One of the people that I have admired for the longest time and tracked the career of is Dalton Higgins. Dalton is an outrageously talented writer who also holds the auspicious title of being Canada’s sole expert on hip hop culture. He’s written for Now Magazine for 10 years, and he has freelanced for Source Magazine—widely considered to be the hip hop bible. He is an educator, speaker, father, husband and an incredibly talkative dude.
Dalton has 6 books under his belt – one of which is called “Far From Over: The Music and Life of Drake, The Unofficial Story. “ Some might think that I reached out to Dalton because I wanted to get one step closer to meeting my boo Drake (yes, I said it!)…..but they’d be wrong. It’s Dalton I wanted to meet. I’ve been in awe of Dalton for so long, it was an absolute pleasure getting to know him and talking about everything from old school roller-skating jams to Spike Lee.
So without further ado, meet Dalton Higgins.
When did your love for the written word begin?
I grew up in a very Caribbean household….my parents are from Jamaica. Growing up in the Higgins’ household, there were magazines and newspapers everywhere. Lots of Caribbean literature—everything from Miss Lou (she popularized nation language- patois). I also collected comic books when I was younger. I was into X Men, Spiderman, Iron Man, Green Lantern. I had a very large collection of comic books.
When did you start writing?
When I was at York University, I volunteered at Excalibur—the York newspaper. It was a great opportunity….it was like a free education. At Excalibur it was hands on training. I was reporting, editing, snapping pics. I would go and check out the York Lions (the basketball team) and covered some of their games for Excalibur. I interviewed the players, wrote about what transpired in the game and took pics. It kicked off my interest in journalism.
How did you start writing for Now Magazine?
One day I was checking out the launch of this Rastafarian magazine called I Rasta Facts. I got to cover it for Excalibur. I was hanging out with this journalist Ali Sharif – he was a reporter with Now Magazine. We got to talking…hit it off. We were talking about Now Magazine and he introduced me to Zuhair Kashmeri. He was a senior editor at Now Magazine. We all went for coffee one day and talked about ideas. He was like, “Man, you have some pretty strong ideas! You’re writing for Excalibur, but do you have any interest in writing for Now Magazine?” I was like, “Of course! I can get paid to do this?” So he threw me my first story. I made about $75. I was writing for Now Magazine while I was at York. It helped to pay my tuition. I wrote for them for about 10 years.
You were able to sustain a relationship with Now Magazine for that long?
You know what it is for writers; you need to have good mentorship. Senior writers or mid-career journalists that can help guide you. I was always lucky to have that. So that’s why I pay it forward. Any door I kick down, I bring people with me. Without guidance, you’re kinda out there on an island floating.
How does it feel to have the title Canada’s sole expert on hip hop culture?
I’m into hip hop. I live it. I study it. I document it. I’ve been documenting the culture before it was sexy and saleable. There’s a lot of bandwagonism. People are jumping on this talking about Drizzy is great! Kardinal Ofishall, K-os, K’naan, Michie Mee, Maestro…. I was documenting their lives and careers well before it became fashionable. When hip hop was in its infancy, I was documenting the culture almost since its inception.
I was in it before people cared about hip hop culture like they do now that Drizzy’s blown up. One of my proudest moments is working on the Hip Hop Summit (2011). I was able to take those connections I have across Canada to get most of the artists that have done great work that is historically significant as far as black music in this country, and get them all on one stage. I was the content manager for The CBC Hip Hop Summit. I was able to get Red One from the Rascalz, Ghetto Concept, Reema Major, K-os, Kardinal Offishall, K’naan, Maestro, Michie Mee, Shad. It was fantastic seeing everyone on one stage. It’s one of my shining moments as far as using my connections in the hip hop industry.
Why did you decide to write about Drake?
Drake is an interesting character. Whether you love or loathe Drake, he’s somebody I always felt you need to be paying strict attention to. The question I wanted to have answered in the book is how in the hell does a biracial black Jewish kid coming from Forest Hill (an affluent neighbor in Toronto) end up topping billboard charts? Given that historically, Toronto has not had a chart topping rapper / hip hopper, or any rapper here that can say they have recorded with Jay Z, Lil Wayne, Kanye West. His story is an interesting one. He’s only 26 years old and he seems to have captured the imagination of this generation. At a time where people don’t buy CDs, people buy his CDs.
What do you respect about him?
Drake made it okay to dream and dream large. He’s a kid from Toronto and he sits atop billboard charts. He’s won a Grammy.
We have this inferiority complex—musicians and artists that come from Canada. He made it okay to think big. He gives hope to Canadian musicians. For up and coming, burgeoning music talents from Toronto, that they can one day become a billboard chart topping rapper or musician.
I also respect his social media game. He’s popularized using social media. He’s been able to leverage his social media to generate a ton of revenue. He released tracks online through his mixtapes.. He didn’t need a company to give him a stamp of approval to release music. He had crazy buzz online.
What are your thoughts on the Canadian urban music industry?
It’s a very tenuous relationship hip hop practitioners have with the industry here. There doesn’t seem to be a real infrastructure to support rap, reggae, soul and r&b music. So what ends up happening is that a lot of artists end up getting the hell outta dodge. That’s the story with most Canadian artists. All of our success stories k-os, Melanie Fiona, Deborah Cox… got their first break in the States, they didn’t get it here. In the book I blow up that romantic notion of the Canadian urban music industry.
What advice would you give to budding writers?
DIY. Do It Yourself. It’s an acronym that I live by. Rather than wait around for people to endorse you, or to endorse your work as a writer or musician, you need to go out and do it. Strengthen your social media game. Blog your ideas. There are communities of people that will appreciate what you have to say. Use the web.
Oooh, I love what Dalton had to say about DIY. That’s definitely my motto! Even after meeting and getting to know Dalton, I am still in awe of him. Truly one of the coolest brothas I’ve ever met! Thanks for the cool vibes, Dalton!
I originally posted this interview in 2013 on my previous blog.