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Chasing Tara

12 Jun 2005

AfroToronto.com's Eloi Minka talks to Toronto Emcee Tara Chase

We’re sitting at “Not Just Desserts” on Yonge Street, north of Sheppard. A slow beat in the restaurant makes me nod my head slowly.

In front of me, she is the picture of cool, strength and perseverance: the yellow T-shirt with the words “Get Shucked” written in bold green letters, the tattoo of a scale on the left bicep and her name on the other, the big watch with the black leather-band, the hair loose and natural as if making its own statement about her freedom.

Freedom is paramount to Tara Chase.


“I want my own in life, be that rich solo b*tch, not that rich man’s wife,” she said in her single Autonomy.

Her debut CD, “The College Graduate Mixtape,” released on her own label Chase’On’Music expounds on this desire to hold on to the strings of her life and chart her own course.

Tara Chase has been in the trenches of the Toronto Hip-Hop scene for 10 years since she was “discovered” at the first Honey Jam showcase back in 1995.

“If you ask Ebonnie [Rowe] she’ll tell you I had my own sense of style back then. I had a yellow Columbia jacket with my DKNY hat and my DKNY shorts. And I came on strong. After that I joined The Circle. Back then Saukrates and Kardi [Kardinal Offishal] had a group, Jully [Black] was on her own and Choclair had a group called Paranormal and I met them that night. And I started getting invited to stuff. ”

However she recognizes that her innocence and lack of understanding of the inner-workings of the industry prevented her from properly planning her career progression.

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“It was just a lot of trial and error. If Kardi or somebody did a video, I’ll be like oh, I wanna do a video too. Where do you go to do a video? Where do I go to get my single recorded?”

 

That improvisation and perhaps the creativity that flows from the unfettered enjoyment of one’s art produced some of her early hits: The Northside, Autonomy and Like It Like. These songs are included in her debut CD [read our review] along with many other creations celebrating her struggles and accomplishments.

Tara Chase is from Cotes-Des-Neiges in Montreal .

“It is a ghetto!” she says emphatically, refusing to sugar-coat the description. The perfect backdrop for stories of strife and tribulations, one would assume!

“No actually, I was writing Christmas rhymes and stuff back then,” she says sipping her tea. “I remember my Mom taking me to see Beat Street in 1984 and I came back home and started trying to write my own rhymes. Then I got into poetry, then the high-school battles and stuff. I had a friend who really encouraged me to work on my writing. He always used to say, if you’re gonna be an Emcee, you better know how to write!”

When did the big break come?

“When I was about 17, I was approached by a guy at from a record company at a show in Montreal and he made an announcement on the mic in front of everybody. He said I was gonna open up for Onyx and stuff, it was a big thing but it never amounted to anything ultimately. But that got me thinking; maybe I really can do this rap thing. Maybe it really is supposed to happen!”

Lessons

After many years in the game, what in her view is the state of the Canadian Hip-Hop scene?

“Unfortunately as a Canadian Emcee you still have to have a job. You cannot live off your art,” she admits. “You still have to have a job!”

She laments the reluctance of major media outlets to showcase Canadian Hip-Hop talent. Even when it''s done, on mainstream radio specifically, she points out, it is not done properly.

“There is no energy in the presentations. You gotta make people believe in the artist!”

She acknowledges that there is more understanding and acceptance of the art form thanks to the growth of Hip-Hop commercially worldwide.

“But overall, I think it’s like being back in ''95!”

Whatever happened to Strangé?

Tara Chase is hard at work on a new album. “Whatever Happened to Strangé?” is the working title, a reference to the Grace Jones character in the 1992 movie Boomerang also starring Eddie Murphy and Halle Berry .

“It’s gonna be a feel good album” she says.

She is trying to package those days, before Dr. Dré’s “The Chronic”, back when Slick Rick was telling “Children Stories” and D.J. Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince were reminding us that “Parents just don’t understand!” or that they could “beat Mike Tyson”.

She’s trying to recapture that era in the late eighties and early nineties in most Canadian cities when, beyond the difficulties of urban life, “there was still a sense of unity amongst the people.”

“Do you remember that?”

She stares in the distance beyond the cars whizzing on Yonge Street.

“You know, when the Black movie came out, everybody went to see it. You’d walk past another Black person on the street and they’ll say Wassup!”

“Today we only get the brotha nod!” I offer.

“Sometimes, not even!” she adds.

In addition to the album, Tara Chase is back in school at U of T, “trying to finish what I started” she says.

Biology is her chosen field because “ultimately, I really wanna get into forensic science.”

She still finds time to perform and you can catch her at Molson Park (in Barrie , ON ) on July 30th as part of the Warped Tour 2005.

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