There are those strange people out there who sail through life with absolutely no desire to listen to music. For whatever reason, they just haven't made a connection with one of our society's most pervasive forms of cultural expression. Hip hop artist Daniel Bennett-- also known by the name Transit-- was one of those people.
"Well, I always had music shoved down my throat. I come from a really classical music family and I never really connected with music," he says. "In fact, I used to never listen to music. I hated it because it represented lessons and getting forced into stuff I didn't want to do, and I said I'd never make music."
That all changed in grade three. Bennett stumbled across the forbidden genre of hip hop and made some big sacrifices to get access to it.
"I started sneaking in hip hop tapes to my room because my family is ultra conservative, I wouldn't have permission-- stuff like Eminem and Maestro," he recounts. "One day, I traded my lunch for a Maestro Fresh Wes mixtape in grade three and I didn't eat all day. I came home and listened to that mix tape and it really hit me that it was my music. It just became a means of expression throughout growing up. Whenever I'd be frustrated I'd just write out lyrics."
Since then, the unconventional Victoria native has set about building up his live show and his record catalog. Since his move to Calgary in 2007, he has released two albums, including his latest LP, Insufficient Funds, which dropped at the end of September.
Bennett has preoccupied himself with standing out. Though Eminem was an influence while growing up, Bennett rejects the emphasis on violence, misogyny and cash that have become mainstays of mainstream hip hop, as he pursues a different direction.
"People call it emo-hop, but I mean, it's just good music," he says. "The thing that sucks, though, is that you have to use these little words that you don't necessarily agree with just because every time I tell someone I'm a rapper or an MC, they just assume, 'Oh this guy's a wigger' or 'This guy is trying to be a gangster.' . . . I have to use these words that I don't want to use, like 'indie.' What does that even mean? It just means you don't have a record label. But it's just a way to let people know that you're not going to be talking about guns."
Bennett obviously wants to get his music to as many people as he can, but he's not hung up on signing the infamous record deal. Though signing a deal and getting radio play used to be the go-to way of making it big in music, Bennett has different ideas.
"Getting signed is kind of a mythical thing nowadays," he says. "My goal is to keep developing tours-- I just want to be able to travel around and pack places out. Right now, I can do B.C. and Alberta fine, but I haven't been out east. The next step is to just keep making music and touring, and once I'm out of school I'll be able to go a little bit harder with it."
His efforts are paying off. In December of 2009, Bennett added DJ Crosswalk, a.k.a. Jonathon Williams, to his live performances.
"I used to have to bend over and play the beats on my iPod," laughs Bennett.
He achieved another wave of momentum this summer with the release of a single.
"It's crazy because no one used to listen to my stuff. My first two years of being here I had one show, and now all of a sudden I came out with my "Not for Clubs" song and the next thing I know, I have like 20 shows in July and August. That's what's crazy. You never know what a couple months can do."
Bennett is currently in school studying behavioural sciences and is dead-set on working with youth once he finishes his program. He is on track to achieve that goal with his involvement in an initiative that mixes different aspects of his education and musical interests.
"I had to do a practicum for my program and I went into [The Boys and Girls Club], because I saw they had a basketball program, because that's what I used to be really into," he explains. "They saw on my resume interests that I was into hip hop and they told me that they had this studio just donated from the government. We started this program up and it's free studio time for any kids who want to drop in and make music. At first it was kind of slow going, but now we've got a solid core of kids who will come every week and they're recording their own albums, it's awesome."
With his volunteering and engagement with youth, maybe Bennett will affect a child the same way that Maestro Fresh Wes mixtape affected him, though the way the music industry is changing, it probably won't involve a cassette.