Secret Selector: Mod’rn World Thang
Long before Jonathan Torrens ever dawned the name as Sunnyvale Trailer Park’s resident rapper, there was another JROC in Nova Scotia’s hip hop history. Just Respect Our Culture was the phrase behind the acronym, and his compère contribution to the hip hop world co-exists within the early output of Halifax’s legendary DJ Jorun Bombay.
Together JROC and Jorun operated under two successive banners. In the mid to late 1980’s the duo were known as Down By Law, where they helped to fill a void in the Halifax scene left by local golden boys MCJ and Cool G who had relocated to Montréal to pursue a pop career in the Canadian music industry. Shortly after a series of demo rotations on CKDU, and a monumental opening spot supporting Public Enemy at the Darmouth Sportsplex in 1989, Down By Law rebranded and began recording under the alias Mod’rn World Thang.
Under the new colourful hood, Mod’rn World Thang dropped their first cassette EP in 1990/91 which featured the tracks “Just Respect Our Culture / Lift off the Mod’rn World”, and “Faith in our Music”. With scarce backing available for the Halifax hip hop movement, JROC and Jorun found allies in Peter Rowan and DTK Records. Best known as the label and collective that helped cultivate the blossoming Haligonian indie rock scene, Rowan and DTK supported bands such as Sloan and Hardship Post and released compilations such as Hear & Now ’92 and Cod Can’t Hear. Rowan was also responsible for the undeniably vital music festival we now know as Halifax Pop Explosion. Taking a chance with Mod’rn World Thang’s debut cassette is just another underappreciated example of Peter Rowan’s finger being on the pulse of the burgeoning and innovative wave of Maritime music that was ready to boil over at the turn of the 90’s.
The way the mainstream looks back on Canadian hip hop is fucking weird. Tom Green’s Organized Rhyme was fine and dandy for Canadian music execs who were hunting for that canucked up version of the Beastie Boys. On the other hand, the club pop and dancehall collection of Canadian one hit wonders, like the culturally appropriated dub rap of Snow, have gone from chart tops to novelty flops. Groups like Mod’rn World Thang are lesser known, but fundamentally more important. Through Canadian Afrocentric subject matter, De La Soul-esque aesthetic, and primitive boom bap production full of samples and scratches, JROC and Jorun should be remembered as an essential slice in Canada’s Golden Age of Hip Hop.
The previously mentioned Clattenberg connection doesn’t end with JROC’s trailer park namesake. In 1993 Mod’rn World Thang dropped a video for a track entitled “Incognito” which found steady rotation on Much Music. The video for “Incognito” was directed by none other than an amateur Mike Clattenberg years before his Trailer Park Boys fame. The video has escaped the clutches of the internet, so we beg you tapeheads to check your VHS collection of Much Music Rapcity broadcasts in the hopes of unearthing this particular gem. Until then, you can check out a remix of “Incognito” from the 20th anniversary digital re-release of the Haltown Meltdown Compilation Volume 1.
If you want to further understand the evolution of the Halifax hip hop community, Haltown Meltdown Vol. 1 deserves your utmost attention. Released in 1993, Haltown Meltdown was the very first Halifax hip hop compilation, and the original cassette pressing has fetched as high as CA$103.22 on the Discogs marketplace. The comp is the first release credited to Haltown Projex, and featured extensive production from DJ Jorun.
Haltown Meltdown Vol. 1 would also house the final tracks credited to Mod’rn World Thang. On the original release, MWT provided two songs which were intended to be cuts off their full length debut that was due out on Toronto’s Boomtang Records. Unfortunately, the duo disbanded and the album went unreleased and unheard, with the exception of the compilation cuts “Free Lust“, and our official selection: “Wrapped in Foil“.
The tasteful stylistic shift in “Wrapped in Foil” may be an enticing suggestion as to where Mod’rn World Thang were headed with the shelved sessions of their full length. Jorun’s production takes a slightly more psychedelic and spacey approach with soaring samples and a droning slow pulse beat. The track washes over you with a laid back, headstoned demeanor that is at times reminiscent of Hieroglyphics, Charizma-era Peanut Butter Wolf, and the jazzy experimentalist spirit that groups like People Under The Stairs would seek to recapture years later. While I obviously can’t condone driving at night while high, this track totally has a driving at night while high vibe to it. The beat is authentic, and chill to the point where it leaves me feeling like I need visine after a few looped listens.
Lyrically, JROC takes a necessary shift in a very similar direction. “Bob your head cus’ this aint made to make you jump” is a particularly telling line of the tracks approach. “It’s made for the trunk, so hit the blunt and don’t front, when you feel the big thump then play like Reebok and pump it.”
The vocal delivery ripples smoothly with some tasteful licks of reverb, but don’t let the easygoing flow fool you into missing out on some of the messages being passed through the nonchalance. Much of the lyrical content centres on establishing a further sense of underground and street level pride in Mod’rn World Thang’s artform. Perhaps lines like “we’re taking the music back to the hood where it belongs, it has been commercialized for way too long” is telling of an industry based disillusionment which may have foreshadowed the albums abandonment.
“Wrapped in Foil” alone leaves me immensely curious and hungry as to what else those unreleased sessions may hold. If you’re as wondersome as I am, maybe we could collectively start badgering Boomtang records at 276 Carlaw Ave #220, Toronto, ON M4M 3L1 to crack open their vault. However something tells me they’re too wrapped up pumping out those Boomtang Boys CD reissues…*coughcough*… Perhaps it would be more lucrative for all of us to just ask DJ Jorun Bombay very nicely to see if he has some more deep cuts to share.
Mod’rn World Thang were a small but vital slice of Halifax hip hop history. After the duos dissolution, DJ Jorun Bombay would go on to become the immovable pillar and support beam that continues to nurture Halifax talent. Furthering the Haltown Projex collective, Jorun would work extensively with Haslam, who we all know now as Buck 65, he would also partner and mentor with the likes of Classified, Sixtoo, plus many more. You can check out a chunk of his output on bandcamp.
Emcee JROC played a bit more of a vanishing act, making it difficult to attain information of further musical activity. Aside from having his name “borrowed” by the likes of Mike Clattenberg for the Trailer Park Boys character, JROC’s footprints seem to halt at the final MWT tracks. You can expect to hear more from us on the subject; the Secret Selector’s nosy nature can sometimes become a bit more obsessively inquisitive. Consider it an unsolved selection. If you have any further information on JROC’s whereabouts, you can hit up our tipline here.
Until then, grab the updated 20th anniversary digital release of Haltown Meltdown Vol. 1 from DJ Jorun Bombay’s bandcamp page, and rejoice in one of the grooviest eras of Atlantic Canada’s underground musical history.
– The Secret Selector