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Vashtie: Trini American Urban Culture Scenester Charts Her Own Path

Vashtie: Trini American Urban Culture Scenester Charts Her Own Path

Posted by Dalton Higgins on March 10, 2014

During the cold winter months in Toronto, it appears that the urban culture scene always seems to rejuvenate itself by importing in talents who can presumably light some fire up under our collective consciousness. And asses. So when a very youngish looking 32 year old American bred video director, designer and DJ of Trinidadian descent named Vashtie hit these megacity shores last month to promote her series of NYC-rooted monthly theme parties titled 1992, it was looked on with feelings of awe, confusion, excitement, and retrospect.

Whether you chose to call her Vashtie Kola, Downtown’s Sweetheart or just plain old Va$htie (please note the dollar sign), there was certainly something to be said about this diminutive soft-spoken cultural ambassador who in some ways represents how this generation is feeling and working within a new globalized contemporary art and culture scene. And this was the feeling propped up by music promoter extraordinaire Wan Lucas and artistic instigator Che Kothari, who both managed to cook up such a gathering.  

Certainly, the idea of narrowcasting one’s career prospects or revenue streams does not appeal to many millenials and Vashtie’s distinctly multi-disciplinary arts oriented career focus represents a newer wave of itchy fingered cross sector curators who seem quite adept at controlling their own brand. Over the last decade, the New York born creative type has cranked out a dizzying array of music culture influenced output, ranging from directing video’s by Joey Badass, Kendrick Lamar, Solange Knowles and (early) Justin Bieber to designing kitschy fashion lines (VIOLETTE) and headphones (Beats By Dre), all the way to throwing and DJ’ing her own parties under the 1992 rubric.

After putzing out at Vashtie’s gathering for three hours at the now re-branded Tattoo Rock Parlour concert venue in downtown Toronto alongside an assorted mix of new school urban fashionistas, influencers and tastemakers, who blended in quite nicely with a bunch of aging hop hoppers and hipsters who could literally hark back to the year 1992 (when they were scenesters?), I could see exactly what all the hype and hoopla was all about.

For one, the 90s hip hop era – with some parts of it referred to as the Golden Era – tends to represent a different set of feelings to hip hop, soul and R&B diehards, across generations. Just the mere fact that many bloggers spend an inordinate amount of their web time slamming what passes for good rap music in 2014, coupled with the fact that a good promoter could pack up a live music venue by not playing any music of today, partly speaks to the depth involved in much commercial contemporary rap music output, or lack thereof. If us critics are supposed to be eagerly anticipating new releases from the likes of the moronic Chief Keef  and Azealia Banks in 2014, then please check us out. 

Interestingly, as Toronto-based DJ’s Mensa and Lissa Monet focused their DJ sets on 90s era urban music, I was immediately reminded of how strong and diverse rap and R&B sounds used to be. And I’m not even one of those hip hop traditionalists or fossils who might seem stuck on the 90s or are obsessed with musical output from “Back In The Day”. Not even close. But there’s something to be said when there’s few rap artists of today that could even remotely match up to the skill level and artistry of a Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G, Wu Tang Clan, Pharcyde, Nas or Gangstarr. Even the newest of new school rap enthusiast might agree to that.

So then it should be obvious why hundreds would turn up on a dastardly cold late evening anxious to hear songs from another era, seemingly fed up with the modern day minstrel show being offered up on BET and supported by rapper Trinidad James. The Atlanta-based James is actually from Trinidad, but does not at all represent the high talent level of some of the islands other fantastic hip hop exports like Toronto’s k-os. In fact, Vashtie joins a strong and growing list of female American hip hop scene identified artists of Trinidadian descent including Nicki Minaj and Foxy Brown who have already their mark in strong, identifiable ways. Despite Minaj’s bizarre Malcolm-X-meets-N-word transgressions (i.e. the artwork accompanying her latest single “Lookin’ Ass Nigga” originally carried that famous photo of Malcolm X looking out of a window while holding a gun, and was then thankfully protested and removed), she is quite the lyrical talent with an eye for the theatrical. Likewise, there was a time when Foxy Brown nearly ruled the rap roost, while collaborating with Jay Z, before the prison time and long list of reckless and illegal acts started piling up.

In this era of new and social media, it’s safe to say that Vashtie’s influence might flow wider than most before her because everything she does, touches and wears has the possibility of going viral. And then your nieces, younger sister and/or students in your class just might start wearing what she wears. BTW, on this particular night, her Toronto debut, she wore a charcoal coloured sweater with a mini skirt accented with some fine jewellery pieces. Even Vastie herself who’s become a bit of a social media phenomenon herself with more than 42,000 twitter followers was hesitant to embrace social media fully at first as she admitted to Canada Press. “It (social media) was something I was completely against,” she remarked.  “For me it was sort of coming from an age where talking about yourself is really kind of cheesy and in poor taste, but the era we’re in, it’s about the way you make your living and self-promotion. So I am now a firm believer and supporter of it.”

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