After a long hiatus due to Covid-19, the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC) in Yellowknife is resuming its school outreach tour program to again expose music and the arts to NWT students who may not otherwise have the opportunity to see live performances.
Northern musician Dylan Jones, also known as Crook the Kid, is headlining the multi-community tour and with him, bringing a message of understanding, hope and perseverance to kids who, like him, didn’t always have an easy time growing up in a small, isolated community.
“Where I’m going is where I’m from,” Jones said of his small-community roots. “I’m hoping to see some familiar faces and to see what’s it’s like to be a young person where I was a young person.”
“Maybe I will spark some interest and the next one of me is in one of those audiences.”
Post-pandemic tour revival
Dylan’s school outreach tour is a post-pandemic project for NACC and a way to introduce performances to NWT communities, according to Marie Coderre, executive and artistic director of the centre.
She said NACC is helping reintroduce live performances to the communities after the hiatus that Covid caused.
“It’s so important to go to the schools and bring shows to them and increase exposure to the arts so they can be inspired and see what a live show is all about,” Coderre said.
Previously, Jones was part of NACC’s mentorship program for four years and was just starting to be recognized for his talent and getting attention in the south when the pandemic started, Coderre said.
At that time, she said people were “blown away by his natural talent” and it was unfortunate that performances had to be shut down.
“His hip-hop show is a way for him to heal and to use art as a vehicle for his messages and channel down what he has been through in his life,” Coderre said.
What’s in a name
The difficulties Jones went through in his life while growing up in Fort Good Hope actually became the inspiration for his stage name, he said.
“When you’re a musician, your name is the first thing that people notice and I wanted it to be memorable. A lot of hip-hop artists don’t use their real names but people often are tagged with nicknames in small communities,” he said of the inspiration behind the name, while adding that he was a fan of watching “spaghetti western” movies and hence the appeal.
And so, the rising star ‘Crook the Kid’ was born.
As for the genre of music he chose to express his thoughts and philosophies about life when growing up, Jones said he picked rap for the same reason most like-minded musicians do.
“Someone can be musically-inclined and creative, but don’t always have instruments or equipment. That’s the glory of being a songwriter — all you really need is paper,” he said.
When performing on stage, because the instrumentals are prepared in a studio prior to the show, he said all he needs is a microphone and his biggest prop: the microphone stand.
Form of expression
Coderre said hip-hop has become a popular form of expression with kids.
“It is a real artform and a way of doing poetry where you can express your creativity. I want this tour to be a way for Dylan to inspire youth so they can start to create.”
Add to that the fact that Jones has lived through many of the experiences that kids may now be undergoing, she said they can relate to him and feel that they, too, can realize their aspirations and dreams.
Coderre described Jones as a strong storyteller with a “very passionate stage presence” who conveys strength in overcoming barriers.
“You really feel his words because he has lived them. It’s a lived experience. Everything he is telling is from his own story and he has a story to tell.”
Jones said while stereotypical hip-hop music is about excessive living, money, women or drugs, he chooses not to write about those topics, but instead he focuses on a story or part of his life that actually happened. That resonates with many people, he said.
“You live fast and hard up in the communities and you’re not a kid for very long.”
But that form of confessional-type songwriting is often deemed the least popular style of rap in the music world, he noted.
“That is why living in the North definitely has a distinct advantage. It’s the type of music that people here like and appreciate and connect with. It’s Northern hip-hop.” he said. “Writing songs about being in an inner-city scenario or nightclub just wouldn’t hold the same appeal.”
Jones’ shows will be an hour long and afterwards, audiences will have the opportunity to ask him questions about the genre of hip-hop or topics he raises in his songs. He said one of the goals of his tour is to connect with fans through shared experiences and an interest in music and it can be a very emotional and positive occasion.
Crook the Kid will be performing in schools in Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, Hay River, Ndilo, Inuvik, and in Norman Wells for a community-wide performance. His first studio-produced album is near completion.