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Maple Leaf Mob: Sweatshop Union serves up drive-thu rhymes 

The Wu Tang Clan of the North? Whether it's warranted or not, we tend to think of Canadians as nicer than us. Maybe it's because

The Wu Tang Clan of the North? Whether it's warranted or not, we tend to think of Canadians as nicer than us. Maybe it's because they put gravy on their French fries, or their health care system keeps them in tip-top shape. Whatever the reason, these neighbors to the north seem less pissed off.

And even when it comes to hip-hop music, which all too often in the States digresses into a battle of egos and semi automatic firearms, Canadians rappers just seem like they're in a better mood. Such is the case with Vancouver, B.C.'s seven-piece rap squad, Sweatshop Union.

Seven hip-hoppers, all on one stage? That might sound like a cheap Canuck rip off of the fabled U.S. hip-hop gang, known as the Wu Tang Clang., not quite. Sweatshop Union is two members, innumerable felony convictions, and a boatload of negativity short of comparing in any way to the heyday of Wu-Tang.

One of Sweatshop Union's main emcees, Kyprios, unabashedly calls himself one of the "granddaddies" of the group, and says that his outfit isn't about preaching from the soapbox. Sweatshop, he says, is in the game to convey a message that, for lack of a less cliché term, we'll deem "socially conscious."

"I think it's all about individualism," Kyprios says over the phone from Vancouver as the band rehearses for its upcoming tour.

"Be awake. Think. Ask questions, be aware of the subvert nature of business, of advertising, and be able to make up your own mind and ask your own questions," he says.

Thinking, asking questions, being aware - sounds fun, but is that what hip-hop is really about? What about dope rhymes and phat beats? Sweatshop has those too, and Kyprios has a good way of explaining how they weld together these two aspects.

"We're not trying to shove it down people's throats, our music will have an edge like that at times, but we get drunk and have fun and party and act the fool as well," he says, further explaining the dynamic with a fast food metaphor.

"We see it like this: you're at McDonalds, and yeah we're working the f***ing drive through, but we've at least got vitamins in the Big Mac, so we're leading with some substance - that's how I look at it," he says.

A tad confusing, but it actually makes sense - let me decipher the "allegory of the drive through": Many of Sweatshop's tunes, no matter which of the seven emcees and producers penned the rhymes and beats, have a mainstream hip-hop feel to them - that's the McDonald's part - but all the songs are laced together with the conscious, slightly high-brow lyrics - those are the vitamins. These nutritious lyrics tackle everything from mainstream news media to knocking the "bling-bling" nature of mainstream hip-hop.

So, when Sweatshop plays the Domino Room on Friday, think of it as a chance for all the health nuts out there to finally eat at McDonalds - well, at least figuratively.


Sweatshop Union, Kyrpios, Mosley Wotta & Friends plus the Garden

8pm doors, 9pm show. Friday, January 18. Domino Room, 51 NW Greenwood Ave, 388-1106. $12/advanced, $15/door.

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