Up North Tip: Canadian Hip-Hop Series

There’s no need to skirt the subject: I Am Canadian. Chinese-Canadian, as a matter of fact. And I’m proud of it. My family hailing originally from China, I was born in Toronto, Ontario, the economic and cultural capital of Canada. At around the age of four I moved with my family to New York City (peace to the Upper West Side!), and that is where my brother first introduced me to rap; I bought my first rap album, saw my first rap music video, and basically fell in love with the music. Eventually we moved back to Canada (Western, now) where I currently live. And every day since we left Manhattan, I have cringed at the idea of Canadian hip-hop. Like most American hip-hop fans, I’ve been spoiled with release after dope ass release of 90’s East Coast classics—to the point where I would have ignored everything else a few years ago.

Let me be first to admit that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

What I failed to realize was that, for over two decades, artists from my own country were putting in major work on the hip-hop circuit. Right under my damn nose, cats like Maestro Fresh Wes, Michie Mee, and DJ Ron Nelson were establishing hip-hop as a legitimate genre in Canadian music. You want me to be corny and say it’s taught me a lesson?—well, it’s taught me a lesson. This is my chance to do the right thing like Spike Lee.

So yes, I am doing this as much for myself as I am for the loyal readers at TROY. It’s a chance for me to explore the talent of my own country while bringing you fresh records for your own collections. There are so many great Canadian hip-hop acts that deserve shine, I can only hope to do this series justice. Every now and then I will post an album or two from a different Canadian artist, either from my own collection or from our always-reliable contributors at Philaflava. Where the hell would we be without you guys?

I’ve started this series to shed light on a hip-hop scene that’s been overlooked by both mainstream and underground circuits since day one, and it’s been a long time coming for Canadian rappers, old and new. In the mid-eighties Canadian record companies were still reluctant to sign and promote black music, and artists were forced to form independent labels with poor marketing and what started out as an inadequate fan base. There were no Rick Rubins or Russell Simmons’ to jump start the popularity of hip-hop in Canada, and as a result, this has led to widespread ignorance of Canadian talent. And despite KRS-One shouting out “Ron Nelson and the Toronto posse” in the liner notes of Criminal Minded, most fans in the United States still refuse to take Canadian hip-hop seriously.

See, as much as we claim to be open-minded and keen on peeping different styles from different regions, we all know this isn’t always true; shit, search a “Fuck Compton” video from 1991 on Youtube and you still have idiots arguing over which coast is better. The point is, regional biases always exist, and stereotypes are hard to displace.

Well, at TROY we’re here to break your damn biases and your regional preferences. Or at the very least, get you to open up your minds.

Before I delve into specific artists and crews of different eras, our first joint is going to be the quintessential compilation of Canadian hip-hop, a perfect introduction: The Cold Front Rap Compilation. In 1991 various hip-hop acts from Toronto banded together to display the diverse and largely unknown talent of the Far North. On this comp you will find some of the nicest acts of the 80’s and 90’s, and not just in Canada: Maestro Fresh Wes, Main Source, Dream Warriors and KGB, among others.

Major props to Who_Produced_It at Philaflava for ripping this album from his own collection and sharing it with us. This is much appreciated. Also props to kotep and the rest of the contributors at The Canadian Hip-Hop Thread on Philaflava for inspiring this series. For additional information, check out the fantastic Canadian hip-hop blog: Living Underwater.

Cold Front Rap Compilation (1991):

1. CIUT 89.5 – Master Plan Show Spot (0:16)

2. Maestro Fresh Wes – Black Tie Affair (4:24)

3. Base Poet – When I Went To Buy Milk (4:30)

4. Sweet Ebony – With This (5:09)

5. Dream Warriors – 12 Sided Dice (4:24)

6. Large Professor – CKLN 88.1 Power Move Show Spot (0:32)

7. Main Source – Atom (2:56)

8. Sonyalive – I’m Coming Into Consciousness (3:35)

9. CIUT 89.5 – Master Plan Show Spot (0:11)

10. Kish – Jim Class (4:43)

11. R & R – Having A Good Day (4:42)

12. Nu Black Nation – Soul Vibration (5:21)

13. CHRY 105.5 – Jam Factor Spot (0:14)

14. KGB – Letters Of Three (4:12)

15. Top Secret – Stupid (4:15)

16. Fresh B – This Is For The Record (4:56)

17. CKLN 88.1 – Oblivion Express Spot (0:19)



Maestro Fresh Wes- “Black Tie Affair”

Main Source- “Atom”

Sonyalive- “I’m Coming into Consciousness”

Please, do yourself a favor and tune into these cuts—you will not regret it. I know many of the die-hard heads here already have an extensive knowledge on a lot of these artists, but hopefully you will find something new, or just have a good time revisiting some of this nostalgia. Without any reservation, I can say that this is one of the greatest compilations in the history of hip-hop. No other collection of songs represents an entire region of hip-hop like the Cold Front Rap Compilation.

My favorite tracks on this collection have to be Maestro Fresh Wes’ “Black Tie Affair” and Main Source’s “Atom” (also a bonus on the re-issue of Breaking Atoms). Another favorite of mine came as a pleasant surprise: Sonyalive’s “I’m Coming into Consciousness.” She has one of the most relaxing flows and thoughtful lyrics out of her peers. I have, however, had a difficult time finding any online information about Sonyalive—her name even comes up blank on Discogs. If any of you have information or additional music from her, please let me know.

As hip-hop heads we should be trying to limit our regional biases. We’re always trying to find the freshest sound regardless of where it comes from. See, it might not always seem like it, but hip-hop is an art form that truly transcends race, ethnicity, gender, and, especially pertinent here, borders.

Now, I still have a long way to go in exploring all the realms of Canadian hip-hop, but there will be a lot of opportunities to learn here.

Canadian rappers have been some of the best kept secret, despite what the spoiled New Yorker in me initially thought.

I’m sure this series is going to be a long and satisfying ride.

Enjoy, and stay tuned for more! If you have any suggestions don’t hesitate to hit me up in the comments or at the Philaflava forums.


— Teddy C.D.

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10 Responses to “Up North Tip: Canadian Hip-Hop Series”

  1. paul Goldman says:

    hi ! do you know Ryan lord canadian rapper~ Barbados heritage around Toronto in the nineties did” top secret “its posted on the web but the link to the songs didn’t work …can you help my pal lived with Ryan im a musician myself and we’d like to listen to his music if possible .regards Paul.

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