlines. For anarchists, this means confronting the state’s legitimacy, and looking to support Indigenous sovereignty and “land back” as a strategy. I’m proud of the work my comrades do to support these struggles.
Can you recommend some good artists you feel related to on a political level and talk a bit more about Indigenous artists and their work in particular?
Love to! I would start by highlighting the other members of my collective RHYMETHiNK: Test Their Logik, Kay the Aquanaut, Tarek Funk (aka Mother Tareka) and Praxis Life.
My comrades/homies Test Their Logik were one of North America’s first expressly anarchist rap groups. They’ve traveled and toured extensively around the world. And continue to put out relevant anarchist analysis in the form of hard rap. On a personal level, these guys are good pals of mine. I’ve played countless shows with them. Toured with them. They are excellent dudes, and I love them. I would credit Test Their Logik with pushing me into being the MC I am today. First ones to open my eyes to Indigenous solidarity work, which really shaped my writing over the past decade. They’re younger than me but I’ve always looked up to these guys.
My brother Kay the Aquanaut. He’s been on a bit of an artistic hiatus the past couple years. He’s one of my favorite dudes. Experimental/alternative rap artist. His music is one of a kind. Super intelligent, sharp and inventive. I’ve toured tons with Kay. We met opening a Sole show, back in like 2014 or 2015? Something like that. We hit it off, and have been building ever since.
My brother Tarek Funk (Mother Tareka). Syrian Palestinian. Tarek lives in my city, Hamilton, and is probably my longest running musical comrade. He’s family to me. We play each other’s shows all the time. Super talented guy that plays keys, sax, flute. He raps—sometimes with a band, sometimes over beats.
Praxis Life is an artist and organizer that resides on the West Coast of Canada. He’s been doing Indigenous solidarity work forever and has excellent connections and working relationships with several Indigenous communities.
These RHYMETHiNK dudes are all like family to me at this point. We work on each other’s stuff. Collaborate, support and build together. Love these dudes.
Other artists you might not know that I’d recommend:
K!MMORTAL: A Filipino-Canadian from the West Coast. One of my favorite MCs in Canada. She is dope.
LAL: A downtempo electronica duo from Toronto that I play with regularly. These folks have held down DIY culture in Toronto for nearly two decades now. They make some of the most beautiful “movement music” you’ll ever hear.
Garbageface: Doom rap? Industrial rap? Not sure what you’d call it, but Garbageface is someone I play with regularly. And love the politics of his music.
Cheko Salaam: Salvadorian born Canadian poet, MC, producer. Cheko is a dope songwriter that weaves revolutionary ideas and politics into something bigger and more beautiful.
Emay: Rapper/ Producer. He was living in Hamilton for a few years, and became part of the scene here. Now living out in Edmonton. Super inventive beat maker and intelligent wordsmith. Emay was my favorite rapper in the City for a long time. Miss having him here.
Folks I’ve connected with through music that I’d recommend:
Ceschi: The founder of the label Fake Four. He is one of the most interesting and inventive artists I’ve ever met. I love this dude and everything he does.
Sima Lee: Baltimore area MC. Strong community organizer and dope MC. You might know from that SubMedia piece.
QELD and Pavlov’s House from Bristol UK. Bobbi from both groups is a rapid-fire revolutionary MC. Love their stuff.
Drowning Dog & Malatesta (DDM). Anarchist duo from the US and Italy who now reside in Germany. Drowning Dog was one of the world’s first expressly anarchist rappers. They are iLL;
Krav Boca from France, a kinda fusion metal rap outfit with HEAVY sounds and explosive live shows;
Lena Stoeherfaktor and Sayes, both from Germany, both iLL MCs I got to play with while on tour there. Hope to build with them both again. I am forgetting artists’ names here. The crews we played with in Leipzig. All the rap we saw in Germany was dope. Hope to get back one day.
Other recommendations folks might not know that I follow: Apex Zero, Time, Awkward, Sly DeSilva, Skip Coon.
Indigenous music recommendations:
Indigenous music is exploding in Canada right now. Some critics have called this time an Indigenous cultural renaissance. There are so many talented Indigenous artists, of every genre that have been making big moves and music the past few years. Some of my favorite:
Logan Staats and Layla Staats: Two of the best “artist activists” in our music scene. They are solo artists—siblings—but play together regularly. Folk, rock, blues, country, roots sounding. They have both traveled extensively across Turtle Island, to frontline sites of struggle to support Indigenous resistance and “land back” movements. They are Haudenosaunee, from Six-Nations (not far from where I live). I’ve seen them both play and speak. They are amazing truth tellers that bridge the musical and organizing worlds.
Tanya Tagaq: Inuk throat singer. She makes amazing, experimental music—mixing Inuk throat singing with modern forms to create something wholly unique. And her politics are always spot on.
Snotty Nose Rez Kids: This hip-hop duo has been killing it in Canada. Winning awards, selling their shows out. They are getting huge here. Not really revolutionary music but they bring the reality and stories of Indigenous youth to big audiences. They are fun and energetic. Some of the most original rap to come out of Canada in years.
Jayohcee: An Akwesasne Mohawk rapper. He was living on the frontline in Wet’suwet’en during the RCMP raids last year. He and I did a remix of “Get the Fuck Off the Yintah”. Yeah, he’s a dope rapper.
Ostwelve: A Stō:lo. St’át’imc/Nlaka’pamux multimedia hip-hop artist. Poetry, rapping, producing, acting, filmmaking, workshops. Ostwelve infuses Indigenous stories and teachings with hip-hop. He’s dope.
JB The First Lady: From the Nuxalk & Onondaga Nations. Uses hip-hop as oral history, and is not afraid to speak on difficult subjects. Like residential schools and “Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women” (a huge issue in Canada).
I would say my favorite Indigenous artists and the ones that I listen to most frequently. They gotta be Ant-Loc and Smokehouse from WOLF (We Only Live Free) and SAVAGE FAM. They make some of the realest revolutionary music on the planet. Full stop. Love their message, love their music and love what they stand for. We listen to lots of Savage Fam and WOLF on the road. Massive respect for the work they do.
You appeared on Sole’s podcast in 2019 and also on the great hip-hop episode of Submedia’s Trouble series, along with artists like Sima Lee, Ruby Ibrara, Bambu, MC Crenshaw, La Marea, etc. What are some digital mediums where we can learn more about radical hip-hop in the age of apocalypse?
Sadly, that’s a tough question. And I don’t have any “go to” sites that I visit for revolutionary hip-hop. If you or your readers have any ideas, I’d love to hear them!
I’d recommend the podcast Ransom Notes, like a hip-hop (and other genre) mix of revolutionary music. It’s been on hiatus but the back episodes are great. There was a radio show in Montreal called The Rebel Beat that was great but it’s been gone a while. Might be some back episodes of that out there still. Both shows I’ve found some great artists through.
Thinking about this the past few days though, I realized, I find most of my new revolutionary music from the pages of other revolutionary artists (like those mentioned above). And seeing their recommendations and collaborations and looking into it. It got me thinking about how important it is that revolutionary artists and their fans share each other’s shit! We gotta do a better job of spreading these messages and making those connections.
You can find Lee Reed on Bandcamp and his official website Lee Reed Revolt. Hide your bankers. Hide your cops //