Sean Hoeksema knows the exact day he found his voice.
Hoeksema, who raps under the stage name Strange 2ruth, had tried to get on the bill for an Xzibit show in his hometown of Cranbrook. It didn’t happen, but the promoter promised him a spot in the next show.
That came on Dec. 14, 2012, a date Hoeksema can recall without hesitation, when he opened for Mad Child of Swollen Members.
“I remember by the third or fourth track, it was so hot,” said Hoeksema. “I had to, what I called it at the time was I had to pull a Tupac, I had to take off my shirt and just rap my heart out, and it won over a lot of people.”
Hoeksema was in Nelson on Thursday to perform at The Comeup, a monthly event at Bloom Nightclub meant to give young MCs a venue of their own.
Hoeksema, 26, has been rapping for eight or nine years. He said he’s known locally for his battle rapping, but on Thursday he hit the stage at Bloom to get coveted performance time.
“It’s very critical, especially in gaining the confidence to just even be in front of people. There’s breath control involved especially in hip hop. You’ve got some songs that have 300-to-600 words in under two-to-three minutes. It’s baffling how we can do that.”
The Comeup was created by Bloom promoter Peter Payne. He’s been putting on shows in Nelson since 2000, and can recite the local rap scene’s history going back 25 years to when the former Avalon Nightclub was putting on hip-hop events.
There are no shortage of rap fans in Nelson — Payne said he’s gone from once putting on perhaps two shows a month to 12 — but the popularity of the genre can make it hard for aspiring rappers to find the spotlight.
“Typically in the world of hip hop it’s pretty tight,” said Payne. “If you’re coming in to try to get into a show to perform, you must have some sort of connection to the show or to the other artists who are performing. Otherwise there’s very limited space to perform.”
Part of the draw of The Comeup is its unpredictability. Payne notes there’s no cover charge for the event, which means people on Bloom’s dance floor don’t necessarily owe anyone on stage their support.
But that also leads to surprises as well.
“We had a kid from Trail show up with cornrows and come in and have the most different sound, and by the end of his set people were actually receptive to it,” said Payne. “At first I could see them [thinking], ‘Hm, I don’t know about this guy’ and then by the end of it he’d actually made new fans.”
Among the people in the audience for Hoeksema’s set were Tom Organ and his father Don. The pair showed up to support young rappers, which many years ago would have included Tom.
Tom grew up in London, Ont., and became a hip-hop fan in the early years of rap’s pop-culture ascendancy (a New York Times headline in 1988 reads: “It’s Official: Rap music is in the Mainstream”).
“I remember at our Grade 8 grad it was all Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, which is not something a 13 year old should be listening to but it’s a fantastic album.”
Tom said he wrote his first track in 1994 at age 14, and had his first performance just two years later. Don, who would later be a regular at his son’s shows, remembers how important writing rhymes was for Tom well before he had a mic in hand.
“When he was six years old he would go to bed with a little pad of paper and this is how he would go to sleep, [by] writing poetry.”
Now 38, Tom is a father and husband with more pressing priorities than spitting verse. But he still feels a responsibility to hip hop, and its future artists.
“You can bring in all the acts that you want, and all the big shows and whatnot and people can be inspired,” said Tom, “but if you just give [young rappers] a bit of space, I think that it’s really important.”
“And encouragement,” added Don with a knowing smile.