Q052 raps about rez realities on his debut album

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Music has long been a powerful force championed by movements seeking social change, ranging from subtle messages of empowerment to more explicitly provocative songs that demand action with a heightened sense of urgency. Mi’kmaq rapper Q052 certainly belongs to the latter category.

After making waves earlier this year with his three-song EP, Lateral Violence, Q052 has just released his first full album, Rez Life. The rapper, whose real name is Quentin Condo, pulls no punches on the 12-track album, directly addressing difficult issues that Indigenous people face across Turtle Island.

The artist name Q052 combines his name’s first initial (Quentin) and the government’s official name for his home community of Gesgapegiag (052), located on the south shore of the Gaspé region.

Backed by impressive production from Emmanuel Alias, Q052 confidently navigates various themes eminently relatable to listeners who are familiar with life on reserves. And yet, while he has often rapped with friends for fun at house parties, Condo only started seriously creating hip-hop music last year.

It began as a joke shared with his fishing crew Lendemain de Trôle (translated as “hungover from fishing”). They transformed Slick Rick’s classic Children’s Story into a piece called Fishing Story. The positive reception generated by the resulting song and video motivated Condo to take it to the next level.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of First Nation issues over the years, so I said I’m going to use that platform to bring our message across to our youth, our people, and other people,” Condo told the Nation. “It’s therapeutic and I think it gives us an opportunity to talk about taboos.”

The first single, Comes Back Again, brings this focus to the forefront, angrily confronting hard topics like the residential school system, resource exploitation, and murdered or missing Indigenous women. “I’m still at war every day with this country,” Q052 raps in the song.

“Every day when we turn on the news, we see that our situation is not getting better. There’s another murdered woman, someone else missing, another part of our land taken over, our rights are being violated, treaties are not being honoured, our people are going to jail and they’re serving more time than any other person in this country,” explained Condo.

“So, every day we’re at war, and that’s not going to change until we start taking those steps to change it. Where to start? I don’t have the answers, but I do know that if we talk about it and we raise these issues we have a chance to sit down and talk about fixing these things in a more creative way.”

Condo also discussed uncomfortable problems related to power structures in communities such as his hometown of Gesgapegiag, on the south shore of the Gaspé region, where he believes opportunities are limited and band councils don’t always have the people’s best interests in mind.

“I’ve visited all kinds of communities from east to west – every rez is the same. You can change the name, but it’s the same game – a paternalistic system that was forced onto us. It’s there just to keep control over us. Way back in the day we were forced onto these little pockets of land, and the way it’s distributed is not fair. It’s meant to keep us in one spot,” he explained.

“The longer we fight with each other, that lateral violence that is going on 24-7, that means we’re not fighting with the government, and that’s what the government wants.”

Condo wryly notes that First Nations politicians probably won’t like the message in his music. “It shakes the foundation they’re building their houses on. But I’m willing to say those things and I’m hoping that it gets people on their feet to say we’ve got to take care of ourselves.”

That may be ironic, because Condo has twice been elected to serve on his band council. He stepped away from a leadership role after feeling that, instead of creating change, he was only participating in the problem by administering governmental programs. It was this experience that brought him into contact with Musique Nomade, an offshoot of Wapikoni Mobile, that uses its network and travelling studio to help emerging Indigenous artists.

Condo contacted the organization when he was ready to start recording. They put him in touch with producer Emmanuel Alias, a respected musician and beat-maker. The partnership flourished, and Condo recruited four talented members from his community to Montreal for the recording. The resulting group, Rez Doggz, which includes one of his five sons, is featured on the album’s standout closing track Welcome to the Rez. They plan to release an EP in October.

Condo sees many similarities between African American and First Nations communities and is inspired by gangsta rap trailblazers like Ice-T, who addressed realities of the streets that nobody else wanted to talk about at the time.

“First Nations youth listen to hip-hop than any other form of music, because we can relate to it,” Condo said. “That’s the kind of flow I wanted to bring out, talking about these taboo situations that nobody wants to address. I don’t want to rap about having lots of money and big cars – it’s not the reality of our people.”

He intends to perform primarily in support of protests and social causes, like his Quebec City show on September 1 with Samian and Loco Locass, which will be a celebration of First Nations and Inuit cultures.

“We’re going with a live band – drums, bass, organ – maybe a Rage Against the Machine vibe,” Condo said excitedly. “It’s going to be in your face, on point, live and fun.”

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