As folks far and wide should now know, headliners THEESatis are cued up for a big year.
Canary Sing are also starting 2010 off right. They played a sold-out show at Nectar last month, released a new music video, and dropped a fire-brand mixtape called Boss Ladies, all in the past few weeks. The group's two MCs, Hollis "Ispire" Wong-Wear and Madeleine "Lioness" Clifford are two of the funniest and most talented women I know. Hollis is all over the place, either penning stories for Seattle Weekly or catching as many shows as possible. Madeleine is a bit more reclusive. I decided to catch up with the Lioness yesterday to learn more about her background, her group, and her thoughts going in to tonight's show.
A lot of folks might not know how you two formed Canary Sing. Exactly what brought you two together?
We met as youth spoken word poets and members of Youth Speaks Seattle. After performing together at the Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam, where our piece "Crossfire" was featured on the Apollo Theater stage, we realized we had a dynamic chemistry together.
Rapping was a natural progression from spoken word for us. A lot of the emcees we knew and loved got their start as spoken word artists such as Geo of Blue Scholars, Laura “Piece” Kelly and Gabriel Teodros. Our first rap song was dedicated to Angela “Angel” Martinez-Dy. She had a lot of influence on us and ran Youth Speaks. After that we just kicked it in the local hip-hop scene and freestyled in ciphers.
Have you ever been told here in Seattle that girls shouldn't rap?
Nobody has ever told us that out-right, but there are subtle ways that we have been discouraged from doing what we love to do.
Men are not used to seeing women as fellow artists; some of the time, they automatically assume that we’re just another couple of groupie chicks. Then when you say that you rap guys think you’re weak or something. The good thing is that hella guys have encouraged us to keep rapping. They’ve also been honest when we sucked, and given us lots of resources from studio time, to help with learning how to mix and master, to free instrumentals. At the end of the day, it’s all about a balance, so women need to be rapping just as much as men do.
For the show you're playing at Neumos tonight, how did this get organized? And how do you feel being a part of a night like this?
The show got organized by Lisa Dank. Actually, we’ve done other all-female hip hop shows before, but I think this is the one that’s getting the most hype. It is wonderful to be continuing the legacy of women in Seattle hip-hop. We gotta give respect to those who have paved the way for us such as Felicia Loud, Christa Bell, Piece, El Dia, Sistah Hailstorm and many others.
Canary Sing just put out a mix tape called Boss Ladies. What do people need to know about it?
[That] it’s dope! Two of the tracks we recorded ourselves “Mind Sex” and “Sippin Brew.” I love listening to it because it really shows off how much we’ve changed over the years. I am my biggest critic, so if I love it ... it must be good.
What type of year do you think women in hip-hop are going to have locally?
I think that a lot more women are going to pop up onto the scene. The more the merrier. Last year was a great year because THEESatisfaction came out with a lot of material; they brought their own unique swagger to the forefront and the scene just feels fuller because of it.
I predict that there will be a lot of talent in the coming year. The ladies are going to have to step their game up, and I’m hoping that there will be collaborations happening across the board.
If you had to predict the next hip-hop act to break out of Seattle on a large level, who would it be?
At the moment, I don’t see anyone that I can say, without a doubt, that they would be commercially successful outside of Seattle. Don’t get me wrong, I love my city to death. It raised me and it’s a wonderful place to grow as an artist. People really listen to your lyrics and they nurture new sounds. At the same time, its hella easy to become, like the cliché says, “A big fish in a small pond.” If Shabaaz Palaces keeps coming out with more albums than I would bet money on them breaking out on a large level. Ish has already done it before—whose to say he can’t do it again?
People know that you rap, but some folks might not know you're Jamaican. What Jamaican artist are you checking for at the moment?
Yes, I’m Jamaican! My father immigrated from St. Catherine province to the U.S. in his twenties. My family lives mostly in Spanish Town now. A lot of people also don’t know that my father is the late Raymond “Ras Bongo” Lindsay who was part of the small local reggae scene here in Seattle.
I have always loved Damien Marley ever since his album Halfway Tree. Halfway Tree is a street that connects Uptown—a wealthy neighborhood in Kingston—with downtown Kingston, which is really rough. Damien’s mother was wealthy and came from Uptown while his father was, obviously, Bob Marley, who grew up in the ghettos of Kingston. Damien was making a statement about his mixed upbringing. I’m looking forward to Damien and Nas’ collaborative album Distant Relatives. Should be filthy!
Where does the name Canary Sing come from?
Hollis and I are both biracial and that informs the way we look at the world. Our poem “Crossfire” dealt with confronting the hardships that mixed youth face in a society that is constantly trying to limit and categorize people of color. We felt that the following quote most eloquently summed up our experiences as half-breeds:
“The mulatto in America functions as a canary in a coal mine. Canaries were used by coal miners to gauge how poisonous the air underground was. They would bring a canary in with them, and if it grew sick and died they knew the air was bad and eventually everyone would be poisoned by the fumes. Likewise, mulattos have historically been the gauge of how poisonous American race relations were. The fate of the mulatto in history and literature will manifest the symptoms that will eventually infect the rest of the nation. We are the first generation of canaries to survive, a little injured perhaps, but alive!” (Danzy Senna, Caucasia)
Any chance that Canary Sing is going to put out a dancehall influenced track in the near future?
Yes! We already did a remix of Bob Marley’s song “Misty Morning,” so it’s only a matter of time.
Lastly, what else is on the docket for Canary Sing this year?
We are writing some insane new songs! I’m really excited to release more material in March. We also have some touring to do in May. We’ll be flying out to the Twin Cities, then New York City and lastly to Kingston to shoot a video. This is going to be a defining year for us since it’s our last one in Seattle. We are trying to decide between the Bay Area (where Hollis is from, and where I might be going to Graduate school) and New York. Personally, I want to be in Brooklyn. I’d like to fight the gentrification by being yet another Jamaican moving into the neighborhood.
Ladies Night takes place at Neumos this evening. Tickets are $8 and it's 21 and up.