Award-winning hip hop artist talks anti-bullying and culture with NWT students

Award-winning hip hop artist talks anti-bullying and culture with NWT students
Canadian hip hop artist K.A.S.P. meets with Fort Smith students last Monday in the JBT gym to share his life story, talk anti-bullying and rap a few of his hit songs.Photo: Renée Francoeur.

Inspiring youth, especially Aboriginal youth, to grow and persevere in a positive way is the goal behind school and community workshops from one of BC’s award-winning rappers.

Canadian hip hop artist K.A.S.P. meets with Fort Smith students last Monday in the JBT gym to share his life story, talk anti-bullying and rap a few of his hit songs. (Photo: Renée Francoeur)

Canadian hip hop artist K.A.S.P. meets with Fort Smith students last Monday in the JBT gym to share his life story, talk anti-bullying and rap a few of his hit songs. (Photo: Renée Francoeur)

K.A.S.P., also known as Rob Sawan, stopped in Fort Smith last week as part of his first motivational speaking tour in the Northwest Territories.

“It’s important to know your culture, where you come from and who you are before you dive into anything, whether that’s hip hop or becoming a teacher, or whatever,” he told a crowd of almost 50 gathered in the Joseph B. Tyrrell elementary school gym last Monday evening.

Earlier, he spoke to Grades 4, 5 and 6 students about self-esteem building and how to identify and prevent bullying as part of his new project tour called Save Many In Loving Everyone (SMILE).

“It was so cool,” Wynter Trudeau, 10, said. “At the end everyone got up and started dancing. The gym was just full of dancing!”

Jeanette Lockhart said her 11 year-old daughter, Lillyan, enjoyed Sawan’s schoolday workshop so much, she insisted the family also attend the evening session.

“She told me, ‘He’s the bomb,’” Lockhart laughed.

As part of the workshop, Sawan shares his difficult story of physical abuse, molestation, drugs, the impact of residential schools on his family and the freedom he found in music.

“My parents didn’t know how to be parents and the residential schools were a big part of why,” the multi-national Aboriginal music award winner and nominee said.

Growing up in East Vancouver, he watched his father, a former heroin addict and drug dealer, get stabbed and witnessed a friend’s arm shot off.

He discovered hip hop by accidentally stumbling across a tape cassette on the street one day, which turned out to be an N.W.A. album, an American hip hop group from the late ‘80s.

After winning a radio contest, he was on the fast path to fame and went on to claim multiple awards with his former group, 7th Generation.

“But by 2008, my ego had got to me and I was depressed and didn’t even know it, drinking too much, sneaking drinks,” he said.

It was Sawan’s wife, Elaine Alec, who talked him into attending a life-changing seminar which in turn triggered his own workshops.

“I want you to look at me and my story and know you can do anything, come up from anything,” he said. “I speak from the heart.”

Incorporating his Aboriginal culture into his songs is a priority as can be heard on his new single “Intertribal,” featuring pow wow music from the group Northern Cree.

Sawan also smudges before each of his workshops. The smell of sweetgrass lets him know his grandfather and father, both since decreased, are with him and guiding him, he said.

“I use culture as much as I can because that’s what hip hop is about to me, expressing yourself. It’s not about how many rings you got on, how much you smoke or drink, the money,” he said. “Hip hop talks about where you’ve been and what you did and what you want to accomplish.”

Sawan’s tour, presented by the South Slave Divisional Education Council and the NWT’s department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA), is all about “keeping it fresh to resonate with the students,” Peter Daniels, MACA’s youth and volunteer officer, said.

“We are always trying to bring in motivational stuff with a traditional component. With role models like K.A.S.P., we hope they reach our youth and instil positive and healthy lifestyle choices.”

Sawan also talked to students in Hay River, K’atl’odeeche, Fort Resolution and Fort Providence as part of his five-day tour.

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