Say what you want… but Toronto, Canada is the hip-hop capital of the world.” This bold statement was tweeted by acclaimed producer 9th Wonder via his Twitter feed after experiencing the city’s vibrant hip-hop scene at the Manifesto festival in September. Whether you agree or not, it’s undeniably clear that for several years now, Toronto has been virtually overflowing with hip-hop talent that, for one reason or another, has not received widespread and sustained recognition. Before the ascension of Drake, here are some of the notable hip-hop artists that have emerged from the T-Dot. —Del F. Cowie
MAESTRO FRESH WES
If there’s a godfather to Toronto’s hip-hop artists, it is Maestro Fresh Wes. Maestro, as he is now known, achieved major crossover success in Canada without having to sacrifice dexterous lyrical ability on his 1989 debut Symphony in Effect. In 2009, Maestro is celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Let Your Backbone Slide,” the most successful Canadian hip-hop single to date.
Often referred to as the queen of Canadian hip-hop, Michie Mee was the first MC from Canada to snag a major label deal in the U.S. The still-active MC earned unreserved respect from late ’80s peers such as MC Lyte, KRS-One and Chuck D through her dancehall-tinged delivery on tracks such as “On This Mic” and the full-length Jamaican Funk: Canadian Style.
The esoteric duo of King Lou and Capital Q achieved worldwide success in the early 90s through And Now the Legacy Begins... , a debut which effortlessly fused their jazz leanings and Caribbean backgrounds. “Wash Your Face in My Sink” and the Quincy Jones-fuelled “My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style” led to collaborations with the likes of Beenie Man and Gang Starr.
While legendary NYC producer and Nas mentor Large Professor was undoubtedly and justifiably the focal point of this groundbreaking trio, two Toronto DJs K-Cut and Sir Scratch were manning the decks for Breaking Atoms, arguably one of the most influential hip-hop records ever made.