Hip-hop lives on the Rock

Hip-hop music has never been the most popular genre in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Joshua Roberts of HipHopShopNL and Brandon Paul of the newly-formed HipHopNL both aim to change that.

James Piercey


Joshua Roberts at his home studio
Joshua Roberts is both an artist and entrepreneur. He hopes to increase the popularity of rap music in St. John’s through his business HipHopShopNL. James Piercey/Kicker

St. John’s has been a longstanding hotbed of traditional Celtic music and indie rock. But hip-hop?

In spite of rap’s international popularity, the city has not been known for its hip-hop community, despite generating several talented artists in the genre.

Joshua Roberts, owner of HipHopShopNL and Brandon Paul, owner of HipHopNL, are two young entrepreneurs trying to give local hip-hop artists a larger platform. Both men are hip-hop artists in addition to promoters who intend to use the companies they own to promote local hip-hop to a wider audience.

HipHopShopNL is a non-profit, community-based organization, or, as Roberts says, “an industry of its own within the hip-hop community of our province.” HipHopNL is an organization that aims to “increase awareness locally, nationally and internationally of provincially produced Urban/Hip-Hop music,” according to its recently released mandate.

Roberts and Paul are close personal friends with plans to collaborate in the future. Their organizations are both relatively young, with HipHopShopNL forming in June and HipHopNL announcing its formation on Oct. 28.

Most important, both of their organizations have a similar goal: to increase the size of Newfoundland hip-hop’s platform.

Roberts says that he can provide the tools, but it’s still up to the artists to use them.

“We want to give artists the basics of the industry,” Roberts said. “How do I secure distribution for my project? Where do I go for funding? My goal is to put every hip-hop artist in our community in a position to succeed, but they’ll still need to take the next step.”

According to Roberts, local hip-hop artists need to understand the importance of hard work.

“This is a job,” said Roberts. “If I get a job at McDonalds, I’ll be a cashier forever unless I work hard and push. This is a passion, and I can honestly say that it saved my life, but if you want to succeed it’s no different (from) any other job.”

Roberts doesn’t seem to be aiming to make local rappers successful as much as he aims to put them in a position where they can make themselves successful. Ultimately, it will be their own hard work and talent that determines their fortunes.

“I’m really passionate about creating positive energy around our local scene where everyone feels included,” Roberts said. “We’d like to give everyone a chance and see what they do with it.”

When it comes to providing local artists with a platform, this vision is shared by Paul for HipHopNL.

“It’s a shame, because there’s so much quality rap music being put out in this province and it’s just going under the radar,” said Paul.

A business mindset for hip-hop

However, much like Roberts, Paul says that for local rap artists to become successful, they’ll need to work hard alongside both HipHopShopNL and HipHopNL.

“We need to give these artists a business mindset,” Paul said.

It is quite clear that Roberts and Paul are both approaching their goals with such a mindset. HipHopShopNL is sponsored by Mary Jane’s, while HipHopNL is in talks with several prominent local businesses about sponsorships.

“You go to any other music festival here, and you see Bud Light, Quidi Vidi Brewery or whatever. We need to make the local hip-hop scene feel like it’s official.”

If both of these young men work as hard as they seem willing to, there could be significant results.

“We’re hoping to organize bigger shows, host workshops, and maybe even do our own award show,” said Paul.

Ask either about the future, and the excitement is palpable

“I won’t say too much, but I’m very excited about what’s coming,”  Roberts said, with visible enthusiasm. “Keep an eye out for a tour and hopefully some sponsorships soon.”

“Keep watch in 2021. HipHopNL is about to take over,” asserts an equally excited Paul.

As each man is eager to mention, it will have to start with hard work.


  1. “I grew up listening to NWA and Tupac and now Kendrick Lamar and Donald Glover,” James said, name-checking hip-hop artists who are far removed from any pantheon that would include Nugent in its ranks. “You listen to Sam Cooke talk about ‘change is gonna come’ — well, what kind of change? We ve been talking about this for generations, and the politicians that we continue to send back to Lansing and Washington have done precious little to fix the situation that we find ourselves in right now as a people.”

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