Television

The groove tube

The small screen unleashes its first hip-hop drama

Andrew Clark February 7 2000
Television

The groove tube

The small screen unleashes its first hip-hop drama

Andrew Clark February 7 2000

The groove tube

Television

The small screen unleashes its first hip-hop drama

Drop the Beat

CBC, Mondays at 8:30p.m. eastern time beginning on Feb. 7

Cloistered away in a recording studio, rappers Michie Mee, Bishop and Shirley Dynamo engage in an improvised rhyming duel, known in the hiphop community as “freestyling.” A casual yet competitive mood fills the room as they trade playful insults. “You talk like a bishop,” Shirley Dynamo raps, “but you’re more like a pawn.” The line draws a chorus of laughter from the rappers and sound engineers. This exchange is just a small part of what is certain to be a milestone for Canadian music—the world’s first hip-hop series, Drop the Beat, which CBC-TV is premièring on Feb. 7. Hip-hop music gets little exposure on the country’s mainstream radio, let alone television. And as the 29-yearold Michie Mee sees it, “This is going to be a healing moment for a lot of Canadian artists.”

The 13-episode drama, set in a university radio station, is the brainchild of two Toronto-based producers, Janis Lundman and Adrienne Mitchell. The pair, in conjunction with Alliance Adantis Com-

munications Inc., filmed the show last fall and cast many of Canadian hiphops top players and deejays, including Michie Mee, Choclair, Maestro, Red 1 ofThe Rascalz, and Shamann. Drop the Beat explores many of the issues that face the country’s rappers: racism, drugs, lack of airplay and an inability to differentiate itself from American hip-hop.

Hip-hop fans both north and south of the border will be able to access Drop the Beat online. At its Web site (;www.dropthebeat.com), they can listen to weekly half-hour radio broadcasts from the fictional station. Meanwhile, a Drop the Beat compilation CD is due out on Feb. 29.

The series follows the exploits of two young hip-hop producers as they try to make a hit out of their twice-weekly campus radio show, Drop the Beat. Dennis (Merwin Mondesir) is a hothead who believes in shaking up the establishment. Jeff (Mark Taylor) is a calculating business major who wants to change the system from inside. The program’s star rapper, and Jeff’s love interest, is Divine (Michie Mee), who is trying to launch her own group, Projekt Flow. Drop the Beat contains all the usual dra-

made devices—sex, anger, family tension—but these plotlines are filtered through the world of hip-hop.

Lundman and Mitchell spent two years researching hip-hop music and culture. They interviewed promoters, rappers, deejays and fans. It is an approach they honed working on documentaries such as Talk 16, their award-winning 1991 feature about a group of Toronto teenage girls, and the dramatic series Straight Up. In Drop the Beat, the research pays big dividends. In the episode called “Public nuisance” (Feb. 7), Jeff and Dennis are arrested for talking back to a local policeman. Most producers would make the officer white, but Lundman and Mitchell cast an older black actor. “That came out of our research,” recalls Lundman. “A young man who wears dreadlocks told us about being taken aside by a black officer who chastised him for letting his people down. The older generation feel that they are losing control.” As a result, the show goes beyond black-white tensions and explores uncharted TV territory—the generation gap in the Canadian black community.

To rappers such as Michie Mee, Drop the Beat is a way to connect with audiences across Canada. Prior to the series, touring was the only way for a Canadian hip-hop artist to win national attention. Radio’s unspoken embargo has discouraged many Canadian rappers. Michie Mee, who began rapping at 14, signed with a U.S. record label, but “the financial backing was never there. The question was, ‘How can we get this to the mainstream?’ Drop the Beat might be the way.”

It is an ironic twist, one that would amuse any self-respecting rapper. Canada, a country that has neglected its own hip-hop community, will bring the first hip-hop dramatic series to the rest of the world. “Usually,” says Mitchell, “you get, ‘Oh, that’s just the Canadian version of an American show.’ But that’s just not the case. Canada got there first.”

Andrew Clark