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[ by ben forrest ]


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Manafest with da GraffitiWhite guys can't rap. It's practically a truism. Look at Fred Durst. The guy from Linkin Park. Vanilla Ice. Or me, for that matter. It's generally accepted that guys with my complexion should leave the rhymes to those who know how to do it. Like Sharlock Poems from L.A. Symphony. Bonafide and Coffee from GRITS. Even Puffy. White folks should stick to the suburbs, form boy bands or, if they feel the need to make real music, pick up a guitar or something.

Or so you might think. Emerging slowly in the gospel rap world are a few Caucasians who might change all of that. Sintaxtheterrific is one. Manchild from Mars Ill might be another. But perhaps another one with promise is, of all things, a Canadian. Manafest is his name / And he's out to change the game / To put Toby and John Reuben to shame / To run the race and not pull up lame... and so on. (What did I tell you about my raps?)

Manafest workin' the crowd.Manafest, as you might not know, is an up-and-coming emcee from the Toronto area. His first love was skateboarding (he's pretty good at it too — check out the video for "Session" at Manafest.ca) but music has slowly taken that place in his heart, and the fact that a lot of his free time goes into perfecting his flows seems to be paying off. In an interview with this website, Speedy (that's another of his nicknames) broke the news that he's in the process of signing with Tooth and Nail Records, who will re-release his independently produced debut, My Own Thing, sometime after the "T"s are crossed and eyes dotted.

But though MOT is only his first full-length album, you'd be wrong to think that Manafest is an overnight success. Or that he came to this point without a lot of hard work. Manafest has been emceeing for six years now, funding his albums (he also recorded a five-song EP a few years back) with his own money, and is only now getting his due. He works nine to five with computers (he's a network engineer) to pay the bills, but still writes songs on an almost daily basis, and has to get leaves of absence from work to "go on tour." And "touring" in his case doesn't take place in a tricked out bus or even a van. It means hitching a ride out to Eastern Canada in an 18-wheel truck and visiting a high school or two every day and then playing a show at night, as he did recently. Not exactly Jay-Z-type stuff.

Manafest lookin' like Eminem.Manafest told me plainly: if the record deal didn't happen, he says, "I would still be making music for free. Being an artist is not for the faint-hearted. You have to be born for this stuff, and have a lot of patience." It might be easier to say things like that now, of course, with the deal almost done, but the fact that many T&N artists don't make enough from music to quit their day jobs makes it hard for me to doubt his sincerity. So too does the fact that's he's been performing for peanuts, kicks and giggles for over half a decade anyway.

Perhaps naively, I also believe him when he says stuff like, "I can't see myself rapping about girls and guns throughout my whole album. I know that's what sells, but I think there can be something more creative there." To understand why, you need to know his history. You need to understand that, as he told Cross Rhythms magazine two years ago, he got in the game without fame or fortune in mind. He got into it because he wanted to have a positive impact on his skater friends, who were deep into a culture known for drug use, civil disobedience and delinquency. You need to know that he remained a part of that culture, largely without giving in to its pressures, and that everything he does right now is basically just an extension of what he was doing back then. He still just wants to reach people, and does. The only difference is that the audience is bigger.

Manafest chillin' at The StationAnd for the record, shades of melanin aren't as big a deal as you might think. "Most of the time it doesn't make a difference either way," Chris says. "All the emcees I hang with are black, and sometimes at the shows the audience will be quicker to feel their styles more than mine, and then at others they'll like me more. This is definitely a race thing. We've learned to just laugh at it and not worry about it much. It's all about relating to your crowd no matter where you perform."

The main thing, it appears, is to have patience, persevere, accept the fact that you'll always be compared to Eminem (Manafest says it happens to him all the time) and put your heart in the right place. "If you're talented, your skin tone shouldn't matter," he says, and in Speedy's case it usually doesn't. Watch for the re-release of the album (it will feature a song with fellow Canadians Thousand Foot Krutch) or pick up the original online at www.cdbaby.com/manafest2.
- Ben Forrest
July 2004
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