It started out as a block party — a way for people to come together to uplift themselves from the everyday grind of living an oppressed life. What started out as a naive, youthful expression seeking to define itself on its own terms soon fell into avarice and cliches. Common used to love h.e.r., Nas said it’s dead, but Scarborough is bringing hip hop back to life and back to its roots.
Scarborough’s Fresh Fair, combined all the best elements of hip hop culture. On Sept 12, Albert Campbell Square was filled with emcees, singers, break dancers, beat makers and graffiti murals. The fair was organized by local group YOUnited in partnership with Manifesto Festival of Community & Culture, a larger city wide hip hop festival.
Jacek Otreba, 23, a member of YOUnited, wants people to know that Scarborough has more to offer than the bluffs, the zoo and crime. There’s a movement in Scarborough where youths are getting involved in their community to uplift each other. The hope is for these events to stop being a rarity and that putting together neighbourhood festivals becomes a tradition for future generations to enjoy.
Areeba Masood, 17, is a volunteer coordinator who was mentored by YOUnited. Though she started off not knowing anything about putting on a free festival for 3000 people with little funding, she can’t wait to organize the next big event.
“I’ve been provided with a lot of resources and I’ve heard ppl complain that there’s nothing to do in Scarborough, but I have a lot of ideas. Once you put it out there, people want to get involved.”
Tim Wilkinson, a rapper also known as Karma, 24, is one of six performers who competed to be a part of YOUnited’s Stand Out Series mentorship program. SOS pairs up aspiring musicians with people in the industry to develop their music and a marketing plan to sell it. Wilkinson is of Chinese, English and Scottish descent and has been embraced by the local hip hop scene. As a life-long Scarborough resident, he credits the area’s diversity for teaching people to have an open mind.
“There’s negative aspects about Scarborough, but there’s also a community. There may be some who may not have the most, but in terms of talent, there’s so much in Scarborough and a lot of it has to do with our multiculturalism.”
Another highlight was Battle of the Barbers where three barbers went head to head for the title of best barber. Though Saturdays are usually the busiest day of business, these skilled barbers were offering their services for free.
“I do it for the love of cutting hair. It’s priceless to see someone get up from my chair with a big smile on their face thinking they’re confident. That’s priceless to me,” said Mad One, last year’s defending champion.
If hip hop has lost its way, then Scarborough’s Fresh Fair has found it. Fueling the event was the attitude of giving back to the community and supporting your peers. The result was seen on the smiling faces of the crowd steadily moving to the music.