Story Untold: “No Healthy Person is Seeking the Affirmation of Strangers Night After Night”

Story Untold with Matt Falk

Photo from Photo credit: Kaeleb Visram/Sea of Glass.

Matt Falk was born to do comedy. A stand-up coming from Niverville, Manitoba, Falk has been performing on stages ever since the first high school talent shows where he was handed a microphone.

“I was that kid in school who was constantly trying to get attention. I was the class clown, but the annoying class clown,” he says.

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“I think a lot of people who grow up in small towns have a chip on their shoulder about small towns, understandably so. It can be difficult. There’s no anonymity in a small town […] But for me, that really helped,” adds Falk. “You had everyone in your business, but when you’re trying to self-promote, you kinda want everyone in your business.”

Starting as a 15-year-old magician who would perform for kids at corporate parties — “I’m wearing a bright-red women’s blazer from the thrift store. It was like the brightest thing I could find, so in my mind, that was a good magician suit jacket,” says Falk — the Niverville native grew up idolizing Ellen DeGeneres and Robin Williams, memorizing their performances and adding their bits to his own sets.

“My early couple years, I stole a lot of material from other [comics],” Falk laughs. “People were like, ‘you’re really good.’ And I’m like, ‘no, they’re really good.’”

Originally, he thought he’d become a pastor, but got a feeling that he was meant for comedy instead. So it was that Falk began writing his own material, talking about growing up as a Mennonite in small-town Manitoba.

“I had this blind optimism. I never thought that there was something to overcome, or that I was somehow at a disadvantage. I was like 17 when I was getting into comedy clubs and really busting onto the comedy scene, and people were just amazed that I was so young and putting together full sentences that were funny.” – Matt Falk

“Everytime I would mention Mennonite at all onstage, it would get a huge laugh. And I didn’t even really understand why at that age. You just kind of know it’s working,” he says.

Every now and then, Falk’s background would raise an eyebrow or two.

“That’s a big question I get: how do you do comedy as a Mennonite? I never understand that question,” he laughs. “I just do.”

At 21 years old, Falk got his first big break, finishing second at the World Series of Comedy in Las Vegas.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” he says. “Just being in the competition was like, huge.”

Fresh off his success, Falk moved out to British Columbia and then Ontario, leaving the small town of 4,000 he’d called home for all of his life. At the same time, he was starting to hit his first growing pains in the industry, a challenge Falk would have to confront time and again over the coming years.

“It was only in my early twenties that I really started facing this huge crisis, because I was no longer young enough to be, like, a prodigy. I now had to be funny enough just as an adult, and that was when I really started to struggle,” he says. “The only reason you get into comedy in the first place is there’s some sort of insecurity. No healthy person is seeking the affirmation of strangers night after night. So when you go onstage and it doesn’t work, all that insecurity — the stuff that makes you a comedian, your superpower — comes back, and it turns out to be your downfall.”

“I don’t know why we have fears. I know that fear is a liar.” – Matt Falk

Now back in Niverville, Falk is able to reflect. His latest comedy album, 2017’s Generational Gaps, reached #1 on the iTunes Comedy charts, his second offering to reach the top after 2013’s Apple Pie & Scars. The self-doubt hasn’t totally left — and perhaps it never really does for any of us — but with time, he’s gained new perspective.

“Our feelings are excellent followers, but they’re horrible leaders. So often, we put them in charge of things, and they shouldn’t be in charge of things,” says Falk. “The only way to get yourself out of these things is to know your true identity. I know who I am, and who I am is not Matt Falk, the comedian. You need to know who you are, and it needs to be based off something bigger than you.”

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Story Untold: “If You’ve Never Experienced Fear and Faced It, You’re Not Living”

Story Untold with Hilaree Nelson O'Neill

Dubbed one of the most adventurous women in the world of sports by Outside magazine and “the matriarch of mountaineering” by the Seattle Times, Hilaree Nelson O’Neill has seen her fair share of expeditions. Born in the Pacific Northwest, Nelson O’Neill has piled up a list of accomplishments over a 20-year career that would put her in the conversation with the most seasoned of adventurers.

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In 2017, she reached the summit of India’s Mt. Papsura, a 6,451-metre peak known in local lore as the “Peak of Evil” — a mountain that, next to its twin of Dharamsura (the “Peak of Good”), changes in height according to how much good or evil exists in the world at any given moment, so the story goes. Making matters more difficult, she and her climbing partners descended by skis once they reached the top.

“It’s a solid 55-degree pitch, and you’ve got maybe a millimetre of this crunchy snow on top of blue ice, and you’re in this whiteout — a total whiteout,” she says. “You can’t even tell the blue ice from the places where there are snow, and you know that there’s this bottomless pit below you that just wants to eat you up and spit you out.”

“You know that there’s this bottomless pit below you that just wants to eat you up and spit you out.” – Hilaree Nelson O’Neill

Nelson O’Neill would be recognized by National Geographic as one of the publication’s 2018 Adventurers of the Year for the feat, hardly the first in her list of accomplishments. In 2012, she became the first woman to climb two 8,000-metre peaks in 24 hours, summiting Mt. Everest and Lhotse while dealing with two torn ligaments in her ankle.

“It was freezing cold. If you took your goggles off, your eyeballs would freeze,” says Nelson O’Neill.

For most people, a trek to the top of Everest would stand as the pinnacle of accomplishment and adventure. For Nelson O’Neill, it’s practically a footnote. Perhaps her greatest story of all is that of her failed trip to Myanmar’s Hkakabo Razi, a remote peak believed to be the tallest in Southeast Asia. She went on the expedition in 2014, looking for a “classic adventure” after the commercialized experience on Everest.

“We thought that it would be a really great idea to craft this as an old-fashioned expedition, which meant we went overland all the way from the main city, Yangon — which is way in the south of Myanmar — and we travelled some 1,000 miles before we even got to where we started walking,” says Nelson O’Neill.

“We had one or two pictures of the peak from a Japanese guy that had climbed there in the mid-nineties, but we weren’t even sure that they were photos of the actual mountain. So it was incredibly difficult to plan. All of the logistics were so loose, and we had to be really ready for things to not quite go as we expected.”

“I really just love pushing myself and getting in those situations, and it hasn’t abated as of yet.” – Hilaree Nelson O’Neill

True to form, things did not go as expected. The team encountered setback after setback on the way and were running critically low on food supplies by the time they arrived at base camp. A series of arguments nearly threatened to fracture the fragile bonds of the team, and the group of five became a group of three for the final push to the summit, one which ultimately had to be called off.

“I almost quit my life of expedition athlete after that expedition,” she says.

Now four years later, Nelson O’Neill can look back on the adventure and laugh.

“You have to have a mindset where you go in with the expectation that things are going to go as you planned, but the flexibility and the relaxedness to adapt, and change, and laugh at things,” she says.

O’Neill has also learned to live with the threat of danger that comes with each expedition.“We all have fears,” she says, “and it can be so debilitating, but if you’ve never experienced fear and faced it … you’re not living. I remind myself of that all the time. It is that fear that we should be seeking out, that we should looking for, in order to enrich our lives.”

Photo from Hilaree Nelson O’Neill via Facebook. Subscribe to Story Untold Podcast on: iTunes | Google Play | Stitcher

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Story Untold: “Anything Is Possible, Really”

Story Untold with Mario Rigby

For all the planning that went into walking across Africa, Mario Rigby realized the enormity of his task at 30,000 feet in the air, en route from Toronto to Cape Town via Amsterdam. The Turks and Caicos-born personal trainer and amateur explorer was about to embark on a two-year journey from South Africa to Egypt, travelling 12,000 kilometres by foot.

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“I was thinking, ‘what the hell am I doing?’” Rigby laughs. “It became real.”

Inspired by the great explorers of history and aiming to follow the human migrational trail through Africa, Rigby — a former track and field athlete — had packed up his life in Toronto with a plan to travel solo through eight countries, accomplishing a feat last completed in the 19th Century.

“I wanted to experience everything that there is to experience about humanity,” says Rigby.

Having spent his adolescent years in Turks and Caicos and Germany before moving to Canada, Rigby recalls the stories his stepfather would tell from his travels in the military, leaving him and his brother wide-eyed with wonder.

“He would always show me and my brother pictures of him going on these crazy adventures where’s holding down a crocodile or skiing down the sand dunes. You can imagine how cool that must have been for a son looking up to his dad,” he says. “So it was always kind of in my blood to experience that.”

Before setting off to walk across Africa, however, Rigby first had to learn how to pitch a tent and walk for hours on end. At 29, he had never camped in his life.

“I actually started by pitching my tent at [Toronto’s High Park]. You’re not allowed to camp in the park, but I decided what the heck, I’m just going to go there,” he laughs. The rain was moving sideways, and I still decided to go with it, because I figured there were going to be worse conditions [on the expedition].”

“I quickly learned that being fit isn’t the strongest requirement for this sort of [expedition]; it’s more about willpower, survival skills, and people skills.” – Mario Rigby

Rigby planned a walk from Toronto to Hamilton as preparation. Through blistered feet and long days in the sun, he built on his endurance.

“I decided to go at it in one shot. I was wearing completely the wrong kind of shoes; I had the wrong backpack… everything was wrong,” says Rigby. “It took me about 15 hours.”

Still, he was undeterred. He followed his Hamilton trek with a journey from Toronto to Montreal by foot, and by November of 2015, he was ready. Rigby would walk from Cape Town to Cairo, testing his stamina and meeting hundreds of Africans along the way, hearing their stories. On November 24th, he began — striking out from Cape of Good Hope and following the coast of South Africa towards Mozambique, a stretch of the journey that would take a year in itself.

In hindsight, the 6’3” Rigby looks back on the early days of the trek and laughs at his unpreparedness — or rather, his overpreparedness.

“I had a machete and a whole bunch of weird survival stuff with me — unnecessary things. Like, who carries a machete with them? I think I had two pocket knives and a big knife,” he says. “I kept fantasizing what position I would put myself in if a lion attacked me.”

Rigby learned to feed himself off the snails and prawns that would cross his path, snaring crayfish with traps made from onion sacks. The self-described extrovert would often spend hours alone before encountering others on his path.

“I think people get kindness. They understand that ‘okay, this guy is a little bit crazy, but he doesn’t mean harm.’ I think people can read that really well, no matter what culture or tribe you’re from.” – Mario Rigby

“I really learned how to become my best friend, in a sense,” he says.

Rigby’s trek wasn’t without its share of danger. In Mozambique, he found himself in the middle of gunfire between soldiers and rebels while crossing the Save River. He had been picked up by the soldiers to cross the bridge in their truck, told it was too risky to make the crossing by foot.

“You could see cars on either side of you burning, buses burning, trucks burning, villages burning. It was so surreal,” says Rigby. “All of a sudden, we hear three gunshots: boom, boom, boom. The truck stops. You’re like, ‘this can’t be happening.’ Bullets are flying around, and I’m just in the back of the truck, cursing and swearing.”

In Malawi, he decided to cross the country by kayak, traveling the length of Lake Malawi — the world’s ninth largest lake, and one which makes up the country’s eastern border. After repeatedly being declined by the rental shops in Monkey Bay, he managed to convince two South Africans to lend him their kayak after a day of drinking.

“All of a sudden, we hear three gunshots: boom, boom, boom. The truck stops. You’re like, ‘this can’t be happening.’ Bullets are flying around, and I’m just in the back of the truck, cursing and swearing.” – Mario Rigby

“Everyone laughed at me, because I had never kayaked before,” says Rigby. “I remember, I docked my kayak on this island one time […] I put my foot in the water, and when I [looked at it], it was covered completely in leeches. Tiny, little leeches. I actually yelled out loud — as loud as I could.”

In Malawi, he was also handcuffed and thrown in jail, accused of being an illegal immigrant or a foreign spy. Altogether, he would be arrested seven times in three countries — an experience that still couldn’t sully Rigby’s appreciation for the kindness of people he met along the way.

“I think people get kindness,” he says. “They understand that ‘okay, this guy is a little bit crazy, but he doesn’t mean harm.’ I think people can read that really well, no matter what culture or tribe you’re from.”

Rigby finally arrived at his final destination at the pyramids of Giza in January of 2018, 26 months after taking his first step. He plans to write a book about his travels, and the next few months of his calendar are filled with speaking engagements around the world.

“You realize that anything is really possible,” he says. “Anything you touch or think of, you can make it reality.”

His love and appreciation for humanity has broadened, too:

“You realize how similar we all are. We all come from the same fundamental background.”

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Story Untold: “We’re Interesting Creatures, Sometimes”

Story Untold with Eric Koreen

Eric Koreen has a job most sports fans would only dream of: covering the Toronto Raptors for a living. For the past decade, Koreen’s columns for the National Post, VICE Sports, and The Athletic have earned him a loyal following amongst basketball fans — both for his insight and his occasionally irreverent approach.

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From his pioneering of the #DrakeOrNoDrake hashtag at Raptors homegames to the smiling Nenê picture that has become a near-fixture of his Twitter presence, Koreen’s approach to sportswriting evokes a constant reminder: at the end of the day, it’s basketball — it should be fun.

It’s a perspective the Toronto-based writer has gained over years of practice, ever since landing at the National Post at just 21 years old.

“I think then, I was a bit naive. I basically went into journalism because my brother had gone into it, and I didn’t have a better idea of what to do, except that I didn’t want to be in school for eight years,” says Koreen.

A graduate of the journalism program at Ryerson University, Koreen landed at the paper after cutting his teeth at the Canadian Press, filling the box scores and standings that would make up the back page of most newspapers’ sports sections.

“The hours were basically 6:00pm-1:00am or 5:00pm to midnight, and I was still on a school schedule,” says Koreen. “I was in the same newsroom as Lori Ewing, and Donna Spencer, and Dan Ralph, and Chris Johnson, and Shi Davidi, and many others. And I was fortunate to get to know them as a 19 and 20-year-old.”

It wasn’t long after that the National Post was looking to expand its sports section, and the editor, Jim Bray, took a chance on Koreen. After missing out on landing the Raptors assignment on his first try, the position came open a few months later, and Koreen ended up getting it.

“It was scary. I think it definitely took a few years before I felt like I was writing like myself — whatever that can be defined as — instead of being a pale imitation of [other writers],” he says. “Chris Bosh needed to leave and they needed to get really bad before I could find my voice.”

Thrust into the NBA in his early twenties and face-to-face with athletes he’d grown up watching as a teenager, there were a few hiccups along the way.

“I remember telling [Caron Butler] that I had just traded for him in fantasy for Jason Kidd,” Koreen laughs. “In hindsight, that was unprofessional and I wish I didn’t do that.”

The run at the National Post lasted until 2016, when Postmedia, the paper’s parent company, made a reported 90 editorial cuts in newsrooms across the country. The chain was merging the sports departments of the Post and the Toronto Sun, and after a decade at the paper, Koreen found himself on the outside looking in.

The changes came as the Raptors were in the midst of a franchise-best season and three weeks away from hosting the NBA All-Star Weekend. After months of freelancing, Koreen found a new home with The Athletic — a subscription-based sports media startup that launched in Chicago and has since spread to 15 professional sports cities across the United States and Canada.

“Had The Athletic not come along, I don’t know what I would have ended up doing. I knew freelancing wasn’t sustainable for my personality type,” he says.

These days, Koreen finds himself in the midst of another historic Raptors season, covering a team with a genuine shot at an NBA Finals appearance. Led by a duo of all-stars in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and backed by a supporting cast of fan favourites, excitement in Toronto is at an all-time high. The self-described introvert has no shortage of stories to tell.

“Despite not loving talking to people, we’re interesting creatures, sometimes,” he says. “I wish Masai Ujiri would still swear and curse, though.”

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Let’s Make Our Roads Safer for Everyone

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I’ve been buzzed while cycling more times than I can count. Spend enough time on a bicycle in Waterloo Region and you’re likely to have experienced it, too: the near-misses between passing cars, the drivers who hang onto every inch of pavement on the road. For a community that prides itself on forward-thinking and innovation, the truth of the matter is this: when it comes to getting around, people on bicycles are often treated as second-class citizens—never mind what Kitchener’s, Waterloo’s, and Cambridge’s Bicycle Friendly Community designations would like you to believe.

To ride a bicycle in Waterloo Region is to be at times encouraged and other times exasperated by the pace of change in our cities, where oversights and missed opportunities pop up on our roads as frequently as the potholes that follow a February thaw. For every two steps forward, we can’t seem to help but move one step backward—a chain that keeps falling off with each pedal stroke.

Anyone looking for Waterloo’s newly-introduced protected bike lanes on King Street—one of the biggest selling points of a redesigned uptown streetscape after months of road construction—will find a row of parked cars instead. Two of Kitchener-Waterloo’s most vital arteries for pedestrian and bicycle traffic—the Iron Horse Trail and Spur Line Trail—lack virtually any signed or protected street crossings, with cyclists and pedestrians forced to wait at busy four-lane roads for a chance to play George Costanza in Seinfeld‘s ‘Frogger’ episode. We’ve seen dozens of shared-lane markings (or ‘sharrows’) painted on city streets, only to realize that nobody really likes them—not even the cyclists they supposedly protect.

“Right now, we’re still hodgepodge—a bike lane here, a bike lane there. And it’s great when you’re on those bike lanes, but then those bike lanes end after 200 metres or a couple kilometres,” says Graham Roe, co-owner of Berlin Bicycle Cafe and one of the cycling advocates who lobbied for the protected lanes uptown. “As cyclists, we’re still in the gutters.”

It’s enough to make you ask: how did we get here?

It’s not as though our city councils are blind to the issue. The City of Waterloo’s plan for a high priority network is a direct acknowledgement of what so many riders have been asking for: a minimum active grid focused on improving the uptown core. In Kitchener, city council is nearly halfway through a 20-year cycling master plan aimed at expanding its on-road cycling and trail network. Just this past year, Cambridge introduced a two-kilometre multi-use trail along Conestoga Blvd.

These are promising signs of councils that want to do the right thing, but it’s not enough: Kitchener’s spending on bicycle-friendly infrastructure last year was barely 1 per cent of what it spent on road reconstruction and resurfacing in 2015 alone. A 20-year plan is a nice sentiment to share, but what about right now?

“People prioritize the motor vehicle. That’s the design of the fifties—we’re still stuck in that mode of designing our cities around the automobile,” says Roe. “I could blame the motorists, but I don’t. I blame the system.”

The end result is a series of improvements that our cities seem to view more as gifts to be given praise for than investments in a safer, healthier community. After all, cycling may be an annoyance to some drivers, but to those who get around on two wheels, the difference between good and bad infrastructure can be one of life and death.

“Bike lanes save lives, because they create separation between drivers and cyclists. But other studies are showing that cycling has effects on cancer, and mental health, and chronic health issues,” says Robin Mazumder, a University of Waterloo PhD candidate researching the psychological effects of urban environments. “I see politicians talking about how they want healthy cities, and I’m like, give me a break. Build some bike lanes. What more do you need?”

If we truly want to prioritize active transportation, then let’s do it right. Let’s give our cyclists and drivers alike what they both want and build our streets for both of them, keeping them separate whenever possible. The research bears this out: the City of Portland did a study into cycling habits in 2016 and found that of all potential riders, nearly two-thirds are interested in getting around by bicycle but have concerns about their safety. A University of Waterloo report in 2015 found that the two greatest barriers to cycling uptown were a lack of bike lanes and traffic worries.

The interest is there, but the infrastructure is failing us.

“In Netherlands, Denmark, even in Montreal… they’ve all figured this out. It’s not rocket science,” says Roe. “As long as vehicles can go 50 to 70 kilometres an hour, you can’t share that with a bicycle.”

It’s not as if we’re without precedent in Canada: Calgary—yes, sprawling, car-friendly Calgary—went down this road in 2015 by introducing a downtown grid of protected bike lanes and has seen a 40 per cent uptick in bicycle trips in and out of the downtown core since the lanes have gone in. Sidewalk cycling—one of the biggest indicators of poor cycling infrastructure and a leading cause in bicycle-involved collisions—dropped from 16 per cent to just two per cent. In Ottawa and Gatineau, over 50 kilometres of parkway roads are closed to vehicles on summer Sunday mornings for bicycle, rollerblade, and pedestrian traffic—a tradition that has lasted since 1970. Change is possible.

Mazumder knows this firsthand. While living in Edmonton—another Alberta city better known for car culture than bicycle commuting—he joined a group of cycling advocates in successfully introducing a pop-up bike lane in the city’s downtown.

“My first year in Edmonton, I didn’t ride my bike, because I was terrified. I didn’t think it was possible,” he says.

Taking a page from a similar project in Minneapolis, the group worked with the city to install a series of pylons and flowerpots spanning ten city blocks, creating a makeshift bike lane for a span of two hours.

“It [was] a way for residents to experience something tangible. For the people that might have had an issue with a bike lane in their community, they can see what it would actually be like,” says Mazumder. “When you’re opposed to it, all you see is something that’s going to create traffic problems. And it also gave the cyclists something to see: this is what it could be like biking on a street with a bike lane.”

Today, that bike lane has become permanent. Since then, the city has launched an entire downtown grid.

“In less than two hours, we were able to communicate something [and] show people what it could be like. Politicians came out to it, and they ended up re-prioritizing their budget,” says Mazumder. “I never would have thought that was possible.”

Better bike infrastructure isn’t just about safety—although safety should be reason enough. It isn’t just about creating healthier communities or lessening the burden on our environment—although it does that, too. Better bike infrastructure is good for business. One of the biggest “what ifs” bike lane opponents hold onto is the potential loss of business from less parking in our downtown cores, but the numbers suggest the opposite is true. The same University of Waterloo report surveyed shoppers in Uptown Waterloo and found that those who travel by active and public transit make more trips and spend over twice as much as those who drive there.

The arguments against spending on cycling are wearing thin. It’s been done elsewhere and has been proven to work. It promotes a healthy, active community while minimizing pollution. It’s good for business, and it puts the focus on keeping all of us safe—not on finger-pointing between drivers and cyclists over who’s at fault and whose behaviour needs improving.

“I think there’s a lot of hope here,” says Roe. “We have a small city; we can make changes much quicker than a larger city like Toronto can. If we can put protected bike lanes on King Street, there’s no excuse that we can’t put them on every single road that we need them on.”

We’ve been innovators before, ready to champion new ideas. Let’s embrace an idea that makes sense for all of us—not just in the short-term, but in the long-term, too.

This is an extended version of an op-ed from the Waterloo Region Record on Saturday, March 24th, 2018.


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Story Untold: “In the End, It’s All Artistic Expression”

Story Untold with Chali 2na

Chali 2na is a born storyteller. Gifted with one of the most iconic voices in the history of hip-hop — a deep, rich baritone that rides over the groove and pulls you in with gravitational force — the Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli emcee breaks into a smile as he begins to tell his greatest story of all: the story of his life.

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Born Charles Stewart, the Chicago-born wordsmith rose to fame in the late 1990s and early 2000s with Jurassic 5 as part of a wave of alternative hip-hop groups coming out of Los Angeles. He has performed all over the world, reaching Gold status in the United Kingdom for the group’s 1998 debut album. His first love, though, was breakdancing and graffiti.

“Living in Chicago, we didn’t know too many people who were involved in the culture yet, and Chicago was house music central … we were trying to be little outsider kinda cats, so when hip-hop came, it was that outlet,” he says. “The pursuit of that outlet led us to the North side, and we met some of the craziest breakdance cats on Earth.”

2na remembers Chicago’s South Side as a place filled with gangs and drugs in the mid-to-late 1970s — influences he sought to avoid and found an escape from in hip-hop.

“It was easy to just get sucked into that – especially where I [grew up]. So to have something that I was able to occupy my time with that was creative, it was something that drove me,” says 2na.

“Living in Chicago, we didn’t know too many people who were involved in the culture yet, and Chicago was house music central … we were trying to be little outsider kinda cats, so when hip-hop came, it was that outlet.” – Chali 2na

When “Rapper’s Delight” came out in 1979, 2na recalls his entire school memorizing the lyrics. Half a country removed from the epicentre of it all, he would visit the library in Chicago to read up on the growth of the culture in New York City: breakdancing, graffiti, music, you name it.

“Whatever [hip-hop culture] was associated with, we’d go and try to suss out where that is,” he says. “Oh, I heard the graffiti writers’ corner is this train station. It was like a treasure hunt, man, and I loved that.”

When 2na’s family picked up and moved to Los Angeles, he carried a piece of his hometown with him, tagging building walls with the moniker ‘Chicago 1000’ — a nod to the legendary New York-based street artist Futura 2000.

“I figured if he’s 2000, I’ll be 1000,” says 2na. “So that was my form of rebellion at the time: tagging ‘Chicago’ all over LA.”

Los Angeles opened his eyes to an entirely new world of hip-hop culture, where groups like the Souls of Mischief and Pharcyde would soon make a name for themselves. At the centre of it all was a health food store at the corner of Crenshaw Blvd and Exposition Blvd that held a weekly open mic night drawing artists from all over the city: the Good Life Cafe. On Thursday nights, the place would fill with listeners and artists could sign up to perform one song. It served as a trial by fire for many artists, as the crowd wouldn’t hesitate to interrupt a poor performance.

“They had a chant: ‘please pass the mic.’ They would chant; they wouldn’t let you finish [your performance]; the plug would get pulled on you; all kind of stuff.” – Chali 2na

“You’d try to see if you could strategically place your name and hope that they get to you. You didn’t want to be first, but you didn’t want to be last; you wanted to be somewhere in the middle where [the venue] is packed,” says 2na. “They had a chant: ‘please pass the mic.’ They would chant; they wouldn’t let you finish [your performance]; the plug would get pulled on you; all kind of stuff.”

It was there that Jurassic 5 began — a fusion between two groups at the time: Rebels of Rhythm and the Unity Committee. It started as a collaboration on one song, “Unified Rebelution,” which the group debuted on a Thursday night.

“Nobody saw it coming — at all,” says 2na. “We [acted] like we were showing up as usual and just coming to the Good Life to chill and watch; we didn’t tell [anybody] we were going to perform. [So then they say], ‘Okay, so next we got… I guess a new person; I’ve never heard of this one before. Unified Rebelution. Unified Rebelution, y’all in the house?’ All of us got up on the stage, and everybody was like “OHHH S–T.” We did “Unified Rebelution”, and the rest is history.”

So began a four-album run that would carry 2na and Jurassic 5 around the world, reaching as high as #15 on the Billboard 200 chart. 2na continues to tour and release music to this day, having put out a solo studio album in 2009 and four EPs since 2012.

“This is something that we stumbled on, and for people to hold it so dear to their hearts is amazing to me. I’m honoured to be a part of that,” he says.

This interview is originally from a 2013 conversation in London, Ontario for The Come Up ShowSubscribe to Story Untold Podcast on: iTunes | Google Play | Stitcher

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Story Untold: “The World’s Not as Big as People Think”

Story Untold with Spencer Conway

Many dream of seeing the world. Spencer Conway has done it from atop a motorcycle. Since leaving his job as an English teacher behind at the age of 41, the Biddenden, Kent resident has logged over 100,000 kilometres on his Yamaha XT-660 Tenere, circumnavigating Africa and South America — becoming the first person to complete the Africa bike trek solo.

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He’s traversed deserts and jungles, enduring mud roads and sandstorms while raising over £25,000 for Save the Children. He’s also been through some of the least-travelled places in the world over the past decade, surviving crashes and even a near-fatal shooting crossing the border between Kenya and Somalia — a place, says Conway, where he came across a training ground for pirates:

“They just turned around and started shooting an AK-47. It took off the back tire; got a bullet hole through the swing-arm; the brake caliper exploded, went through my arm, came out the other side; fell off, broke three ribs. [I] jumped back on the bike, but I had no tire; it was gone. I just had the rim … the police later told me that they must have run out of bullets.”

In South America, Conway endured bullet ants and serious illness.

“I rode for 14 days with man flu — that’s what they call it over here,” he says. “I had malaria. I ended up collapsing in the streets, and then I was in hospital … and then straight after that, [my girlfriend] got blood poisoning, and she was in hospital for a month. On these long trips, you’ve just got to take it as it comes.”

Conway’s travel method is unorthodox: he carries no GPS, no phone, and no maps.

“It was a way of seeing [something different],” he says. “If you follow [the same routes as everyone], you always end up in the same places as everyone else.”

He’s also encountered his share of roadblocks. Just 200 kilometres from his destination in Colombia, Conway was denied at the Venezuela border and had to take a 12,500 kilometre detour to finish his trip around South America. In Africa, he waited at the Angola border for 36 days before he was allowed to cross.

“A lot of riders make the mistake of living in their speed,” says Conway. “You’ve got to respect other people’s way of life.”

His expeditions have been featured on the Travel Channel, broadcast to over 130 countries and territories. As Conway tells it, his taste for adventure has always been there.

“My father worked for overseas development, so we moved all over the world,” he says. “I was brought up in Kenya up until I was six and then Swaziland in Southern Africa until university, and then I came over to England. But we always travelled, and I rode motorbikes from a young age.”

His next goal is an even bigger one.

“My main aim is to become the first person to circumnavigate every continent in the world over the next ten years,” says Conway. “As long as you’ve got water, fuel, and a tent, the world’s not as big as people think.”

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