By Yulia Federov
Canada’s hip hop scene is bumpin’. With stars like Drake and Kardinall Ofishall to show for it, our hip hop artists are gaining visibility and media attention, and rising through the ranks by the dozen. But it wasn’t always such a smooth road for hip hop artists in Canada.
Well into the 1990s, rap and hip hop were not considered ‘appropriate’ forms of music--it took several influential and talented artists to challenge that outlook, and stir up change. Read on to learn about THREE of the most influential hip hop artists, who brought Canadian hip hop to the forefront.
© Youtube | Marie-Claude Costisella
If you’re a fan of any modern Canadian hip hop artist, you should be giving Dubmatique some credit. Their talented group, which won numerous awards throughout the 90s, is largely responsible for placing Canadian hip hop on the map.
Members, Jerome-Philippe Belinga (Disoul), and Ousmane Traore, aka OTMC, who originally met in Senegal, were unable to find instant success when they formed Dubmatique. Although they started their group officially in 1992, with Alain Benabdallah as DJ Choice, they struggled to pull themselves out of anonymity for several years. But their hard work paid off. By 1995, they were slowly but surely gaining traction. The trio were doing shows in local clubs, and winning numerous awards, such as the ‘Best Hip Hop Group of the Year’ award at the Gala MIMI.
Their success didn’t stop there. In 1997, they released their first album, La Force de Comprendre, which was certified platinum. Their second album, Dubmatique, came out in 1999 and resulted in their receiving the Felix Award for “Hip Hop Album of the Year” at the Gala de L’ADISQ.
The band split in the early 2000s, as Disoul and OTMC worked on solo projects, but not for very long. A Facebook group with over 50 000 fans urged the band to get back together and create more music—hence, in 2009, Dubmatique members reconnected and released Trait d’union as their final album.
© Youtube | RascalzVEVO
This trio stirred up quite the controversy--and for all the right reasons. Hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, emcees Red 1 and Misfit, along with DJ Kemo, formed their group Rascalz in 1991.
In 1997, the group released Cash Crop, their most successful album, which was certified gold and sold over 50 000 copies in Canada. This album was nominated for ‘Best Rap Recording’ at the Juno Awards in 1998—but the group declined the award.
At the time, awards for rap and hip-hop music were not televised or presented at the main Juno’s ceremony, and Rascalz believed that this lack of visible media representation of rappers was discriminatory--and an act of racism. Since most artists who participated in creating hip hop albums were Black or people of colour, this claim resonated with many. The media debate that this act sparked resulted in the Juno Awards moving the rap category to the main ceremony the next year.
In 1999, the first year of the rap awards being televised and presented during the main ceremony at the Juno Awards, Rascalz won for their single Northern Touch, and were the first hip hop group to perform on the Juno Awards stage.
Shad not only made waves with his music, which was often focused on social justice causes, but also with his work outside of the recording studio.
In 2005, he released his first album, When This Is Over, in which he raps about heavy topics such as the Rwandan genocide. His early success led to him being signed by Black Box Recordings in 2007, for a three-album deal. A major highlight of his hip hop career included beating out Drake for the Juno Award for ‘Rap Recording of the Year’ in 2011, for his third album, TSOL.
© Youtube | shadkmusic
After his music career, Shad switched gears, but continued to represent Canadian rappers well. He was the host of CBC Radio One’s ‘q’ in 2016, and he worked on a documentary series called Hip Hop Evolution, in which he examined the origins of hip hop by interviewing renown rappers and hip-hop artists of past and present. The documentary takes a deeper look at the history of hip hop, and its transformation from an underground, unpopular movement to a mainstream genre. Hip Hop Evolution was a huge success, being broadcast by HBO and picked up by Netflix for international distribution.
Canadian hip hop artists such as Dubmatique, Rascalz and Shad paved the way for today’s hip hop Canadian super stars such as Drake, The Weeknd, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Tory Lanez and many more to come! Be sure to pay your tribute and take a listen to some of their great work.