The Canadian music industry is an odd duck. It has a lot of benefits that our neighbours to the south could only dream of, but, it also comes with some unfortunate pitfalls. In my last post, hip-hop producer Fresh Kils put it perfectly:
“The joke about Canadian musicians is that no one gives a shit about them until they export themselves somewhere else.”
While that may not necessarily be an industry issue, it’s certainly not one being helped by the Junos. With exception to Meagan Smith (New Artist of the Year), all of this year’s broadcast awards were given to internationally recognized and popular artists. And that’s not to say that the Arcade Fire or Neil Young weren’t deserving, but what about Said The Whale or Matthew Good (winners of New Group Of The Year and Rock Album of the Year respectively). Why wasn’t Canada’s national upcoming talent showcased where people are more likely to see it?
And if that’s the case for your average pop or rock artist in Canada, its twice as bad for hip hop. Even with a big celebrity like Drake hosting the Junos, the Rap Recording of the Year award was non-broadcast.
That’s why when I had the chance to go to the CBC Hip Hop Summit concert in Toronto, I was ecstatic. On the bill was enough Canadian hip-hop legends and up-comers to make anyone turn their head. Maestro Fresh Wes, Kardinall Offishall, K-os, Saukrates and Shad were just a few of the crowd that graced the stage.
The whole thing kicked off with Classified and “Oh Canada” from his 2009 album Self-Explanatory. With everyone standing to attention and bobbing their head patriotically, he moved onto his duet with Maestro Fresh Wes on the (fitting) “Hard To Be (Hip Hop)“.
Michie Mee took the stage soon after and brought a few more people to the floor with her old school/ reggae style, complete with a dance breakdown. As someone who had never heard that much of her stuff, she made a big impression on me. She had a great sound and definitely knew how to work a stage.
Kardinall Offishall was next and he went the extra mile to get everyone to their feet. Surrounding himself in the crowd and getting us to chant the chorus with him, Kardinall belted out his ode to Toronto aptly titled “The Anthem“. Cadence Weapon threw the audience for a bit of a loop with his unique style (including screaming into a FX heavy microphone) but, with the help of Shad, showed that he’s just as capable to pull out the big hits with “Baby (I’m Yours)“.
Other notable moments included Skratch Bastid with a DJ set and a breakdance circle, K’naan stopping by to perform “Take A Minute“, and the Dream Warriors belting out the eclectic “My Definition“.
As great as everyone had been, the last 20 minutes was definitely when show came to it’s full potential, including Shad and K-os joining the Maestro onstage for “Let Your Backbone Slide“. Not one to disappoint, the original Can-con hip-hop icon was dressed in full suit and cummerbund as he tore through the ’89 classic.
The big number done, all of the night’s artists came back out for a freestyle session that was more fun than anything. Even Buck 65, who had been hosting the night and strictly stayed off the mic, was coaxed into the circle.
Then, as Kardinall dropped what was supposed to be the final rap of the night, the DJ played back the hook from the Rascalz hit “Northern Touch“.
I can honestly say that of all the shows I’ve been to, I’ve never seen anything like it. Led by former Rascalz member, Red1, and backed by track contributors Kardinall and Choclair, the stage came alive. The MCs were shoulder to shoulder rapping right in our faces as the dedicated crowd hit them with every word. It was a surreal moment that I think will be remembered for a long time to come.
And we need moments like that to sell Canadian artists to Canada again. While the concert had an excellent calibre and energy in the artists, it seemed as if the crowd that night was a little hesitant. At moments, I even felt that some of the greatest hip-hop artists in this country were struggling with their own home crowd.
So do yourself and this country a favour; support Canadian hip-hop and make people care. We’ve got to appreciate what we’ve got here at home.
If you’re dying to get you’re fix of hip-hop and you live in the Toronto area there’s an event running all day today at the CBC building with performances, break-dancing and, at 6pm EST, the concert being broadcast. If you’re not so lucky stay tuned to CBC Radio 2 who will be broadcasting the whole event over the airwaves also starting at 7pm ET.