Mike Doherty, Special to National Post | June 17, 2015 3:05 PM ET
Growing up in Victoria, Peggy Hogan studied classical piano; at Concordia, she learned jazz singing — both worlds, she says, were “old boys’ clubs.” After releasing a neo-soul album in 2012, she looked to express more “challenging lyrical content,” so she turned to rap. She used her Chinese name, Hua Li “to fully actualize my identity, even if that meant taking on this other character, so I could at least publicly be this person that I wanted to be.” In order to skirt the battle-heavy hip-hop scene — “It just ends up being mostly white men standing around in a circle insulting each other, which is also the entire world,” she laughs — she cut her teeth on Montreal’s indie and electronic bills. On June 23, she will drop her second release, the hip-hop/electro/R’n’B EP, Zazhong, whose title is “a derogatory term for mixed-race people in China; there’s a sense of being monstrous and against nature, and it’s funny because it was also a pet name for me when I was growing up.” Her lyrics celebrate plurality, and “taking back the racial slur.”
Q When you learned to rap, did you transcribe verses by your favourite female MCs just as you transcribed solos in jazz school?
A That’s exactly what I did. I was feeling, “How do I not be culturally appropriative?” We don’t even think about that with jazz anymore. We learn from the masters; we learn the language and put our own sonic signature on that, which is what I wanted to do with rap: integrate, understand the history and the idioms, and do my own thing.
Q Do you think in 2015 hip-hop is becoming more open to people with different points of view and stories?
A We have famous queer rappers now — it’s crazy! But I can’t believe it’s taken until now that we actually talk about misogyny and feminism on such a broad scale — not just in rap music.
Q To what extent can rappers accused of misogyny defend themselves by saying they’re rapping in character?
A The first thing we should ask is, what is the context? [Action Bronson’s hotly debated] “Brunch” starts with “You broke my heart,” so I would much rather that he write a song addressing [this emotion] than actually going and finding this woman and beating her. Is Action Bronson calling people to do this? I would hope not. If you’re media-literate, you don’t go out and do everything you see. For instance, I have a track called “Voodoo,” which is about both physically and magically torturing a rapist. I don’t really believe in voodoo, and this is not what I’m asking people to do; I’m just expressing my anger towards this figure in my life. A theme throughout rap’s ascension is, “Why are people saying these things, brainwashing our youth? They’re violent, celebrating drug use.” Rather than police the artists, why don’t we take the time to say to the youth, “Here’s how we can be media-literate [and] navigate these things.”