If you love hip hop then don’t miss out on the second annual Festival de Hip Hop Montreal. This year’s line up boasts big names from Quebec, France and the states.

The festival kicked off Thursday, March 28th with the always popular Hip Hop Karaoke at Le Belmont on Saint Laurent.

Tonight (Friday) you can choose between American underground hip hop legend Talib Kweli, a lyrical genius well known for his politically insightful prose, and French break-dancer-turned-incredibly-successful-rapper Booba. Then, if you’re still game, you can head over to Cabaret Underworld for the after party and showcase Latino featuring Agua Negro and Ghetto Youths.

Saturday don’t miss Quebequois rapper Manu Militari who will showcase some tracks from his latest album, Maree Humaine.

Sunday you can get local with Rap D’icite and then Monday Southern California rappers Pac Div close down the festival.

For times, venues, tickets and info go to mtlhhf.com

While hip hop artists have pushed socially conscious messages since the 1980’s, the issue of homophobia in hip hop and rap has been largely ignored—until recently.

One artist who takes issue with homophobia in the genre is Ben Haggerty, a.k.a. Macklemore. In his new song “Same Love,” off the upcoming album “The Heist” co-produced with Ryan Lewis, Macklemore compares homophobia with oppression and human rights abuses. And the issue is one very close to his heart: growing up, he had two gay uncles and spent a great deal of time with the gay community.

The video for the song, produced by Tricia Davis, paints a picture of a teenager suffering from being in the closet in high school, but who grows up to find a loving partner whom he marries and spends the rest of his life with.

Earlier this year, Macklemore’s home state of Washington made same sex marriage legal by enacting the bipartisan Senate Bill 6239, which “would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony.”

However, same-sex marriage opponents are hoping to stop these marriages from ever starting by putting the law to a vote this November. Referendum 74, if it fails at the ballot, would send Washington State back to being one which prohibits equal marriage, like most American states. Only six states—Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia and two Native American tribal jurisdiction—allow same sex marriage.

Macklemore, along with a group of artists including the Canadian indie-folk duo Tegan and Sara, has volunteered for a campaign called Music for Marriage Equality, which advocates for a yes vote on Referendum 74.

“[Gay people are] the one group of people that are still okay to oppress on a daily basis in raps and no one really talks about it, and that’s discouraging, and something that needs to change,” said Macklemore on a video posted to the organization’s website.

Homophobic slurs like “faggot” and “gay” run rampant in hip hop, with artists like Snoop Dogg, Eminem and Odd Future’s Tyler the Creator “spitting” them frequently. However as of late, the tide appears to be changing.

Earlier this year when singer-songwriter Frank Ocean said his first love was a man, a huge discussion around homophobia in hip hop began.

Many of the industry’s giants showed support for Ocean through blogs or Twitter, with Nicki Minaj adding that the time is now right for an openly gay rapper to hit the scene.

A new video by California rapper Murs for his song “Animal Style,” shows the rapper playing a gay teen who *spoiler* kills his boy-crush due to the immense societal pressure of coming out of the closet.

“I just felt it was crucial for some of us in the hip hop community to speak up on the issues of teen suicide, bullying, and the overall anti-homosexual sentiment that exist within hip hop culture,” Murs said to the Huffington Post.

“Hip hop is really kind of the anchoring point in our culture for people to commune and talk about certain issues in our society,” said Marc Peters, professor of the class “Hip Hop: Past Present and Future” at Concordia University.

“Hip hop is not all social and political in nature,” Peters adds. “Like all entertainers, there is an element of sheer entertainment involved and that has to be recognized and accepted as well.”

Neither Murs nor Macklemore stick solely to promoting gay rights or even socially conscious messages. For instance, Macklemore’s new song “Thrift Shop” glorifies vintage clothing while Murs brawls with WWE wrestler John Cena in his 2008 video “Hustle.” But being conscious some of the time, at least, can be beneficial to the youth that are influenced by these artists.

“I’m just gonna freestyle and spit what’s in my gut, and if you want to you can go and label me ‘conscious’, but just remember there’s a kid at the bus stop beat boxing, whose life will be affected by what he hears in his walkman,” Macklemore raps in his song “I Said Hey”.

And it might also affect the outcome of a referendum.

Macklemore will hold an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit this Monday Oct. 8 at 8:00 AM PST where he will answer questions from the public.

*Photo of Ocean by activioslo via Flickr.

The concert on October 20th at Club Soda represented more than just a hip-hop show, it represented the unification of two collectives and their loyal fan-bases.

The first block consisted of several members from the Smoker’s Club, including Curren$y, Smoke DZA, Fiend, Corner Boy P, and a surprise appearance by Trademark da Skydiver and Young Roddy (maybe in order to make up for the last-minute cancellation of Big K.R.I.T.). If several of those names, or God-forbid all of them, mean nothing to you, then you probably don’t smoke weed multiple times a day.

Naturally, with the thousands of flyers handed out and later converted into joint filters, the stoners of Montreal wandered their way over to Club Soda to pay the “reasonable” cover charge of $65 (edit: the dealers of Montreal).

But amidst all the permanently-red eyed Smoker’s Club fans, a larger crowd came in droves, adorned with flat-billed caps, chain necklaces, and Wu-Tang long-tees. Yes, the second half of the show was dedicated to the uncompromised star of How High, the Wackness, Soul Plane, and Garden State: Method Man.

Meth took the stage after a surprisingly impressive set by Curren$y, who I caught on the last rendition of the tour when I was in Seattle (and due to the Smoker’s Club’s overall laziness, sloppiness, and inability to organize, I left fairly underwhelmed). This time around, every aspect of his performance was improved. They even managed to turn Curren$y’s broken leg (which left him in crutches) into a bonus, as he sat on an extra-wide couch with four random girls, alongside other members of the Club popping in and out to take a hit off of the many blunts in circulation.

After Curren$y hobbled off the stage, a long intermission of roadies setting up a single DJ board ensued. Then, as they draped the table with a cloth featuring Wu-Tang’s infamous logo, the crowd began their chants.

Out came Method Man and he brought a level of energy far exceeding my expectations. From Wu-Tang classics to Meth’s solo stoner work to an O.D.B. tribute in a crowd sing-a-long of Shimmy Shimmy Ya, the show maintained a constant stream of engagement, with the exception of an awkward moment before C.R.E.A.M. when he asked the crowd to “wave their dollar bills”… only to be told by a stagehand that he had crossed the border into a land which lacked George Washingtons.

As he shook hands, acknowledged the crowd, and eventually walked off the stage to a sea of crossed-thumbs in approval, I took a moment to reflect on how his crowds had changed over the years. Actually, Method Man summed it up himself halfway through the set when he addressed the audience, stating, “All the brothers and sisters in here say, ya know, Meth, there’s a lot of white people here. And I say you’re goddamn right there are a lot of white people here! White people love hip-hop too.”

Well, besides for the shift in racial demographic, he forgot to mention the most noticeable shift of the last twenty years: ticket price. But I guess that’s just the way it goes to catch the legends in concert—or you can always get a press pass…