Photo by Joel Muniz

They say music is the soul to the heart. Music has the ability to not only bring understanding to ones life, it also has an impact in rehabilitation thanks to music therapy. Some people love anything that is considered music while others have their go to genres. Like most genres, inspiration and experimentation has always been key to their birth. And hip-hop, is no stranger to that.

Thanks to New York, the birth and mecca of hip-hop, rap has been around since the 70’s and the culture of hip-hop continues to change every decade, with different sounds holding the crown. From conscious rap, to gangsta rap, and now to trap, the genre has a lot of room to grow. Hip-hop is even featured in big mainstream Hollywood films!

Now I know what you’re thinking, where does Canada come into play? Canada is home to a diverse population, we are home to some of the worlds top artistic talents. Hip-hop has had a huge impact on the country in the last 10 years, more tourists know the city of Toronto as the 6ix than by it’s original name. But it hasn’t always been like this. Here are some interesting facts about the history of hip-hop in Canada:

Canadian Rap Songs in the 80’s

From what we know, hip-hop in Canada surged in the 1980s. The first known English rap single to be played on the radio was by a group comprised of two friends called Singing Fools who were known for their politically focused lyrics. Their first English single, Bum Rap, was released in 1982 which criticized the government’s wage and price program. When it comes to French rap, a group called Aut’Chose is considered to be the first. Based in Montreal, they released the first French single Le Rap-à-Billy in 1983.

Canada’s cold music industry

Though hip-hop in Canada has been around since the 80s, the Canadian music industry was not as welcoming as it is now. Many Canadian artist struggled to have their albums in stores or songs played on the radio. At the time, the Canadian hip hop scene was very much underground, this was a struggle for many artist to get their content to a wider audience. Even with many of those artist, having their music videos played on Much Music, this did not translate over to instant success. In 1990, radio station Milestone Radio had their application to play Urban music denied by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission due to an overwhelming support for country music. Radio stations in Canada had and still have a responsibility to play a certain amount of Canadian music but unfortunately, this is all types on what is known and liked by the public. Not one Canadian hip hop song ever reached Top 100 throughout the majority of the 90s.

Photo by Minh Ngoc

Toronto’s finest, Mr. Metro

A select few artists were able to break through in the beginning of Canadian hip hop. Devon Martin became known for his single Mr. Metro in 1990. The song touched on police racism across North America and his own experiences with police in California. In his music video, certain parts are blacked due to the video being perceived as identifying Toronto Police Officers. The Toronto Police Service threatened to arrest the artist on defamation charges if such parts were not blacked out. He later released his first solo album It’s My Nature in 1992, and in 1993, won a Juno Award for Best Rap Recording with his album Keep It Slammin.

Maestro Fresh-Wes, The Godfather of Canadian Rap

Maestro Fresh-Wes is considered to be the Godfather of Canadian rap. Fun fact: he attended Carleton University in Ottawa for one year studying law and political science. He released his studio album Symphony in Effect in 1989 and was the first certified platinum album by a Black Canadian artist. In the 90s he tried to break into the U.S market with mixed results. Some of his songs were featured at the 2015 Pan Am Games and most recently during the 2019 NBA finals run for the Toronto Raptors. He is also an actor, with one Gemini Award nomination, and was last seen on the tv show Mr. D as Vice Principal Paul Dwyer for 8 seasons on CBC.

Michie Mee crowned the first Canadian to sign with a major American record label

Michelle McCullock, known as rapper Michie Mee, is known as being Canada’s first notable female MC. The Jamaican born MC began her career at the age of 14, and her first single with DJ L.A Luv “Elements of Style”, got the right attention. She signed with First Priority/Atlantic Records in 1988 making her the first Canadian artist to sign with a major American label. Her music has a dancehall/reggae influence and has been touted as a National pioneer of rap. In 1992, she was nominated for a Juno Award for her debut album, Jamaican Funk-Canadian Style. She has opened for artists such as Salt-n-Pepa, and reggae artist Judy Mowatt.

The Canadian rap industry continues to grow today and many of the top billboard artists in the world are home grown here. Thanks to social media, more Canadian rappers are being discovered right from our finger tips. Know a rap artist from Canada that you think we should know about? Let us know in the comment section, the more we know, the better for their exposure.

Photo by Jochem Raat