For Winnipeg artist and activist Caid Jones, hip hop was a form of social studies
Cayden Carfrae isn’t just a hip-hop lover, he’s a self-proclaimed scholar of the genre.
The 22-year-old Winnipeg musician, who plays the role of Caid Jones, grew up on a steady diet of guitar and classic rock, but that all changed when his father gave him a copy of The Eminem show over a decade ago.
“It was love at first sight,” says Carfrae.
He played the album over and over again and eventually expanded his CD collection to include other rappers, such as Tupac, Dr. Dre, NWA, and Rakim. At 10, he became passionate about listening and researching, delving into hip hop history and the backstories of his favorite artists. Music has drawn the curtain on life as he knew it.
âHe became a great teacher for me; I learned a lot about the world and I learned a lot about society,â says Carfrae. âThere’s police corruption, there’s government corruption, gang wars, violence, povertyâ¦ my worldview before, when I was a little younger, was, ‘OK , well, the world is all rainbows and lollipops’, and once I got into hip hop it was a more authentic take on things. ”
Carfrae has since become an involved community advocate, but he hasn’t always been keen to give back.
High school was tough. He struggled with the attendance and acceptance of his classmates; there were few things he felt he was good at. It was easy to adopt the angry attitude the world is against me from idols like Eminem.
This facade, however, faded when he discovered a love and a natural talent for poetry.
He was encouraged by an English teacher to continue writing and soon Carfrae made the connection between rhyming verses and rap verses. Poetry has allowed him to participate fully in an art form that he has enjoyed until now on the fringes.
âI realized after a lesson that (my poem) sounded a bit like rap if I read it a little faster and changed a few words,â he says. âOnce I discovered hip hop there was a great sense of identity and pride as well – I can do that, it’s something I’m good at.â
He began to write every night, filling sheet after sheet of loose leaf with worms. Carfrae’s musical journey was supported by the support of his mother, stepfather and uncle, who gave him a keyboard and basic production software to start creating his own beats.
In June, he released his first EP, No distractions please. The seven-track album features a talented singer and provides insight into Carfrae’s outlook on life, beyond his years, a perspective that has been shaped by faith and learning from his own heritage.
Carfrae’s origins are Irish and Cree, but he knew little about his native background until he was 16. Her biological father was adopted and raised outside of his community without access to his culture. As an adult, he began to reconnect with his Cree roots and share what he was learning with Carfrae.
âI knew I was indigenous, but I was almost ashamed to grow upâ¦ because of the preconceptions of some people and the prejudices of some people,â says Carfrae. “Once I found my culture I was very proud.”
He immediately connected with ceremonies, the Seven Sacred Teachings, and the idea that music is medicine, not only for performers but also for listeners. He knew that was how he wanted to approach his career.
âI started to realize the true potential of power (of music) and what you can do with it if you use it right,â he says.
Thinking back to his early musical influences, Carfrae saw beyond anger and found solace in the honest expression of difficult experiences – he felt seen by Eminem’s songs about family conflicts and other rappers’ stories of systemic racism, injustice and suffering. He wanted to do the same for others, but with a positive message.
âI would rather contribute to the positive things in the world, rather than contribute to the negative,â he says. “I want to be able to have another person listen to me and find a relationship in it, not to feel so alone, not to feel like I’m the only person feeling this. That’s my goal because the music has helped me so much. ”
Carfrae approached his career with the same academic rigor that he applied to learning hip hop. He has spent countless hours researching the ins and outs of the music industry and how to market yourself as an artist. He teamed up with a local record company, Birthday Cake Media, to release No distractions please and started his own label, PayAttention Records, with a cousin and friend. The label is still in its infancy, but the partners hope to build Winnipeg’s hip-hop scene by providing a platform for BIPOC (black, Indigenous, people of color) and immigrant artists to get noticed.
Beyond music, Carfrae is involved in community outreach projects through Graffiti Gallery and CommUNITY 204. He also hosts a radio show on UMFM 101.5 called To hire! with his friend and collaborator Josue Davi, who shines a light on people and organizations that have a positive impact locally.
âI focus on the underserved, the people who have been most marginalized by colonialism and most affected by failing systems,â Carfrae said. Homelessness and substance abuse issues are a top priority, as he has seen both play out within his own family.
“Most of the time, people will overlook those (who are) … struggling with intergenerational addiction or trauma. A lot of these people just need housing, they need food security, they need food security. ‘love.”
Carfrae is currently working on a full album and collaborations with other local musicians. No distractions please is available on most major streaming platforms.