Haiti-USA-Music : The resurrection of the creole hip-hop movement
mercredi 8 août 2007
The resurrection of the creole hip-hop movement
By KD Murrain
Submitted to AlterPresse on August 4, 2007
For the past 25 years Creole Hip-Hop has been in existence with the first rap song in Haitian Creole hitting the Haitian community by Master DJi, dubbed the “Pioneer of the Creole Hip-Hop Movement” and marking what would inevitably be an arduous road into integrating American Hip-Hop with that of Creole. One of the most prophetic lines in history that stays with us today came from poet Robert Frost’s, The Road Not Taken – “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference,” has been the dividing factor on how we live our lives and make it to our claim of fame. With the Creole movement still struggling to find it’s way to the ears of mainstream American audiences, and create a niche for itself along side other genre’s of hip-hop that have managed to be embraced by audiences internationally, Reggaeton and Crunk music being one of them ; make no question about it — this resurgence is underfoot, the mission is resolute and the army is plenty.
One of the voices spearheading the movement with a purposeful stride is none other than Mecca a.k.a. Grimo. Born Patrick Marcelin to Haitian immigrant parents and growing up at a time when being Haitian in New York wasn’t popular and was almost intrinsically associated with refugees and HIV/AIDS. Mecca (a.k.a. Grimo) having been raised in Brooklyn and later in Queens before relocating to Miami with his parents at the age of 17 ; became cognizant early on of the impact of hip-hop long before he became part of the musical movement that is both bitter-sweet to our culture. Picking up the torch where DJi left off, Mecca found a way to capture the ears of non-Haitian audiences by rapping over popular songs in Creole that were already being played in local parties, clubs and over the airwaves of mainstream. His ingenious style of “Crenglish” is an infusion of English, Creole, Haitian and Spanish that has an infectious appeal to anyone from any ethnic background. Lacking the ubiquitous relics that have become almost a prerequisite these days just to enter into the music industry ; Mecca shuns the bling and the Bentley’s, scoffs at superficial conversations while politely interjecting on his readings of the The Black Jacobins, by C.L.R. James (which he’s currently re-reading for the second time).
Cut from a different cloth, one can only imagine what the future holds for this inimitable new artist. Determined to take the road less travelled in hip-hop with misogynistic lyrics, the images of gangsters being glamorized and the lack of positive images or lyrics being fed to our youth ; this walking paradox is prepared to go against the grain even if it means fewer fans and less air play. This in-depth interview with freelance writer, KD Murrain gives insight to the man resurrecting the Creole Hip-Hop Movement.
KD : You’ve been labeled the “Man that is Spearheading the Hip-Hop Creole Movement”. With your freshman album, “Kreyòl Konneksyon-Kol Tet” off of Wyclef Jean’s independent label, Sak Pasé Records ; please tell those who don’t know what exactly is the Creole Hip-Hop Movement.
MG : The Creole Movement itself has been around for over as long as I can remember. We had pioneers like Master DJi’s and Daan Junior doing exactly what myself, and others are now doing today. We’re breaking down the cultural barrier in American Hip-Hop so that it also includes Haitians, and we’re making our contribution to an art form that has empowered and uplifted many. I started out rapping over beats and music that I admired, and was dancing to like Fat Joe’s, “Lean Back,” which I did and called, “Kage.” The only difference with Creole Hip-Hop is that embraces every culture so that no one is excluded. Just like Reggaeton has become so popular because artists like Daddy Yankee and Noriega have laid tracks down in Spanish over hip-hop beats that people can dance to – that’s exactly what the Creole Movement is about ; integrating the cultures while still preserving our Haitian/Creole heritage.
KD : You’ve been doing a lot of traveling and touring in a short amount of time as of recently. You were just at S.O.B.’s in New York for the promotional release of your freshman album, “Kreyòl Konneksyon-Kol Tet” off of Wyclef Jean’s (Indie) label, Sak Pasé Records and you just rocked Central Park’s Summer Stage Concert for the Hip-Hop Creole Movement. How do you think the crowd responded to your new Crenglish sound ?
MG : At both events there was a big turn-out and I enjoyed sharing the stage with so many talented artists. I performed “Kage” and “More Fiyah” with Light formerly of Da Bush Babeez at S.O.B.’s and at Summer Stage, and the crowd had really good energy which I love. They enjoyed the music and was feelin’ it, and I hope to be able to do Summer Stage again.
KD : I understand that all the proceeds from the concert at Summer Stage went to Wyclef Jean’s Non-non profit, Yele Haiti. How important was that for you to be a part of something that would be aiding Haiti ?
MG : Very important ! My whole mission and my team’s whole plight (Much respect to my publicist, Kymberly Chrispin and Buggah D. Govanah from On Point Entertainment for seeing my vision and making it come into fruition) is about giving back to the community, and being able to raise up Haiti. I’m proud of my Haitian heritage and Haiti is a proud country, but it’s still in need of aid and this contribution makes it all the more worth hitting the stage knowing that I’ll be helping my people.
KD : I have to ask, where did the name Mecca a.k.a. Grimo derive from ?
MG : The name Mecca came from me always being at the center of all that was happening. I knew about all the parties and events so my peoples labeled me
"Mecca" - The Center, The Holy Place. When I started representing in Creole I wanted a name to identify more with my culture. Back in the day I went from being Lord Mecca Nappyness to Grimo. As I became more conscious of my Haitian roots, “Grimo” for those of you who don’t know, means light- skinned individual with nappy hair, and I’m a light-skinned individual with nappy hair. There are so many negative stereotypes associated with being Haitian. Our culture is a caste system so heavily divided between light and dark ; light traditionally being associated with the more affluent and dominant society class while the dark skinned people are considered poor. I wanted to embrace it [the negative connotation] and make it into something that I’m proud of as well as my culture, because we’re all one from the same blood. Kids these days need to know that their beautiful regardless to what image society paints as beautiful. Nappy
hair, straight hair, dark skinned, light skinned, big full lips — we as a culture come in a wide array and we’re beautiful with a lot to be proud of. This is also the message that my music enforces ; for our youths to keep their pride high.
KD : How did your parents instill your culture and pride into you so that you have such pride, and a love for your culture cultivated into your music ?
MG : My parents spoke Creole in the house constantly, and everything from the food to
Their mannerisms stayed with me as I was growing up. The foundation starts at the home front with the family, and my brother and I learned about our culture through reading what little books were available to us at the time, as well as our parents instilling that pride within us through teaching us morals and values, sharing stories, and just leading by example. They exposed us to all forms of music, Kompa being on of them and there was always just an open dialogue growing up in my house. My parents are proud immigrants of Haiti and wanted us to be proud of our roots ; that kind of love and pride is what motivates me to make a change through my music, my poetry, acting and all of the other conduits available to reach the community.
KD : Did your family express any reservations when you decided to start rapping ?
MG : My parents were very supportive of me. Particularly when people would approach them saying that “I’ve seen your son on television or at school talking about Haitian history, and pride. You must be so proud of him.” Making music for Haitians wasn’t really a supported career option for someone coming from a third world country. Most families from Haiti want their kids to grow up into more respectable professions like doctors, lawyers, etc. but when my parents saw that I was using hip-hop to promote pride, literacy and build our community ; they were all for it as long as it made me happy. My goal coming into the industry is and has always been to promote awareness and uplift our people, and our community.
KD : You’ve worked with a lot of artists : Wyclef Jean, CaRiMi, Lil Kim, Nu Look, Sweet Micky and Luke Campbell of the 2 Live Crew to name a few. In working with these artists, some whose lyrics are conscious per se but all of whom have their own unique sound. Do you think that in working with such an eclectic mix of artists over the span of your career that is has formed as a catalyst in helping you to develop your own sound of music that you wanted to put out to the public ?
MG : Definitely. Every experience past and present is a stepping stone. If I’m able to learn from it, then it served its purpose and I’m thankful. All the talented people I’ve worked with from CaRiMi and Clef [Wyclef Jean] to the underground artists that I’ve worked with on my freshman album, “Kreyòl Konneksyon – Cole Tet” have taught me something about myself or music. From Clef, with him being in the business for so long, I definitely got a lot of good pointers that’s helped me to
enhance my own performance both behind the mic and in business. With CaRiMi, they’re a young men’s group, and in collaborating with them on a song called, “Bon Bagay”. The song is just giving appreciation to our Haitian women and women in general for being beautiful in whatever shade they come in. Women endure most of the same challenges men do and they need to know that they are beautiful, and be uplifted in music. “Bon Bagay” pays homage to women for being the backbone and still managing to remain beautiful despite the hard times.
KD : What sets your music apart from other artists ?
MG : I know everyone says this but my sound really is international, and can appeal to everyone and anyone from age 9 to age 40 ; even 50 if they’re still into rap music. I started out rhyming in Creole and English [Crenglish] to songs I liked that were already blazing the airwaves ; Joe’s, “Lean Back” was a club banger when it dropped in Miami and I knew that I could put my own twist on it just to open up a niche for the Creole Hip-Hop Movement where I saw it was slowly dwindling. There’s a bit of Reggae, Hip-Hop, R&B and Creole ; and I even have some rhythm for the island of Hispaniola on this collaborative album. I have joint on the album, “Five-O” with Elephant Man and Wyclef that’s just hot ! I’m making music for everyone from every island, and of every ethnicity.
KD : “Kage” which is your rendition of Fat Joe’s, “Lean Back” made a lot of buzz underground and really caught the attention of a lot of people. Did it surprise you how well it was embraced and that even little kids here in New York were singing it ?
MG : Yeah, [laughs] I just took a chance and I’m happy that it paid it off. My goal is to
just make good music ; universal music that appeals to everyone from New York, L.A., the ATL, London, Canada, Japan, Haiti – all over. And if I can pave the way for other Haitian-American singers, rappers and artists who want to break into the industry that have the talent, and desire but just don’t see a place for artists like themselves within the industry, then I’d consider myself successful just by accomplishing that. Wyclef has paved the way for me and other artists, so I’m hoping to pick up the torch and just run with it for the next man or woman.
KD : You’ve put out 4 LPs, 1 Mix CD, Kreyòl Konneksyon Vol. I. and 2 Spoken Word CD’s : Pharaoh 2 Thug and most recently Boat People. Each of your LP’s has a different sound to them. With your first freshman album, what concepts did you know had to be present on the album ?
MG : I love music, it’s my passion and I’m in it to be successful but money is not my objective. If I can make something for the people to dance to and enjoy while first catching their attention with the rhythm ; I then feed their minds with the positive lyrics. Sometimes it takes having to curse and tantalize the senses with women in order to reach some audiences in hopes of feeding them positive messages. The other more conscious messages I touch on I find is necessary once you’re in a position to have the ear of the people to be able to educate the masses if you can about more prevalent issues facing us. For Haitian-
Americans it’s the poverty of our country, AIDS, the lack of education, our history and our culture, and the inequality Haitian refugees are still given when they seek asylum here in the U.S. but are turned away. As an artist and as a parent, I feel it’s my duty to not just make music that people can dance to, but
will ultimately make them think and inspire them to bring about change in the world.
KD : I understand that your father was a musician ; he played guitar and the piano, and there was always music in your home growing up. Rap has many layers ; as someone within the rap industry you’re exposed to a lot of different sub-genres. Who
is in Mecca‘s iPod right now or that you listen to while traveling ? You have two
children, a 10-year old and a 4-year old. Who do you allow your children to listen to ? And are you exposing them to the same traditional values and music you were brought up in ?
MG : Wow ! That’s difficult because I listen to a lot of different artists all depending on my mood. I love Goapele, Lauryn Hill, Nas, Sweet Micky, CaRiMi, Black Alex, Miles Davis, Jay-Z, Wyclef and a lot of international music too. As for my children, I’m really open with my children and try not to censor who or what they listen to. I want them to be cognizant of what’s being played and the different messages that are out there. As a parent you don’t want to shelter your children to the extent that they are ill-prepared when they go out into the world and their shocked at what’s out there, and don’t know how to respond to it. I let them listen to what’s out there so that they can kind of judge for themselves the lyrics and filter the information so that it will create a dialogue between us.
KD : Do you have any favorite tracks on the new album ?
MG : [Laughs] Yeah, I’ve got a hot track with Wyclef that I’m really feeling called, “Green Land” and it’s a kind of dedication to Miami just reppin’ where I’m from, and showing love back to those in Miami who have shown me love. Another one
of my favorites is with the infamous Belo and the group CaRiMi. I’m happy with the album as a whole because we took our time with it and made a conscious decision only to use profanity if it was a must, because I wanted everyone to be able to enjoy it from fathers to sons, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents and enjoy this international flow I have to offer.
KD : You’ve gotten your feet wet in acting rather early. In 2005, you played the unscrupulous character, “Jacques” in the independent film, “Kidnappings” with co-stars Herman “Caheej” McGloun, Raynald Julien and Alexandra Deetjen who also Executive Produced the movie with Reginald Beliar. With 90% of the movie filmed in Haiti, it shed light on the endemic of the kidnappings which are plaguing Haiti still today. How was it for you as a Haitian-American traveling to your roots for the very first time to star in a movie that was and still is a thorn in the side of Haitians both abroad and here in the states ?
MG : It was bitter-sweet for me and a real homecoming, because I’m always speaking about Haiti and I rap in Creole. This opportunity gave me the credibility to actually do what I’ve been speaking so earnestly about – supporting my family
and people back in Haiti. While filming we showed all aspects of Haiti, not just the unsavory parts of the kidnappings and the poverty ; but the architecture, the people and the beauty. What really hit home for me were the kids asking me for food and money on the streets. I kept thinking that it could have very well been me if I was raised there or my children, so that helped me to step-up my game to set-up my non-profit organization, FePouLi.org to get resources such as food, clothing, books and medicine where it’s most needed there. My music was so embraced over there and I received a lot of love, I feel it’s only necessary that I give back.
KD : Are you currently working on any other movies or films ?
MG : I was in a play earlier this year that will soon be going on the road ; so do check it out when it comes into your city. The play is called, “Choucoune Marabou” with the legendary Farah Juste who’s a legendary folklore singer within the Haitian community. Harry Belafonte did the play a few years ago on Broadway and called it “Yellow Bird,” but it was never presented as our Haitian history. The play gives us a chance to reclaim it. There will also be a Kidnappings II so I’m keeping busy.
KD : Are there any artists or producers that you haven’t worked with that you would like to ? Now is the opportunity to put the word out for that Collaboration Dream Team.
MG : Wow ! That’s big, there’s so much talent out there that I’d like to work with. I’m in New York right now for Summer Stage and I’m listening to so many artists that I’d like to work with : Just Blaze (hit-maker to the Beastie Boys, DMX and Jay-Z, whose real name is Justin Smith) ; Jerry “Wonder” Duplessis (cousin and collaborative partner to Wyclef Jean) and Black Alex (Jamecy Alex Pierreout of Haiti) whose is a real talented brotha’ based in Haiti. These are just some of the great talents out there that are established and have already reached their apex.
KD : What’s one thing that people would never guess about you ?
MG : I’m trained in playing the piano but I don’t think ya’ll ready for that right now (laughs). I’m also a voracious reader and I’ve always been into sports. I’m just a real down-to-earth guy ; I crack jokes, watch movies and try to stay positive in whatever I do.
KD : We talked earlier about your Spoken Word CD “Boat People.” What’s the concept behind it and what drew you into making a Spoken Word CD ?
MG : "Boat People" is my second Spoken Word CD. I also did one prior to this one called, "Pharaoh 2 Thug" The CD is an eclectic mix of story telling about the history of Haiti and my own life. It’s also done in Crenglish with elements of English, Spanish, Creole, and French produced by a great musician and performer named Kauvon. It features a range of talented artists from all walks of life from a group called : The Maroons to Abiodun Oyewale of the Last Poets, Flo, Deborah Magdalena, Nati Dred, Brian Pratt (Live Poets Society), Caheej aka Master Say Say, P.O.W. and Lucia Candela. The album is narrated by Award winning actor Danny Glover. I’m just as excited about the Spoken Word CD as the album because I consider myself as a rapper, actor, and poet among so many other things that I’ve yet to had the opportunity to display but I’m hoping that the opportunities will come along for me to do so. I’ve been really blessed so far.
KD : What legacy to your children and to Hip-Hop would you like to leave behind ?
MG : I try to keep my children very involved in what I do. My daughter helps me tweak my Myspace page, and both my son and daughter travel to my performances and spoken word performances. I teach them both to be true to
themselves and to take pride in themselves, and in their heritage. I don’t think there’s anything that can’t be accomplished and there’s no such thing as failure. If my children fail at something then I believe it’s something that wasn’t meant for them to do, and that the next thing they attempt they have to think strategically, and apply themselves harder. Life is a lot like chess – you have to
be able to anticipate what your opponents next move will be, and respond accordingly. Hip-Hop was made by us for us, and I feel we need to take it back and redefine it.
KD : Any advice you’d like to give up and coming artists ?
MG : Education ! Education ! Education ! Even if you don’t complete school, read and surround yourself with people who are knowledgeable about the industry. A lot of the glitz and glam that’s seen in videos isn’t real ; the cars, the Cristal, the jewelry – all rented. Yes, you can now make a very good living in hip-hop but it’s more to it than just the celebrity status, the house, the cars, the women and the jewels. Be in the game to make the music but also give back to where you came, and do it for those coming up behind you.
KD : There are two roads before you – which road are you on ?
MG : The one seldom taken, but there are footsteps there before my own. I want to be able to provide for my family and open doors for the next generation coming into the industry without having to sell my soul or my culture out. For me, it’s important that we re-educate mainstream media so that they know that Hip-Hop is not just about poor urban youths getting shot up, making the prison system
profitable or half-naked women gyrating on the screen – it’s a movement and the voice for many who don’t have an outlet to use their voice. I also hope maybe one day soon BET, VH1 and MTV will dedicate a Sunday to Haitian music the same way they do for Reggae, Hip-Hop, Neo-Soul, and Reggaeton.
Mecca a.k.a. Grimo has become a citizen of the world as he travels to spread the word of the Creole Hip-Hop Movement and his love for the woman that has captured his heart, Haiti ; in speaking with him I’ve discovered a man who will inevitably find connections rather than divisions in a world so heavily divided by race, class, economic status and religion. With music being the universal language, I hope he will set the standard for new artists and remain determined to continue on the road less traveled by making music and spoken word relevant to all of us.
For more information on Mecca a.k.a. Grimo and his non-profit organization, FePouLi.org please visit the artist’s website at :