Coach Fresh: Maestro Fresh Wes talks new LP, TEDx, honorary diploma & more
Toronto, ON – From the opening effects on “Put Ya Guard Up,” to the “Skyscrapers (Remix)” that brings it to a wrap, Wes “Maestro Fresh Wes” Williams delivers a solid quasi-sports themed album with his new 13-track release, Coach Fresh. The project is his first full-length album since 2013’s Orchestrated Noise, and the perfect reminder to why Williams is the “Godfather of Canadian hip-hop.”
A coach is defined as someone who is a leader, responsible for directing and instructing a team or individuals. And while Williams has had more involvement with the sports world than the average Canadian MC, I look at the “COACH” reference in the album title as a representation of Maestro as a community leader. It represents the guidance he’s offered to the younger generation; musicians, as well as people who have nothing to do with the music industry.
His 2010-book, Stick to Your Vision: How to Get Past the Hurdles & Haters to Get Where You Want to Be, does just that. It’s lead to countless motivational and keynote speaking engagements for Williams and he’s even seen the publication approved for use in Nova Scotia public schools.
“I define vision in the book as a forward moving motivating intention,” Williams told students at Nova Scotia Community College’s Akerley Campus. “So if you sit still, you won’t get there.”
The school recently named him as a 2017 Honorary Diploma Recipient, given to “outstanding individuals who demonstrate true leadership in their field and community.”
NSCC has seen the impact Williams has had on their student body:
“Hearing his genuine story and how he applied the skills he’s talking to us about is inspirational,” says Julien Coehlo, an Electrical Engineering student. “I have goals, but he makes you think, what can I do now to set myself up better to achieve those goals? He’s gone through it, so why can’t I?”
And NSCC isn’t the only educational institution that has recognized Maestro’s increasing stature as a Canadian icon. Carleton University brought him to Ottawa back in Jan. 18 as the main event for their 75th Anniversary celebration. He spoke briefly, performed and overall brought the showmanship that he’s come to be known for.
Williams had studied law and political science at Carleton in the mid-80’s, not long before the release of his monumental hit single, “Let Your Backbone Slide” and his 1989 album debut, Symphony in Effect. He’s also participated in the Toronto District School Board’s Read to Succeed program.
Last week, Williams took his act to the West Coast to take part in TEDx Vancouver – Distortion. He’s also taken part in Tedx Toronto events in the past.
And it doesn’t stop there. He’s also plays school teacher Paul Dwyer on the CBC show Mr. D and the program was recently renewed for an impressive seventh season.
So it’s understandably taken a second for the new album to see the light of day, but it’s been in the works since at least January 2016. Back then he released the Tone Mason-produced “Coach Fresh” single and gave HipHopCanada’s Sarah Jay a breakdown of the title’s origin:
“[The] song was initially inspired from me being an assistant coach of my six year old son’s tyke football team. Kids kept telling me that their parents like my songs so I kept telling them to stay focused and that my name is Coach Wes…not Coash Fresh. But then one day I woke up and realized they were right – I am Coach Fresh.”
One of the real stand-out cuts on the project is the Cyndi Cain and Ras Kass-assisted “Mr. Evans,” which CBC described as a powerhouse track from beginning to end:
“Everything about ‘Mr. Evans’ is perfect. From the emotionally turbulent backing vocal from Cyndi Cain to the use of Good Times’ deceased paternal character, James Evans, as a jumping-off point to talk about racism, representations of Black fatherhood in pop culture, oppression and the prison industrial complex…”
Another would have to be the aptly titled “Toronto Icons,” which sees Maestro reunite the original Ghetto Concept (Infinite included) on one song for the first time in years.
“‘Toronto Icons’ is a classic Canadian joint and Ghetto Concept is a classic Canadian hip-hop group.” – Coach Fresh
“Tomorrow Never Promised,” featuring amazing vocal support from Ivana Santilli, is also a must mention tune off the track list as it beautifully pays tribute to Toronto recording artist King Reign, who passed away on June 28, 2016 at just 40-years-old.
Other guest appearances on Coach Fresh include Rich Kidd (on the new Toronto Raptors anthem “Jurassic Park”), Faith Walker, old school legend Kool Keith, Skyzoo, Saukrates and Danko Jones.
Overall, Coach Fresh is a great addition to the Maestro Fresh Wes catalogue and comes at a time when Stro’s name is resonating way further than just the music industry.
CBC’s Andrea Warner really summarized it nicely:
“Coach Fresh is almost a sports/rap concept album, but there are some incredible deviations from that central conceit, and yet somehow Williams ties the tracks back together over and over. This makes for a cohesive yet innovative record that is emotionally resonant and a worthy reminder that Williams is a master, nay, Maestro, at work.”
Check out our recent Q&A session with the Godfather below where we discuss Coach Fresh, Mr. D, the honorary diploma, Tedx and more. He even mentions a new project in the works.
Coach Fresh is available on iTunes.
Q&A: Maestro Fresh Wes
Interview conducted by Jesse Plunkett for HipHopCanada
HipHopCanada: Back in June you were presented with an honorary degree by Dartmout-based Nova Scotia Community College. Can you speak on that achievement and your relationship with the Akerley Campus?
Maestro Fresh Wes: I did two presentations at Akerley and the Dean Jill Provoe was instrumental in me getting the diploma. Jill was the one who orchestrated my 5 campus book tour throughout Nova Scotia and from that, things started popping off best on the response. It was awesome to speak to all the students at their Convocation this past Spring.
HipHopCanada: People should know by now that your reach and influence extends far past the music and hip-hop culture. Stick To Your Vision is part of the Adult Learning Program curriculum at the college level, and approved for use in the Grade 10 English Curriculum in Nova Scotia public schools. Have any other educational institutions reached out to you for inclusion in their programs?
Maestro Fresh Wes: When I heard some of the testimonials from the students of what my book meant to them I was a bit overwhelmed and made me say to myself, “Wow!” It just reinforces how powerful words are and how we all impact each other’s lives positively or negatively. I’m glad it had that type of positive impact on the students. Makes me wanna continue what I’m doing. They inspired me and I’m humbled.
HipHopCanada: NSCC offers plenty of examples of their students being positively influenced by Stick To Your Vision and having the book in their program. The book has helped a lot of people beyond the East Coast as well. Do you have any personal favourite accounts of someone being influenced by the book and getting past the hurdles?
Maestro Fresh Wes: Not yet, but I know Michaëlle Jean, the former Governor general of Canada, called the book “a plan of action,” so I strongly feel more schools will jump on board.
HipHopCanada: Let’s talk basketball. You dropped an anthem for the Raptors to get things started and the record got a lot of love. Currently 4th in the Eastern Conference – how do you feel about the public response to “Jurassic Park” and how do you feel the team will fair when it’s all said and done?
Maestro Fresh Wes: People are really checking for my new joint, “Jurassic Park.” As far as our squad, it’s gonna be tough for us to really shine in our division with the Cavs right there.. we’ve got an uphill battle.
HipHopCanada: Do you have any other projects in the works with Rich Kidd? You guys really mesh well.
Maestro Fresh Wes: Rich Kidd is the young boss… we don’t have any new joints yet together, but I will say that although he only produced one joint off Coach Fresh, he made a major impact on the project.
HipHopCanada: The album drops Nov. 17. We hear you’ve got a Ghetto Concept-reunion collaboration on there, including a contribution from original member, Infinite. How did that come about?
Maestro Fresh Wes: Yea I was watching Precious Metal on YouTube and said to myself, I would love to see these cats come back together… it has been over 20 years since Infinite left the group. I think I asked Kwajo first and then I spoke to Inf and he was down too. Kwajo spoke to Dolo for me once Inf was on board then he came with that beat co-produced by Soundsmith Beats. I arranged the track with the chorus and bridge, and the fellas liked it… It was an honour to get those brothers back together on one track. “Toronto Icons” is a classic Canadian joint and Ghetto Concept is a classic Canadian hip-hop group.
HipHopCanada: What does the album mean to you as an artist?
Maestro Fresh Wes: This album means a lot to me. I will admit, it was my most painless project to put together… that’s why things sound cohesive.
HipHopCanada: Can you break down the producers involved with the project and other guest appearances?
Maestro Fresh Wes: Producers are Andrew Triple A, Tone Mason, Lord Quest, Kwajo Cinqo & Soundsmith Beats, Rich Kidd and Saukrates. Guests… Kool Keith, Ras Kass, Skyzoo, Saukrates, Faith Walker, Ivanna Santilli, Cyndi Cain, Danko Jones, Rich Kidd, and Ghetto Concept with Infinite. Tona and Black Orchid did additional vocals on “Tuition.” And King Reign (R.I.P.) had additional vocals on his tribute track “Tomorrow Never Promised.”
HipHopCanada: Can we assure fans right now that there’s going to be another album in the works after this one?
Maestro Fresh Wes: In terms of new albums after this, my answer is why the fuck not? (Laughing) Artists should just keep creating. Already started working on Compositions Vol. 2.
HipHopCanada: It’s been a few years now since Drake first hit the international stage and created a wave of international interest for Canadian hip-hop, particularly hip-hop from Toronto. How do you think the next few years look for the scene?
Maestro Fresh Wes: Drake inspired not only his generation but he inspired me as well. When I see acts like Tory, PartyNextDoor, Weeknd, Jazz Cartier make international moves it makes me even wanna work harder. I’m a big fan of my city. MCs like Adam Bomb and Freedom Writers made me wanna make sure my bars were on point. Salute.
HipHopCanada: Which Canadian artists/producers are you checking for the most right now? Who’s got the juice?
Maestro Fresh Wes: Besides the cats I already worked with, there are a lot of producers I like… too much to mention and I ain’t too sure who got the juice. I’m really out of the loop (Laughing).
HipHopCanada: Can you speak on the Ted speech?
Maestro Fresh Wes: My Ted Talk speech is about RE-VISION… Sticking to your vision is cool but we also gotta revise, revisit and reassess our movements. I had to make transitions from being a recording artist to an actor to an author and now doing motivational talks… my point of reference for everything was hip-hop. Through hip-hop I learned about what it takes to be great in anything I do.
HipHopCanada: Congrats on Mr. D being renewed for a seventh season! What can viewers expect from your character Paul Dwyer in the next run?
Maestro Fresh Wes: On Mr. D, my character Paul Dwyer went from school teacher to vice-principal. He started from the bottom, now he’s here and his backbone is still sliding.
Photography by Ajani Charles for HipHopCanada
Tags: Andrew Triple A, CBC, Cyndi Cain, Ghetto Concept, Infinite, Ivana Santilli, King Reign, Kool Keith, Kwajo Cinqo, Lord Quest, Maestro Fresh Wes, Ras Kass, Saukrates, Skyzoo, Soundsmith Productions, Tone Mason