As we approach the 50th celebration of the birth of hip hop, Canada has a story to tell on how it grew to have Drake be a dominant force in the genre.
In 1979, the groundbreaking “Rappers Delight” hit the mainstream and changed the music industry forever. The single reached the top 40 in the United States, as well as the top three in the United Kingdom and number one in Canada. That single’s reaction in the Great White North was a sign of things to come for the country.
The first known Canadian rap single, Mr. Q’s “Ladies’ Delight”, was released in 1979 just a few weeks after The Sugarhill Gang’s historic “Rapper’s Delight”, and the first French rap single, Lucien Francœur’s “Le Rap-à-Billy”, was released in 1983.
The above single has sometimes been overlooked by historians as Singing Fools “The Bum Rap” has been erroneously credited as the first actual record for a Canadian rapper in 1982.
Due to the Canadian music industry not being in tune with the growing New York hip hop scene started by Jamaican DJ Kool Herc, the artists had trouble with record distribution to stores and mom and pop shops.
In 1989, Canada’s first rap group signed to Capitol Records in Canada, MCJ and Cool G would end up Juno nominated artists. Their debut album So Listen which featured the singles “So Listen” and “Smooth as Silk” MCJ and Cool G have been nominated for four Juno Awards.
In 1991, they were nominated for Best R&B/Soul Recording with So Listen, Rap Recording of the Year with So Listen, and Single of the Year with “So Listen”.
MICHIE MEE AND MAESTRO FRESH WES BREAK BARRIERS
Despite some getting airplay on MuchMusic, the lack of infrastructure didn’t allow Canadian hip hop songs to reach their target market until Maestro Fresh Wes broke through in 1989 with “Symphony In Effect.”
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In 1988, Michie Mee through exposure in the underground scene with her battle rapping, eventually got signed to a major label in the United States. She created history when she dropped her Jamaican Funk album. Michie Mee appeared on the legendary Yo MTV Raps.
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It was their breakthrough in comparison to where the scene was before mainstream wise, is why we start with 1989 with our series about the greatest Canadian hip hop songs that received mainstream attention. They advanced the work from the likes of the Sunshine Sound Crew and DJ Ron Nelson in the underappreciated underground scene.
Speaking of DJ crews in Canada, who can ever forget the first time people heard the legendary hip hop artist Nas? Billboard and Vibe Magazine recently ranked him as the number three greatest rapper of all-time.
In the video above, we see Nas pay homage to Main Source for putting him on back in the early 90’s. Needless to say, this is one historic Canadian hip hop song that changed the rap world forever.
Jane and Finch has contributed greatly to the hip hop scene for Canada. It would be remiss not to include The Dream Warriors in a list of greatest rap songs from the early 90’s.
Before Drake toured in Europe, The Dream Warriors executed the international takeover with their classic songs such as “Wash Your Face In My Sink.” They are considered to be early hip hop experimenters delving with the jazz rap movement of the early 1990s. Their 1991 debut album, And Now the Legacy Begins, was cited by Bush as one of the finest alternative hip hop records of the golden era of hip hop.
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The time period of 1989 to 1993 was truly a golden era for Canadian hip hop breaking into the international scene and gaining mainstream appeal. Other songs of the time included Devon’s “Mr. Metro.”
HDV was the Canadian version of Too Short as he told stories similar to the Bay Area icon. Hitting the national airwaves with provocative rhymes and a song title of “Pimp Of The Microphone” was ahead of its time.
Tom Green would years later become known for his comedy and talk show, but fans of Canadian hip hop originally knew him as a hip hop artist. As a founding member of “Organized Rhyme,” the single “Check The O.R.” is a time capsule of the Jane and Finch area of Toronto. The Ottawa group went on a mission to find The Dream Warriors in this early hip hop classic from Canada.
As Organized Crime was looking to adapt to Jane and Finch, Kish was trying to make a journey across the world with his lyrics. Kish’s “I Rhyme The World In 80 Days,” had the vibe of the top pop hip hop songs of the day like Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch.
Stay tuned for Greatest Canadian Hip Hop Songs From 1994-1998.
Other rappers active in this period included Simply Majestic featuring B. Kool (“Dance to the Music [Work Your Body]”), Krush and Skad, RazorBlayd, Top Secret, Slinky Dee, Self-Defence, and K-4ce (K-Force).