When we think of hip-hop, we tend to be blinded by the images of the booty shaking mamas and the gold-toothed thugs that our mothers had warned us about.Although these narratives have been dominant in the mainstream media, it is a great fault to think that hip-hop does not go beyond that. Hip-Hop Cafe, the new Montreal establishment that opened six weeks ago, has reminded us of what hip-hop is truly all about. Part cafe, part store, Hip-Hop Cafe is set to make all aspects of hip-hop culture, from mainstream to underground, more accessible to the public.
The concept behind what is now Hip-Hop Cafe initially sparked ten years ago, and has been developed by founder, Olivier Brault, ever since. Out of Brault’s frustration with record stores’ inability to provide fans with all colours of the hip-hop spectrum, Hip-Hop Cafe emerged as a place that would do just that – that would embrace all things hip-hop – not just mainstream or underground, music or graffiti, French or English. As Brault rightfully put it, “Hip-hop … is a whole variety of things. Why not put all of them together?”
The cafe’s opening far surpassed Brault’s expectations, with people lined up out the door from 1 to 10 pm. But it’s the different demographics that continue to walk through the doors that surprises him the most. “It’s actually very interesting to see the melting pot of people who walk in here during the day … I mean you have the thugs of the area, you have the hipsters, you have the families, you have so many different people,” he explained. “I had a seventy year old guy walk in here and grab a coffee while X-Wam was doing beatbox. He was like, ‘This beat-box makes me want to rap!’ The guy is a white dude, 70 years old – the last thing that you would expect.”
In this way, Hip-Hop Cafe not only acts as an embodiment of hip-hop culture, but also as “a reflection of our society, of our city here in Montreal,” Brault added. “We have so many different cultures, so many languages, and I think that hip-hop is a very good embodiment of that because there are so many genres, so many different types of fans. It really reflects on the culture itself.”
Despite the ongoing language debates, Brault is not letting politics affect the way he runs his business. “I think the politics just push people to one side or the other; I always hated that,” he told the Main. “That’s why when you look at the vinyl or the CDs, they’re in alphabetical order – no French on one side, English on the other – because good music is good music, no matter what the language is.”
Although nothing is set in stone, we can expect HHC to be collaborating with Montreal’s Hip-Hop Karaoke and Hip-Hop Heads of Concordia, while also partnering up with End of the Weak Montreal and Word Up! Battles in the near future. With its terrace set to open up in the summer, the cafe will be the perfect place to get a quick fix of caffeine while simultaneously filling up on your daily dose of hip-hop beats.
And here’s the cherry on top: any event thrown at Hip-Hop Cafe is guaranteed to be free, whether it’s a DJ performance or an autograph session. It’s their way of giving back to the community, giving back to to the culture. While not labeling it as a community centre, Brault says that HHC does in some ways serve the same purpose, “in the sense that it unites people toward one common goal, one common idea:” hip-hop.
Hip-Hop Cafe is located at 4801 Avenue du Parc, at the corner of Villeneuve.