Hip-hop is not dead in Niagara, at least according to RJ Donaldson, a local promoter who is doing all he can to bring down better quality performers to the region.
Donaldson’s goal, with the help of Quan Nguyen, the new owner and operater of Late Club Niagara (formerly L8 Club) on Lundy’s Lane is to bring down bigger names to the area every two weeks, on a scale “Niagara has never seen.”
So far, the club has secured some names from OVO Sound, a record label owned by Canadian hip-hop icon Drake.
Some of those artists include Pressa, OB O'Brien and SmokeDog, who will hit the Late Club (which re-opened last Thursday after being closed down for months following a drive-by shooting that injured five during a festival in early September) in November and December.
He said that’s just the tip of the iceberg too, with plenty more OVO musicians coming down, and a few other acts he can’t yet name.
He said the focus isn’t just hip-hop either, but that Late Club promoters are planning to mix it up with different genres, even rock.
“They want to work with as many different artists as possible across the city,” said Donaldson.
“It made me kind of smile and feel a little refreshed because the music scene in Niagara has really become lack-thereof.”
“If you’d go down on a Friday or Saturday night to the downtown St. Catharines core ten years ago, there were numbers. You’d see line-ups and crowds in front of every venue. And now there are maybe two or three venues that are lucky enough to have a line, like the Chilli Pepper. The music scene has really taken a hit. Unfortunately a lot of it has to do with the businesses.”
Donaldson says some reasons venues aren’t promoting a hip-hop scene to Niagara is the stigma that surrounds the genre — added to by the September shooting.
“Hip-hop especially, there’s a very harsh stigmatism because people assume violence. They assume fights, when the sad truth is it has absolutely nothing to do with the hip-hop. It has to do with people getting drunk and rowdy.”
He said another big part the declining music scene is a harsh environment for promoters, with clubs asking more and offering less, limiting promoters’ budgets.
“The last venue I worked at was Detour, and they started asking for 50 per cent of my door. Which basically meant I needed to have at least 100 people through my door, and not spend more than $300, $400 or I was taking a loss. And that’s really hurting our scene as a whole because it doesn’t matter what genre you’re in, if you can’t pull the numbers, it’s lost money.”
“You either have to be chasing a dream and have the money to blow or you’re not going to be in it too long. And sadly that’s caused us to see a lot of good promoters come and go.”
Donaldson, who is a hip-hop artist himself, going by the name Swish Styles, has no plans of giving up on Niagara just yet.
He said Late Club is one of the last venues besides the Warehouse which can support big live shows. And Late Club has double the capacity.
“As we grow, we’re going to be moving out of hip-hop a little. We’ll be getting into EDM. We might get into rock a little bit as well. The biggest thing is we’re not doing little shows. We want to bring the bigger artists that our city never gets to see. That we all grew up listening to and we all want to go see live, but we never have the chance to unless we go to the States or Toronto.”
As Donaldson puts it, we’re seeing bigger artists come down to Niagara already, at places like the Performing Arts Centre.
“But these are older acts,” said Donaldson.
“Can you imagine if we were able to bring somebody like Jay-Z to Niagara?”
Donaldson, or “Swish”, says he’s determined to make something big like that happen.
“I want people of Niagara to know this club is open and it’s here to stay and bring a better scene to our city.”
Pressa will hit Late Club on Nov. 11, fresh off touring with Drake for his More Life tour.
For more information on Late Club shows and other events visit, facebook.com/lateclubniagara.
Here's a song by Swish Styles,