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Humble Never Stumble: An Ode To Toronto

Humble Never Stumble: An Ode To Toronto

November 24, 2010

Ashish Seth sets out to discover the sound of Toronto, and finds it's Humble The Poet.

Rock a crown but don’t need to be Toronto’s king, I’m happy as its Poet, with a sixth sense for Toronto’s dreams Humble the Poet, “I am Toronto”

I like to take long drives through the GTA, down Toronto streets like Eglinton, Yonge, and Derry. I drive my Honda Accord down pot-holed roads usually in the evening when the light is low and the blue sky is besmirched with cloud cover. I pass through suburbs, neighborhoods and dissolved municipalities like Rexdale, Malton and Scarborough if I’m feeling up for a long drive. On my drive I pass commercial stretches and multiethnic park filled benches, churches beside gurdwaras beside temples beside mosques, run down plazas with Mandarin symbols on signs and car repair shops with cheap deals. I always wonder; if these streets had a voice, what would they sound like? Would they sound like the excessive rock filler that comes out of the irrelevant Edge 102.1? Would they sound like the Drake obsessed, hit driven stations Kiss 92.5 or Z103.5? What does Toronto sound like?

I never thought I’d be so fortunate to represent this portion of the planet, I formally invite you to my city Humble the Poet, “I am Toronto”

Until now I haven’t found good music to complement the slideshow of images I see driving through Toronto. As a Torontonian, I get real embarrassed when I hear tracks like the “The Anthem” by Kardinal Offishall chewing up popular FM radio or K’Naan’s “Wavin’ Flag” becoming good sentiment pop filler on the world stage. I get embarrassed because I know someone in the United States equates them to be a true representation of the sound coming out of Toronto. The sound may come from here, but it isn’t a true representation of its birthplace. Take it from someone who lives here. Fortunately, Humble the Poet, the young Sikh rapper who invaded headphones in 2009 with instantly infectious, socially conscious, rhymes (check out Gori Girl’s article Young Sikhs of Youtube), sets out to find Toronto’s true character on 00:03. A huge step up from his previous efforts 00:05 and 00:04, his “poet project” this time around is to explore his hometown – its multiculturalism, racism, beauty, issues etc – in an attempt to discover a new hip hop consciousness. This becomes apparent with the raw interview clips that begin the first track “I am Toronto” followed by Humble name checking popular spots and Toronto MCs before him. Right from the start, the tone of the album is established: 00:03 is a loose concept album in which Toronto serves as the creative mental space you embody in every song. Everything Humble raps about on this record happens in Toronto, no matter how far removed the lyrics. And while the execution isn’t perfect, the effort is brilliant. This is a record with layers and double meanings. Humble has always been a rapper whose lyric sheets are meant to be scoured through, whose rhymes you pay attention to. The reason why the record is successful in its execution is because Humble has done his research. He knows Toronto. The record lives and breathes Toronto. Listening to 00:03, you don’t get gimmicky images of the CN Tower or the Toronto skyline. Rather we find ourselves in the dwellings of true Torontonians, the immigrants trying to make it (“Life of an Immigrant”), the bruised women in abusive relationships (“LovHer More”), the playgrounds and schools where children of all different backgrounds come together to be Torontonian (“Bring It On”). And although there are quite a few tracks where Humble simply hates on haters and stacks himself up, Humble’s vision of Toronto rarely falters. It encompasses not only downtown but also its boroughs and suburban neighborhoods. Don’t expect Drake-esque shout outs that have no relevance to the music. For once Toronto isn’t a gimmick to rep about, but a conceptual thread. The fifteen tracks that comprise the album represent a well-paced, cohesive, tighter piece of music that is closer to an album than Humble has ever released. To call it a mixtape is, well, being humble. Rather than the 30 odd tracks on previous efforts, Humble and beat-poet in crime Sikh Knowledge go the way of quality control and reach a level of music rivaling current major releases. Their sound has matured and both are surer of themselves than before.

Claimed I’d be garbage if I didn’t have Sikh Knowledge, I’ll agree then have him spit a verse, just to add the malish, that means rub it in Humble the Poet, “MiddleRingPinky”

Humble may be the star here, but the hidden mastermind is producer Sikh Knowledge. His post-Dilla production style and professional mixing chops lend themselves brilliantly to Humble’s magnetic flow. The duo’s chemistry is one of the main draws here. In fact, at times their chemistry recalls that of RZA and GZA circa Liquid Swords, with Sikh Knowledge even sampling the latter’s “Killah Hills 10304” on the Algerian influenced “Life of an Immigrant.” Sikh Knowledge produces eight tracks here and each one of them pops. His lyrical contributions also match Humble’s on every featured track. Other up and coming producers on 00:03 include KenLo, JazzFeezy and Humble affiliate Dvious Mindz.

They say my name with mad undertones like sick for Sikh, they ain’t aspirate the K like my momma taught me, like they aspirated back in the Indus Valley, ain’t nothin’ latin about me Sikh Knowledge, “Mohamed Said”

The record consists of two apparent halves, with a twenty second blank intermission clipped at the end of “Baagi Music” to let you take everything in. “Mohamed Said”, the brilliant Jay Electronica revisit is an early highlight with memorable performances by Sikh Knowledge and the wonderful Selena Dhillon. “Radis Hate” by producer KenLo has Humble rapping over a tame Flying Lotus/Samiyam tinged number that doesn’t quite match the quality of the other tracks but is a great exercise in variety. It segues well into “Fighters”, a Lupe Fiasco revisit that Humble does better. The Eastern-capped synthesized oscillations of “LovHer More” serve as the emotional highpoint of the record. The track is about abuse against women in all communities and features Humble’s most vivid verse to date (check out my article on the Indian Honor Attitude for more info on this topic). “Realistaani Intermezzo # 1”, one of two intermezzos on the album, features a greater glimpse at Sikh Knowledge’s vocal range, which is used in great subtlety on “LovHer More”. The first half of the album ends with “Baagi Music”, the cult favorite Punjabi rebel anthem. This is Humble's party track that unites all the peoples of Punjab regardless of creed, caste or social status, charging them to rebel against the status quo (Indian Government) and media (Bollywood) that seeks to define them through stereotypes. This song is not just for Punjabis; it is for everyone who's ever felt oppressed by authorities and rebelled. According to Humble, it's the song he wants to "be played at weddings." Can't wait to see that.

Addressing avenues, pass the fuse and light it up, half of you don’t like this stuff, the other half get high off us. Mandeep Sethi, “Gutter”

The second half starts with another track addressing haters; “MiddleRingPinky”, a Rich Boy revisit, features Humble affiliate Hoodini delivering an ill verse (Humble appeared on Hoodini&Kings excellent A California Classic). DviousMindz’s first contribution to the record comes in the form of “Bring It On,” and features frequent collaborators B Magic and Noyz. Together they recall the chemistry of early A Tribe Called Quest. It’s a calming, melancholy number in the vain of Raekwon’s “Heaven and Hell” that references street life and facing adversity with cathartic sorrow. Definitely a favorite of mine, it’s the track you listen to after a long day’s work and because of that, it is the album’s most replayable. “Gutter”, the strongest track on the album, both in production and lyrical prowess, follows in subdued brilliance. This is due in large part to the appearance of Mandeep Sethi, who delivers a soon to be classic verse. “Gutter” also includes Humble’s strongest verse and the same can be said about guest Ras Ceylon’s verse. The track evokes trekking through Sergio Leone’s desert with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly soundtrack streaming through your headphones. Producer JazzFeezy adds some Dr. Dre influenced beats backed by strings on “Pray for Me” which features Red Shortz. “Pray for Me” has a lower volume than the other tracks and doesn’t really cut that deep. It is followed by the powerful RZA influenced “Life of an Immigrant” which features a haunting chorus sung in Arabic. Sikh Knowledge takes the “Killah Hills” sample and gives it a reggae bent. It is among the strongest tracks on the record, along with “LovHer More” and “Gutter”. Finally, Dvious Mindz’ “Goodbye” rounds off the record with an emotional rock influenced production which has Humble delivering a verse that recalls Eminem’s flow on “Stan”. It is immediately followed by a remix of “MiddleRingPinky” that showcases another side of Sikh Knowledge’s production style. The set list is tight but not without some problems. There is a clear contrast in production quality. Overall, Sikh Knowledge’s productions are the ones that steal the show. This is a problem because they make the other tracks seem less satisfying, anticlimactic, even second rate at times. This is particularly evident with the productions by KenLo and JazzFeezy, which are pushed into the realm of filler when next to Sikh Knowledge (witness “Pray for Me” next to “Life of an Immigrant” and you’ll notice the contrast). Sikh really sets the bar high. This is not to say the other producers contribute bad tracks. Dvious Mindz’s style really shows on this release. However, in sound quality, you can tell Sikh is more experienced. For example, “Goodbye” is a great way to end the set, and features Humble’s most vulnerable rap, but the drums become too muddled in the production to be heard by the midway mark. These are minor quibbles, and it must be said that Dvious will likely match Sikh’s measure of ambition on subsequent releases.

Work harder than harder, lazy is an allergy, my sinuses are flaring up, giving up to flatter me Humble the Poet, “Gutter”

Don’t be mistaken; the beards and turbans aren’t a gimmick. We’re not listening because we’re amazed to see a Sikh rapper. This isn’t the brown incarnation of Jin, the Chinese rapper who had a one-hit wonder and disappeared. Humble doesn’t make novelty jingles. Just poetic singles. The future will see Mandeep Sethi’s verse on “Gutter” immortalized, Sikh Knowledge’s production style commercialized, and Humble P’s observations on “Life of an Immigrant” footnoted in a University class on Diaspora culture. When Humble the Poet claims “I am Toronto”, he’s not only representing Toronto but a new consciousness in hip-hop unseen anywhere else: this is the true manifestation of diversity in hip hop. These streets speak Humble’s verses every drive I take down them. We had 00:05 and 00:04 before it. With the quality showcased on 00:03, whatever he’s counting down to is bound to be epic. And Humble. Download the album 00.03 free here

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  • Pappu Singh
    Pappu Singh
    22.05.12 02:50 AM
    Hey guys, if an Indian looking child is born abroad such as Canada... he will be Canadian( ofcourse Indian origin) nevertheless that looks he attained from his Parents genes doesn't make's him Indian!!! Now enjoy the fucking song and love music... No one is asking you all to show or define your patriotism in music world & we are punjabi's who saved India from several invaders and still protecting upfront borders, cause we are born Soldiers...!!! Take it or live it!!! Buggers


  • Rrajg
    24.06.11 05:19 PM
    I personally find Humble's music to have a khalistan undertone, not this album in particular but his music I have heard on youtube, also he makes propaganda videos of "remember 1984" and performs at events of the same theme,I know some people from his crew and they are of very very anti India leaning. I am better off listening to pakistani bands than this.
  • Ashish Seth
    Ashish Seth
    07.12.10 09:38 AM

    An interview with Humble is indeed on the way but I procured that myself. Jade had nothing to do with it. I do not know who Jade is.

  • Ashish Seth
    Ashish Seth
    29.11.10 03:00 AM

    My original criticism on "Baagi" music only sought to document the fan reactions to its lyrics. It also unintentionally perpetuated controversy where there should have been none. I have consulted Humble and researched the song a bit more. The song is a party song to unite all the people's of Punjab, regardless of religion or any social divisions. There is nothing religious about Humble's music. There is nothing offensive about it. If Humble is attacking anyone in the song, it is the corrupt Indian centralized government that oppresses the autonomy of its states and its peoples: Hindus, Muslims, SIkhs, Punjabis, Gujaratis. etc.

    Thus, I have removed my original criticism and amended it with something more well-informed and reformative.
  • Jade
    27.11.10 02:43 AM
    Well, I'm not Canadian so I'm not sure what the politically correct terminology over there is. I thought I'd specify Francophone, since there is also a pretty important community of Anglophones in Quebec as well. I wasn't aware that it was a touchy subject to call someone from Quebec a 'Quebecer'...

    Also, you have my so-called 'trolling' to thank for the upcoming interview with Humble. ;)
  • Jagdeep
    27.11.10 02:05 AM
    Great review dude Im lookin forward to your interview with Humble.

    Don't listen to Jade. He's just a troll. Francophone quebecers instead of French canadiens lol. He has some superiority issues.
  • Jade
    27.11.10 01:56 AM

    If somebody doesn’t hold Indian citizenship, then they are not ‘Indian’*
  • Jade
    27.11.10 01:47 AM
    "Anon" #1:

    Panjab (????? - I don't see an aunkar under the papa, do you? You're free to follow the conventions of the colonisers, though. I'll stick with following how it's written in Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi) is a geographical region that crosses national borders. In fact, the majority of Panjab is located in present-day Pakistan (so are the majority of Panjabis). 'Indian' is a nationality, denoting a citizen of the Republic of India. Is Humble an Indian citizen? I don't know for sure one way or the other, but it sure doesn't sound like he is.

    You're more than welcome to think that Bollywood representations of Panjabis are flattering. Like you've already gathered, I disagree. I'm not sure what cities have to do with the representations of Panjabis in Hindi and Urdu cinema, though.

    "Anon" #2:

    I'm a 'non-Sikh'. I don't feel like Baagi Music has divided his connection with me. On the contrary, I feel like the connection has been strengthened. Sucks that you feel that way. Your loss.


    See my reply to Anon #1– Panjab is a geographic region that is split between different countries. Indian is a nationality. If somebody doesn't hold Indian citizenship, then they are not not 'Indian'. On the other hand, Francophone Quebecers hold Canadian citizenship, which is why they are Canadians. Its a pretty poor analogy, to be honest.
  • Anon2
    27.11.10 12:43 AM
    @jade Humble is a Punjabi Canadian. Punjab is in India. Hence it is ignorant for him to say he is not Indian if he claims he is Punjabi. It is as if a French person from Quebec denies being Canadian.

  • Anon
    27.11.10 12:29 AM
    You compared baagi music to African American hip hop. The difference is that in hip hop, the artists don't say things like "I'm Kenyan, you call me Ethiopian again and four knuckles in your face."
    The fact that his lyrics are about seek pride just work to divide his connection with non sikhs. I used to listen to humble a lot and really enjoy his music. But his lyrics are focussing too much on his cultural origin that I can no longer relate. Im sure other people feel the same way.
    I can't think of any other popular artist who boasts about his culture and the colour of his skin.
  • Anon
    26.11.10 07:59 AM
    “Well, Humble isn’t even Indian; He is Canadian.”

    How much more offensive can you clearly be? Perhaps you need geographic lessons to understand that Punjab (its PUNjab not PANjab) is located within India. Thus making Humble Indo-Canadian which is why parts of the song (four knuckles...) are offensive.

    "It tells them that religion and 1947 are not the only things out there to identify themselves by, and that the racist and offensive depictions of their people in Hindi and Urdu media in India and Pakistan (that they’ve probably grown up watching) should not make them feel ashamed of who they are."

    What a broad generalized statement! Punjabi culture aka my culture is celebrated in Indian cinema with love & pride and you need to just visit various cities to see how beloved & respected Punjabis are. Not sure how you can discredit an entire group of people "offensive depictions" and simply state that Humble's one song can unite Punjabis when many in the Indian subcontinent aren't even familiar with his work.
  • Ashish Seth
    Ashish Seth
    25.11.10 11:33 PM
    I cut the musical analysis of that track because the review was already overly long. I'll ask him about it in my interview with him next week.

    I didn't ask him for a breakdown of the tracks because then it wouldn't be a review - it'd be his review of his own stuff.

    "Well, Humble isn't even Indian; He is Canadian."

    Yeah, I agree. I mentioned in the article in that paragraph for Baagi music that people shouldn't get alienated because Humble represents Toronto. I personally respect what Humble stands for and can't wait for what he comes out with next.
  • Jade
    25.11.10 04:18 PM
    Well, Humble isn't even Indian; He is Canadian. It's not like he can change his nationality or where he's from to suit the feelings of others. I'm not sure if you have Humble on FB or not (which would definitely be an important place to have done research), but he has already clarified (after he initially released the track, before the video) that he doesn't intend any offence towards Bengalis, Marathis, Tamils, Malayalis, Rajasthanis, Gujaratis, Assamese etc. He's firmly in support of and in solidarity with other ethno-linguistic groups in the subcontinent (he's even done some work to that effect, so has SK), because like he says, in the end we're all family.

    I'm not just talking about India, I'm talking Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka.. The whole region. I think that the situation is a lot worse in South Asian media than it is in other parts of the world. You're more than welcome to disagree with me (which I think you may have already done in your last post). It's not a terribly important point for me, though.

    And finally, a touché. I should have chosen my words. But I still think that the style of that one paragraph is entirely out of place in the context of the rest of the article. Not a single word on the production, the sampling, the mix, the melodies, the beats, the choice of collaborator, the appropriateness of the backing vocals, the possible musical and lyrical influences on the track, nothing. I thought it was pretty different to the way you approached the rest of the tracks. (from a musical perspective)

    Also, one suggestion that just occurred to me. You said you did some research for this article, right? Humble is well, a very humble character, and there are any number of ways that people can get in touch with him. Perhaps it would have been worth asking him to give you a quick breakdown anything in his songs you had any doubts about, in his own words. It would have definitely made for good reading.
  • Ashish Seth
    Ashish Seth
    25.11.10 01:06 PM
    @ Jade, I see your point Jade. Racism and negative comments are a token of youtube videos.

    I feel the only outrage for me was that one line in the song. People on youtube have been using it for hate. Other than that, I'm not against the meaning of the song. I appreciate its unifying of all people's of Punjabi descent. My family is originally from Punjab. Its a great song.

    My only worry was how people who are Indian and not Punjabi would feel about that lyric. During my research for this article, I came across people who were genuinely offended. They probably misinterpreted the lyric as did many of the racist spewing fans. Whatever the case, I go into in the article that the people spewing the racism are just one extreme end of Humble's fans. I dismiss it.

    I'm not trying to say the song is bad. Merely that people will interpret it differently.

    "On the other hand, it’s pretty sad to see this article... referring back so casually and seamlessly to the controversy-hungry gossip culture that has unfortunately come to define South Asian media outlets over the last half century."

    Last half century... that's a bit of a stretch don't you think. I don't see where I do that. My whole intention with this article was to write about 00.03, not spit "controversy-hungry gossip." I'm a big fan of Humble the Poet. There is no gossip here. I simply recorded my observations. Don't accuse me of something I didn't do.

    The controversy gossip culture doesn't define just Indian media outlets. Every single country's media outlets are obsessed with it. it's how the sell mags.

    "If you can’t recognise it, then I don’t think that writing about music (professionally) is really for you."

    I don't think you're in any position to judge this. I've been doing musical journalism professionally for a while now. I make one mistake and you jump to this conclusion? Either you're really a die-hard fan who can't control your emotions or you're just naive. You shouldn't judge people outright like that.
  • Jade
    25.11.10 10:38 AM

    you'll only find more of the same*
    (ie. when you're actually writing...)*
  • Jade
    25.11.10 10:33 AM
    Come on, Ashish, this is YouTube we're talking about here. You can find the same kind of hatred and bigotry in the comments section of pretty much any music video that has ever been uploaded to YouTube. Going back through any of Humble's or SK's other earlier uploaded videos, you'll only more of the same.

    My point being, there isn't really much point in trying to engage with those people over YouTube. On the other hand, it's pretty sad to see this article, which is definitely not without its strengths (ie. when you actually writing from a musical perspective, so the majority of the article), referring back so casually and seamlessly to the controversy-hungry gossip culture that has unfortunately come to define South Asian media outlets over the last half century.

    (Also, Hip-Hop has been socially aware for a long, long time. But I'm not getting into that)

    '“Fuck Bollywood, we ain’t messin’ with y’all we Punjabi” … “I’m not Indian, four knuckles…”


    Perhaps I should have been more clear. In any case, I'll clarify now: By inclusive, I meant inclusive of all Panjabis, not just limited to 'Sikhs' or 'Doabis', or 'Jatts' or whatever further subdivision you might wanna go by.

    This song explicitly reaches out to every single Panjabi and says: It's okay to call yourself Panjabi and to identify as a Panjabi. It tells them that religion and 1947 are not the only things out there to identify themselves by, and that the racist and offensive depictions of their people in Hindi and Urdu media in India and Pakistan (that they've probably grown up watching) should not make them feel ashamed of who they are.

    Now, that might not resonate with you all that much, and it might not even hold any importance for you at all, but it does for a lot of Panjabis, especially in the diaspora. People like myself might not spam the hardest in YouTube comment boxes, but we do count for something. After all, it was two people like myself who were responsible for this very song.
  • Ashish Seth
    Ashish Seth
    25.11.10 04:18 AM
    @ Jade

    I should have written "Punjabi" rather than "Sikh" in a number of occurrences. You are correct on that part. I apologize. Bad word use.

    However, this is not what some of the fans on youtube are interpreting it to mean. There has been a lot of religious rate being written by fans in the comments section of the Baagi music video. And its hard not to be offended with lines like "I’m not Indian, four knuckles to your eye if you call me that again”

    On your next point, it is only in the 2000s where the rap music has crossed to popular audiences. Before it used to alienate white listeners but brought them together through its social awareness.

    I do not think this statement: “Choosing mostly Sikh collaborators on the album doesn’t help him either because it only serves to cement a particular Punjabi fan base and alienates most everyone else.”

    "This track is not ‘alienating’ by any stretch of the imagination, at least not to the world outside of India."

    I am not trying to be suspicious or apprenhensive about Panjabi culture. I celebrate it. And I don't represent the NRI public consciousness. I approached this review from a musical perspective. It is the hardcore fans spitting hate when they misinterpret Humble's lyrics. Who say shit like "Fuck Hindus and Pakis" in the comments section. You should be attacking them because apparently they too are "celebrating their origins".

    "There is nothing wrong with celebrating your origins and your culture, especially when you are doing it in a way that is so inclusive and overtly trans-religious and trans-national."

    "Fuck Bollywood, we ain't messin' with y'all we Punjabi" ... "I'm not Indian, four knuckles..."

  • Opher
    25.11.10 04:08 AM
    "Hun Dus" - very well written.
  • Jade
    25.11.10 02:43 AM
    "Humble has taken his fan base, split it and indirectly told the Sikh part to go “Baagi (rebel)” on the other."

    This comment makes absolutely no sense. There is nothing Sikh-specific about this track. It's a song that advocates and celebrates Panjabi unity across religious (including non-religious) and national borders. The entirety of the lyrical content and the subtext of the song scream this. If you can't recognise it, then I don't think that writing about music (professionally) is really for you.

    "Choosing mostly Sikh collaborators on the album doesn’t help him either because it only serves to cement a particular Punjabi fan base and alienates most everyone else."

    This is just incredibly ignorant. The words 'Sikh' and 'Panjabi' are not interchangeable. What next, will African-American MCs collaborating with each other be considered to be 'alienating' everybody else as well?

    There is nothing wrong with celebrating your origins and your culture, especially when you are doing it in a way that is so inclusive and overtly trans-religious and trans-national. Celebrating Panjabi cultural heritage is not (for now, at least) a crime. I have friends from Spain to Ukraine who are, as non-Panjabis, completely and utterly digging this track.

    This track is not 'alienating' by any stretch of the imagination, at least not to the world outside of India. But that a celebration of shared Panjabi cultural heritage across religious and national boundaries should invoke so much suspicion and apprehension within the Indian and NRI public consciousness betrays a lot about current attitudes towards Panjab and its people.
  • BD
    24.11.10 07:10 PM
    A really good review of the album. You had the time to listen and take in the album.

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