Quebec rapper Webster talks race, hip-hop at Park Library
"If you don't understand French, that's not a problem. Just feel it," Webster said.
Already, it was difficult not to.
The Quebec hip-hop artist known as Webster, born Ali Ndiaye, graced the Charles V. Park Library Auditorium Thursday night, entertaining a crowd of about 40, where he rapped about everything from politics to history to childhood nicknames.
The rapper was brought in by the foreign languages, literatures and cultures department and was sponsored by the College of Humanities, Social and Behavioral Sciences.
Before performing, Webster spent the day teaching hip-hop workshops to French students at Central Michigan University.
Webster is part of a larger hip culture in Quebec's growing music industry, but he said that starting a hip hop movement in Quebec was not easy.
"I was talking about being a hip-hop warrior; hip-hop doesn't come with all the benefits you think," Webster said. "A lot of you probably think it comes with fame, money, ladies; that's not true."
Webster, who has been rapping since 1995 and has released two studio albums with another due in September, said getting to where he was today wasn't easy. In the beginning, he had hard times finding studios, media attention and even venues in which to perform.
He said that it was not only the hip-hop culture that faced discrimination in the Quebec area, but there were also racial tensions as well.
"They were always saying 'What are you doing so far from your neighborhood, you should stay in your cage.'" Webster said. "I'm fighting against this. The media isn't. You have Fox News over here; we have the same thing over there."
Webster spent a large portion of the performance interacting with the crowd, telling stories behind his music and even climbing into the crowd on multiple occasions. He ended the performance in the crowd's fifth row seating.
The performer said, along with rap, history was his other main passion. He was surprised to find when he began studying Canadian history later in his life that there was a hidden black history that wasn't talked about. The song he wrote about it is called "Quebec History X."
"I always thought, when I was a child, that black people came in the 70s. But, black people have been in Canada since its beginning. I studied history in college, and they never taught me that," Webster said. "You talk about slavery; it's not like in the U.S., where it's an open wound gushing blood. In Canada, they don't know about that."
Gregory Taylor, a Troy senior who Webster met at the workshops, was invited on stage to freestyle during one of Webster's songs. His freestyle about the pressures of schoolwork struck a chord with Webster.
"I've been tired for almost 12 years now of all those rappers rapping about money and that," Webster said. "You have money, girls, jewels, so what? I don't. But exams, pressure, that's real stuff; you can relate to that."
Taylor said Webster's performance struck a similar chord with him.
"He was amazing. I enjoyed how he broke down every song," Taylor said. "He said a lot of stuff I already agreed with."
Audrey Valentine, a Hastings senior, said she thought Webster brought a special energy to the stage.
"(He) is a dynamic and vibrant performer," Valentine said. "When he climbed into the crowd, I was like, 'That's awesome.'"
Amy Ransom, an assistant professor of foreign languages, has a forthcoming article in the American Review of Canadian Studies analyzing Webster's song "Quebec History X."
Ransom said Webster's workshops gave the participating students a great experience earlier in the day.
"What amazed me was the workshops today. He gave the students a literary expert view on hip-hop," Ransom said. "... In the concert, he referred to hip-hop as a literary movement, and it is that, a literary movement.