Maestro, Saukrates, D-Sisive, Shad & more talk Canadian hip-hop [Article/Video]
Toronto, ON – A couple of weeks back, the National Post published a really dope segment that featured 8 well known Canadian MC’s in a roundtable discussion about Drake’s success and Canadian hip-hop history. Each MC also takes a moment to drop a verse. Here it is in case you missed it:
Drake is a 23-year-old rapper from Toronto’s Forest Hill neighborhood who released an album this month that will probably become Canadian hip-hop’s best-selling release of all-time. The question we pose to three generations of Canada’s biggest rappers – Maestro Fresh Wes, Saukrates, Buck 65, Cadence Weapon, D-Sisive, Famous, Muneshine and Shad – is this: if Drake is the Canadian hip-hop world’s Beatles, what will it mean to all you?
Buck 65: It’s exciting to see the buzz, but do I think I’ll benefit? I don’t. A few years ago when Arcade Fire got successful, everyone said, ‘What else is going on in Canadian music?’ So there’s an indirect benefit, maybe, but I wouldn’t say if Drake succeeds, we all succeed.
Q: Has there ever been a bigger Canadian rapper?
Maestro: Have I ever seen anything like what’s going on with my dude? Hell no, but it’s whole different game right now. You can’t compare what James Brown did to what Michael Jackson did: Imagine if James Brown was coming up with MTV?
Saukrates: It’s cycles, waves, and it’s gotten bigger with each wave. Wes had his run; Michee Mee. I did my first video in high school and then came Kardi, and every time it came it got bigger. You have to remember that in 1999 when Billboard did a 4-page spread on Hollywood north, it wasn’t just Celine, Shania and the Tragically Hip, but it was Ghetto Concept, Kardinal, Saukrates and Choclair. We’re all excited about what’s going on with young Drizzy, but it’s going to take more than one cat to bust it open again.
D-Sisive: Drake’s a talented person, and all the major buzz he’s getting is amazing for him, but it seems like everything else we’ve built up as a country is being forgotten. In a way, some of the buzz is kind of offensive – maybe I’m too old.
Buck 65: It’s all about what’s now and what’s next, not what happened before, just now, now, now!
Maestro: How much do you think the internet is effecting attention spans?
Buck 65: In a lot of ways, Drake’s an internet phenomenon. I’m still on a major label and, I’m trying to censor myself from saying anything to harsh, but they’re really being left behind.
Cadence Weapon: I have a record on the internet now where people pay what they want for my album. Someone wrote on some blog that he felt like he was being ripped off, and it’s like, ‘Dude! It’s free!,’ but that’s the thing – if it’s on the internet, people think it’s disposable.
Shad: Hip-hop has such a strong history, but I feel like the changes in hip-hop happen so rapidly. I was born in Africa and we have artists in Canada – K’naan, etc. – and we’re the first to be from Africa in Canada making hip-hop music and that’s going to change in five years, but it’s hard for me to comment because everything is happening so quickly. The kind of music Drake makes wouldn’t have been called hip-hop in 1995.
Buck 65: What gets people excited is just constantly changing, soon you’ll have to work with Obama.
Cadence Weapon: Stephen Harper on the track!
Q: Has hip-hop in general caught up with the diversity of the Canadian rap music scene?
Cadence Weapon: When I tour Canada, I’ll always know another rapper somewhere on the road and I never get that feeling in the states. Someone from New York wouldn’t be too intimately connected with someone in Atlanta, but I know a bunch of people from Saskatoon who rap.
Saukrates: Being eclectic is our sound. Artists up here are fearless. This thing about melody and MCs singing? We started that. And I’ll do a shameless plug, that Big Black Cadillac record? It’s five MCs on one record, we started that whole thing! We’re fearless because we were brought up here in the melting pot.
Q: Does it help being outside of the spotlight of a Brooklyn or L.A.?
Buck 65: I don’t think it’s spotlight, it’s legacy. Even if you’re from somewhere like New Orleans, it can be hard to come out of that, but Canada isn’t oppressed in that way. So even though Dream Warriors were successful, we never jumped on that sound. It requires guts to do your own thing.
Maestro: If there’s a copycat Drake, he better not be coming out of here.
Q: How competitive is hip-hop?
Maestro: When Saukrates came out, I can’t lie, I felt a chip on my shoulder. Like, who’s this dude, you know?
Cadence Weapon: It’s the competition.
Maestro: I seen this dude [points to Saukrates], and he might have respect for me, but he gave me a little screw-face, like, what’s up? I was like, what’s up with this cat?
Saukrates: Young and arrogant.
Maestro: Arrogant, B! Dude was reading his magazine, I walked into the room and he gave me this screw-face look. But I was like, ‘he’s coming and nothing’s going to stop this cat!’ Cats are always going to come. They call me the Godfather of Canadian hip-hop, but I’ve been studying Shad, studying D-Sisive, I’ve been studying Saukrates. I’m a student of hip-hop – that’s how we grow.
Buck 65: It’s a love for the thing. I’ve been doing this for a long time, I released my first album in 1990 and went ten years without a record deal and expect there’ll be ten years at the end with no record deal either, but I’m not doing this to get rich. I don’t think I could stop if I tried.
Q: But what if you have three kids or alimony or suddenly your mother gets sick?
Buck 65: That just gives you more to talk about. The more life throws at you, the harder the times become, that should drive you towards your music, not away from it.
D-Sisive: I started in 1995 at 15, doing open mics and from ‘95 to 2001, I signed a publishing deal and things were starting, but as far as being an artist I was chasing my tail. I hadn’t found my voice and I faded out. I started going through personal problems; it’s not even that I stopped making music, I didn’t lose my love for music, I lost my love for everything. But I remember, it was late-2007 and a song of mine, Brian Wilson, I wrote the first verse, it was 8 a.m. and I was doing dishes and I felt like I’d finally found my voice. I’d never written a personal record before and I felt like OK, the past five years I wasn’t making music, but I went through all this s–t. Now, from 2008 to 2010, I’m about to put out my fourth record in two years. Every interview they say, How are so prolific? But it’s like, I’m an MC. What the fuck else am I going to be doing? I found my love again the minute I found my voice.
Buck 65: Around 1999, after I’d been doing it for awhile and nothing was happening, I was thinking about hanging it up, looking at what I’d have to do to get back into school and then my phone rang. Someone had heard an interview with Radiohead and when they were asked what Canadian music they liked, they said me. That was all I needed to get myself back on track. I found my voice and nothing could knock me from my rails. Maybe that’s prevented my from selling a million records, but that’s also maybe why I’ve been here for 20 years.
Saukrates: I know what it is to run your race. I grew up in Edmonton during the Oilers dynasty playing hockey. I was one of the only of my skin tone out there on the ice, taking the licks, the verbal abuse, but you get used to it. You learn how to run your race.
Q: Is it good that now there’s more white rappers and black hockey players?
Shad: Look how fast that flipped! A lot of things have changed culturally way faster than people thought they’d change. Obama is the final manifestation of what we’ve been seeing in Tiger Woods.
Cadence Weapon: People say, ‘Where are the female MCs or the Asian MCs?’ but they’re out there. It’s just the gaze from the lighthouse moves slowly. Things happen, it’s just a matter of time.
Shad: The definition of breaking down a barrier, in terms of Canadian hip-hop, that’s when it’s no longer weird. When a Drake comes out and no ones like, ‘Yo, this dude’s from Canada!’ It’s just, ‘Yea, that dude is from Canada,’ like the border between Canada and the States didn’t exist.
Buck 65: I do look forward to when that’s not a novelty, but I feel like it still is.
Cadence: That’s the big thing with Drake, there’s nothing that explicitly says he’s Canadian. He’s not rapping about Bob and Doug Mackenzie.
Maestro: When we came out we thought we were just as good as New York. If cats came up here and stuck out their chest, they’re getting knocked out, that’s my generation, that’s what we do. We’ve been doing this since 1979 and I appreciate what’s happening with Drake, but we’ve been doing this since 1979 and it’s about time the world sees what’s really good.
Written by Ben Kaplan for National Post
Photography by Brent Lewin for National Post
Maestro Fresh Wes is releasing his book Stick To Your Vision this August. For more information, see weswilliamsent.ca.
Saukrates is currently signed with Universal records. Expect a new Saukrates record in fall 2010. For more information, see http://twitter.com/biggsoxx.
Buck 65 hosts a popular radio show Drive on CBC Radio 2 and released his first DVD, The Lost Tapes, this month. He’s currently on tour. For information, see http://www.buck65.com.
Cadence Weapon has recently wrapped his album Roquentin, which will be released early 2011. For tour dates (and free downloads), see http://www.cadenceweapon.com.
D-Sisive’s new album Vaudeville came out this week. For tour dates and information, see http://www.myspace.com/dsisive.
Famous recently released his first app for the iPad and hosts a radio show on the New Flow 93.5. For information, see http://www.myspace.com/thekidfamous.
Muneshine’s first record Status Symbol is currently in stores. For tour dates and information, see http://www.myspace.com/muneshine.
Shad’s latest album, TSOL, was just listed on the long list for the Polaris prize. For tour dates, see http://www.shadk.com.