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New Music Mondays: Rapping miner Mickey O’Brien’s new track Cap Lamp a ‘victory song’

O’Brien was recently on strike against Vale for the second time in his career
210319_Mike_OBrien

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series called New Music Mondays, where we feature new music by musicians from the Greater Sudbury area on Mondays. If you’re an area musician and would like us to profile your work, email us at hulrichsen@sudbury.com.

In 2010, local rapper Mickey O’Brien released the track One Day Longer after having been on strike against Vale for nearly a year. 

“The response was really huge and overwhelming,” he said, adding that he still gets videos a couple times a month of people on strike around the world blasting the song on picket lines.

Highlights included performing the song in front of tens of thousands of people in Madison, Wisconsin during massive protests in the state and going on tour with folk legend and political activist Anne Feeney in 2013. 

Sadly, Feeney passed away from COVID-19 earlier this year.

Despite the success of One Day Longer, O’Brien, who has released several albums and EPs in the intervening years, said he wasn’t really doing labour music at all anymore, having branched out.

“And then we go on strike, and everyone’s like ‘We need a new song, bro,’” he said.

Vale and the members of Steelworkers Local 6500 signed a deal earlier this month after a two-month-long strike. 

O’Brien said he’s not sure if Vale was trying to pull a “fast one” on the union in terms of concessions, but figures the strike was resolved relatively quickly this time around due to the current demand for nickel.

He said he’s very appreciative of the community’s support of Local 6500 during the strike.

Fresh on the heels of labour peace, O’Brien has come out with Cap Lamp, which he described in a press release as a rousing hip-hop, labour movement anthem and victory song. 

“We’re calling it a victory song,” he said. “It’s nice for everyone after getting our asses handed to us in ‘09 to be able to walk into work with our heads held high this time, right?”

You can give Cap Lamp a listen below. Please note there is some strong language.


 

Cap Lamp pays tribute to Feeney, who O’Brien affectionately calls his “union mom.” It features a sample of her work. 

Several years ago, Feeney had given O’Brien permission to sample her entire catalogue. His producer, the Juno-nominated Fresh Kils of Toronto, had sampled one of her songs about mining. 

“And then Anne passed away, and I was like ‘OK, I have to make it an activism song now,’” he said. “Then we ended up on strike, and I thought ‘Now I really have to do it justice for Anne.’”

Cap Lamp also features samples of Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus speaking about O’Brien and his music, as well as current Steelworkers Local 6500 president Nick Larochelle speaking.

He said the track’s name refers to the cap lamps worn by miners underground. Metaphorically, it refers to shining a light into the world, even when you’re in darkness, as you are when you’re working many thousands of feet underground.

“I was living in Toronto for a long time,” O’Brien said. “Looking at the CN Tower, it’s only 1,800 feet tall. I’d be 5,000 feet underground. Some of our sisters and brothers are at almost 8,000 or 9,000 feet.”

A lyric also refers to “the ones who never made it home again,” as several local miners have lost their lives on the job over the past decade.

“People die at our work,” he said. “It’s a very dangerous job. We’ve lost a lot of people since the last contract, and it’s a very real and scary thing.”

Credits on Cap Lamp include producer Fresh Kils, a close friend of O’Brien’s, as well as Sudbury keyboardist Zachary Clement, who added his distinct sound to the song, and vocal engineering by Sudburian Dany Laj.

Stay tuned as O’Brien prepares to release his second full-length album, Shift Change.

Cap Lamp is available via all major streaming platforms.



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