The Art of the MC [Article]
Toronto, ON – The music’s bumping and the crowd is moving deliriously to every track. As a voice echoes throughout the venue announcing its last call, you manoeuvre towards the bar, grab that last drink and make it back to the dance floor just in time to hear that same voice tell you your favourite songs about to play. ‘That voice’ is better known as the Master of Ceremonies; party starter, crowd shaker, fun instigator and promoter all wrapped in one, on a mission to make sure your night is unforgettable.
The concept of an MC transformed over the years. They used to be the voice shining light on the DJ. Today, MC’s seem to have taken on a number of combined personas as well as maintaining many of their former core roles.
“Initially, the MC was just there to compliment the DJ and I think now the MC has definitely become more of the main show over the past decade,” says MC, hypeman and DJ Ricky of Ill Kidz, who has toured across Canada with artists like Belly, among others. “I find myself being an A&R, a music director, a DJ, a host, a comedian, an actor, a road manager and now an [upcoming] artist, so I think in this day and time you’re no longer just an MC, you need to be able to fill every single role that’s around you to be completely successful.”
From keeping up with birthdays and shout-outs to dealing with equipment malfunctions and promoting the event for the night, the MC must consistently be the engaging and energetic voice of the night.
DJ Dames Nellas, whose toured Canada several times himself, says he plays the role of both DJ and MC. “With me, I go by a rule – if I’m not the livest dude in the party, then the party will not be live. The liver the dude is with the microphone, the liver the party will be because that energy is like a ripple effect, and if you’re doing the MC thing right, you’ll see that,” says Nellas. “If you get one dude paying attention, then the people he came with will pay attention. After that there’s another group watching those dudes and now they’re paying attention, so it’s just very contagious.”
Toronto rapper and MC Ashton “Famous” Bishop, who MCs every Saturday night inside Guvernment’s Orange Room, also recognizes the importance for MCs to enjoy themselves at the party or show they’re trying to make everyone else have a good experience.
“Me myself, I like to party and straight up rock the party, so however I want to feel when I’m in a club is how I make the other people feel,” he says.
Timing and flow can also make or break an MC’s night.
“You got to know when to talk and when not to talk, you got to know the music, and everything has to come naturally. The crowd can tell when you’re not being genuine,” says DJ Lancalot, a fixture in the MC scene for close to 10 years.
At times the crowd may begin to get restless or lose their energy waiting for an artist to perform, but it’s crucial for MCs to keep everyone feeling like they’re an important part of the night.
“Crowd participation is something you definitely, definitely need because if you don’t have that, you’re not a good MC, that’s the whole point,” says Lancalot. “You’re engaging people and making people react to what’s going on – whatever the DJ’s playing, whatever the girl with the red hair and the big ass looks like – you have to be an observer of all your surroundings.”
MC’s have acquired numerous tactics to help keep the waves of people all on the same page.
Famous likes to bump big anthems like Jim Jones “Ballin’” to get everyone moving and singing along, while Ricky from Ill Kidz says he does everything from having dance offs on stage, booty shaking competitions, asking the crowd questions and even telling knock-knock jokes.
“You can never give up though. You can’t just say, ‘okay I’m going to just play music and ride it’ out because that’s when you’re going to get the anxious people turning angry, so you have to stay on your toes and be creative,” he says.
Being witty, having personality and persistence are all necessary traits of a successful MC. But the secret behind some of the best MCs is their extensive knowledge of music.
“When you’re an MC you have to know all music, you can’t just know one genre. You have to know music in general. Once you know that, you’ve already beat half the battle,” says Famous. “Certain songs are key. I know what songs the girls want to hear, I know what songs a reggae crowd wants to hear, I know what songs older crowds like to hear, or even the euro crowd.”
MC’s of today have certainly stretched the definition of what it means to be a Master of Ceremonies. Loaded with inventive tasks that go far beyond screaming over a mic or introducing the next act, MCs are true artists, well-rounded showmen and improvisers, all for the sake of ensuring everyone present has a good time.
Written by Kern Carter and Melissa Sundardas for HipHopCanada
Photo of Lancalot by Melissa Moffat for HipHopCanada
Photo of Famous by Ajani Charles for HipHopCanada