I’ve spoken about this in the past, but as a recognized journalist, I get lots of email and attention from artists looking to have some pen game dedicated to their craft. In this daily wave things don’t always stick out to me; It’s impossible for me to listen to everything and respond to everyone, respectfully.
Sometimes, though, you just get a feeling.
That’s what happened when I got a message on Twitter from Steph Dash Nash, a mother, Hip Hop journalist, clothing designer and producer who happened live in my city. She politely asked if she could send me her project, True Grit, which she produced alongside Big Sproxx, a Toronto producer who I knew from his work with the Toronto collective Freedom Writers.
She sent it over, and I was floored by the guest list that included verses from the likes of Masta Ace, Planet Asia, M.O.P., D.I.T.C. Alumnus O.C., Havoc from Mobb Deep, Ras Kass, and even the late Sean Price among a host of others. In fact, there are two verses from Sean on here, so fans should hop all over it.
I was immediately intrigued as to how she was able to amass such a respectable list of artists and decided to sit and chat with Steph. Her story, though, was much more profound than I could have imagined and gives a whole new dimension to the project, which I’m comfortable referring to as a pretty timeless collection of fantastic music from some of the artists I grew up idolizing.
“I’ve always been a lover of music—particularly hip-hop,” Steph tells AAHH. “I grew up in the projects in Toronto after my biological father was killed in a car accident. My family lost everything and had to start over again. And that’s where I grew up like I found the community embraced me … I would just listen to hip-hop all the time.”
Her relationship with producer Big Sproxx began to show her the ropes in the studio, and her production chops began to develop organically. “It just snowballed from there,” she says.
She got heavily involved in the podcasting game after various guest appearances. “People were surprised; people were like ‘wow, this girl knows they’re a hip-hop.’ From there I started,” she says. She began doing interviews on her platform, Supreme Ultra Radio.
“I just wanted to keep the culture alive.” —Steph Dash Nash
“My first interview was with Pete Rock,” she says, “I was nervous as hell, but it came out well. Then I did one with Diamond D; I did one with General Steele, Ken Starr … a lot of underground artists. I made a lot of the connections—it’s (largely) how I was able to be able to bring the artists together for this album.”
Three years ago, she was awarded an Ontario Arts Council grant to help complete album, which she had begun working on it back in 2014, with the hope of releasing it in 2015. However, that timeline didn’t pan out as But that didn’t pan out as she was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, which is the most aggressive form of cancer that affects the brain initially.
“It’s the same cancer that Gord Downie just passed away from,” she says. “It’s also the same cancer that Senator Edward Kennedy passed away from — and the one that Senator John McCain is battling right now as well.”
“I had to hold back a little bit, but I was determined,” she continues. “I was more than halfway complete the album before I was diagnosed. So I had to put it on hold … they only gave me anywhere from six to nine months. But I’m going into my eighteen months now. I’m quite the fighter.”
In recent months, Steph has become an outspoken advocate for Glioblastoma, which is not only the most aggressive, but most underfunded form of cancer. From speaking live to writing multiple letters to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, she’s highlighting the need for allocated funds for research that could save lives of others — like herself — receiving the grim diagnosis.
“It’s [almost] like they feel because the mortality rate is so grim — that you’re going to pass anyway — that they don’t need to expand the necessary resources,” she explains.
“I was [recently] invited out to San Francisco; there are two surgeons that I befriended over the last couple years,” she says. “They’re husband and wife team … they’ve been working on a cure since they were nineteen. They’re not the only ones. There are very brilliant doctors working on this cure.”
“They’re trying to get me into a trial out there,” she continues, “because out here there is no funding.”
With every reason to feel broken, Steph remains a beacon of hope and courage. Though difficult, she pushed to complete True Grit, which served as a motivational factor to help her move forward — as Hip Hop had often done throughout her life.
“I just pushed it out and I mean I wanted to do more,” she says, “I wanted to have some more songs on it, but I had to be wise as well because I don’t know how much time I have — even though I’m very positive. I have to be realistic too, right?”
One of True Grits’ songs was a catalyst for Steph’s fighting spirit, “Strange Fruit” by O.C. — a one-time fav rapper who became a close friend. “Genetics passed down had that domino effect, but I refuse to accept…push to break the cycle even if it takes my life — or a lifetime to rewrite the rules,” he raps over the head nodding boom-bap sample.
“This song has assisted me with fighting this monster that invaded my brain. I guess you could call it my ‘Rocky Anthem’ to continue fighting,” she told writer Mike Cook of Hype Fresh Mag back in September.