by Harrison Samphir
Most Winnipeggers know DJ Hunnicutt (Tyler Sneesby) as the local mixmaster whose choice cuts punctuate events and parties across the city. But the Brandon-born crate digger is also a hip hop pioneer, club owner, marketing and promotions professional and cofounder of one of the Peg’s first rap crews, Farm Fresh.
The group, consisting of mcenroe (Rod Bailey) and Pip Skid (Pat Skene), released two albums in the mid-1990s – The Space EP in 1994 and Crazy Fiction one year later – on Peanuts & Corn Records. The imprint would go on to release over 40 records from local artists like Birdapres, Yy, Fermented Reptile, Frek Sho and others, and remains one of Canada’s most successful and recognized independent labels. Stylus caught up with Hunnicutt to discuss the origins of the local hip hop community, its many players, and the important legacy it engraved on Winnipeg’s cultural identity.
Stylus: How were you introduced to hip hop music?
Tyler Sneesby: Growing up in Brandon, a small city in the middle of Canada, the best outlet we had back then for hearing any sort of new music was either Brave New Waves, which was a late-night radio show on CBC, at the time hosted by Brent Bambury. The other was MuchMusic. I think we got it in ’86 or ’87. That was back before they even had Rap City, so the only urban music programming was Soul in the City on Saturday afternoons or Pump It Up. Once in a blue moon they’d play a rap video.That was my mixtape for the next few years because that was the best access to all the stuff I wasn’t hearing anywhere else.
Stylus: After you formed Farm Fresh in 1991, you came to Winnipeg. What did the hip hop scene look like when you arrived?
TS: It was interesting when we came to Winnipeg, because the first shows we were playing weren’t with other rap groups. We were playing punk and hardcore shows. Our first gig we opened for Red Fisher and Meatrack, and later we played before a ska band at the Albert. But while Pip Skid and I lived in Brandon for a couple years after high school, mcenroe moved to Winnipeg right away. He was coming home on weekends and making music with us, and we’d be coming out and playing gigs. One of the first rap shows we played was a radio station afterparty at the West End Cultural Centre. People thought we were really weird because we would come out expecting to perform for 45 minutes or an hour, like a regular show. Everyone was blown away because all the rap shows at the time were three, maybe four songs tops, and then the next act would come on. But because we came up from the punk and rock scene, we were used to playing full sets. A lot of rappers at the time didn’t even have full sets, they had two or three songs total, whereas we had a dozen or 15 songs we could perform. We weren’t really accepted by the rap world at first, and there wasn’t much of a scene early on, just Jamaican DJs and dudes doing shows at the Concord Hotel and things like that. So when we came along, we were further along than other people. We were producing our own beats and that’s how we got on to producing for Mood Ruff, which was Grand Analog [Odario and Ofield Williams] and Eli [Dow Jones]. The only other people who were producing their own hip hop during the ‘90s were Frek Sho and Twisted Spirits – Gallivanting Spoof, Gruf tha Druid, Gumball, Ismaila, Shazzam and Sunil. Both groups eventually amalgamated and merged into Frek Sho. They put out their first cassettes in ’94, and we released the first Farm Fresh tapes at the end of that same year.
Stylus: What were some of your major American hip hop influences at the time?
TS: We were influenced by what we were listening to at the time, a lot of Beastie Boys, Native Tongues and New York rap. When mcenroe produced the first Different Shades of Black album [another P&C artist], he crafted it to resemble a Black Moon record; really filtered bass and dark beats. Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage was a huge influence. We were a fan of that just as much as we were a fan of De La Soul or A Tribe Called Quest.
Stylus: What comes to mind as the most defining moment for hip hop in Winnipeg?
TS: I can’t say for certain. Mood Ruff was our tether to the broader hip hop community. We [Farm Fresh] were three white boys from Brandon and we were freaks to begin with, and we weren’t deep into the international scene. Mood Ruff was our bridge into that. Even though we weren’t signed to a major we were courted by majors like EMI and Warner back in the day, and we got to tour with Rheostatics and cool groups like that, and so we were perfectly happy doing what we were doing, getting special opportunities. Meanwhile, we were opening for The Pharcyde on the Bizarre Ride tour in ’95, and Tha Alkaholiks. But when Mood Ruff started the festival Peg City Holla, they did a good job of bridging all of Winnipeg’s communities and crews. This was in the mid- to late-1990s at the dawn of the backpack movement, and that’s when Canadian underground hip hop thrived and Peanuts & Corn really took off, too. We were probably at our peak between 1999 and 2003 when we were producing half a dozen records a year, having distro in Europe and Japan and touring across Canada. But that was just us. Locally, Mood Ruff was making professional videos, getting airplay on MuchMusic’s Rap City. Stations were acknowledging Winnipeg as a hip hop centre. That really mattered.
Stylus: Fast forward to today. You made an interesting point about developing a community event to bridge all of Winnipeg’s different groups in the late-1990s. What does the scene look like now?
TS: I think what’s bridging our communities together now is the internet, really. Music subcultures are so mixed today, because of festivals and things like that. Every genre dabbles in all the rest, so it’s hard to quantify. Locally, it’s kind of neat, though, because a lot of First Nations dudes are making rap, and there are places for hip hop to be heard again. Streetz FM is over, but Rhythm still plays local rap. That has to be good, not just for the artists, but when the artists are namedropping neighbourhoods. If I was a ten-year-old kid growing up in the North End and I heard people on the radio making quality-produced rap and mentioning my neighbourhood I’d be pretty stoked about that.
To learn more about Peanuts & Corn and Winnipeg hip hop, visit www.peanutsandcorn.com. Look for a download of Farm Fresh’s Crazy Fiction as this month’s Time Tunnel Tape on reissued copies of Stylus Magazine.