Rap | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Pop music genre, introduced in the mid-1970s in New York.

Pop music genre, introduced in the mid-1970s in New York. Rap was predated by various forms of vocal expression in black cultures, in particular the verbal insult games known as the "dozens" and the practice of "toasting" (in the southern US, a spoken folk narrative; in Jamaica, the rhyming of DJs over sound systems). The early 1970s fusion of political poetry with jazz, rhythm and blues, and funk was also influential. Rap typically involves the rhythmic recitation of rhyming couplets to the accompaniment of rhythm tracks often drawn from recordings manipulated in live performance (eg, turntable "scratching") or in the studio (eg, digital "sampling"). The term "rap" has been used interchangeably with "hip hop," although the latter also describes urban dance styles (eg, break-dancing), visual art (especially graffiti), and fashion. As rap's popularity grew in the 1980s and 1990s, it continued to be influenced by other styles, including reggae, ska, and calypso.

1970s - 80s

Initially a sub-cultural genre in the US, and to a lesser extent in Canada, rap was introduced to a wider pop audience by hit recordings as early as 1979. It was not, however, until the mid-1980s that it enjoyed substantial success in the pop mainstream and, in turn, that Canadian rappers - most of West Indian background, many already performing on an amateur, social basis for several years - began to emerge from the black communities of Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. The first wave of rappers, ca 1980-4 - MCs Supreme, Brother A, Sunshine, and the Ebony Crew - were not recorded.

The broader acceptance of Canadian rappers lagged behind that of their US counterparts as a result of the lack of interest shown by major Canadian record companies in black music generally. As a result, Canadian rappers were groomed by independent producers and managers, most notably Ivan Berry of Toronto's Beat Factory Productions, established in 1987. One of Berry's first projects, Michie Mee (Michelle McCulloch) and LA Luv (Phillip Gayle), had their early reggae-influenced efforts in 1988 ("On this Mike," "Elements of Style," and "Victory Is Calling") released by US and European labels.

1990s - 2000s

It was not until the domestic mainstream success in 1990 of "Let Your Backbone Slide" by Maestro Fresh-Wes (Wesley Williams, b Toronto, of Guyanese parents, 1968) that Canadian labels began to take an active role in the recording of rap. Fresh-Wes' debut album Symphony in Effect sold more than 150,000 copies, included a second hit, "Drop the Needle," and in 1991 won the inaugural Juno Award for best rap recording.

Other Canadian rap artists to emerge in 1990 included MCJ and Cool G, HDV, and the Dream Warriors. Montreal's MCJ and Cool G (James McQuaid and Richard Gray respectively, originally from Halifax) employed an R&B-influenced style exemplified by "So Listen" and "Smooth as Silk." HDV (Sean Merrick of Toronto) presented provocative "hard core" rap (eg, "Pimp of the Microphone") that spoke of the harsh, inner-city realities faced by some Canadian blacks. The Dream Warriors (King Lou and Capital Q, Louis Robinson and Frank Allert respectively, of Toronto) had great success 1990-1 in Europe with the lyrically and musically eclectic songs "Wash Your Face in My Sink," "My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style" (1992 rap Juno), and "Ludi," while still relatively unknown in Canada. Other rappers active in this period included Simply Majestic featuring B. Kool ("Dance to the Music [Work Your Body]"), Krush and Skad, Main Source, RazorBlayd, Top Secret, Slinky Dee, Self-Defence, and K-4ce (K-Force).

Rap A Powerful Alternative Since 1991

With the European success of the Dream Warriors and the flurry of debut albums by other artists, Toronto was hailed in 1991 by the international press as an important new rap music centre. If the wholehearted acceptance of rap by the Canadian pop music industry remained in question, the country's rappers by then had nevertheless developed a strong, community-based media, production and entrepreneurial infrastructure that, together with the rise of still newer artists - Fresh B., KGB, Nu Black Nation, R&R, Sonyalive, Base Poet, Sweet Ebony, Brothers Doing Work, Nubian Islamic Force, etc - ensured that their music would be, at the very least, a powerful and often defiant alternative to the Canadian pop mainstream of the early 1990s.

In the late 1990s and 2000s a number of important Canadian rap artists emerged, such as Vancouver's Rascalz (1997's "Cash Crop"); Nova Scotia-born Buck 65 (Richard Terfry, 1997's "The Centaur"); Toronto's Choclair (Kareem Blake, 1999's "Ice Cold" and "Let's Ride"); Saukrates (Amani Wailoo, 2000's "Love or Money"); k-os (Kevin Brereton, 2004's "Crabbuckit," "B-Boy Stance," and "Joyful Rebellion"); and Kardinal Offishall (Jason Harrow, 2008's "Dangerous"). Also notable was the 1998 collaboration "Northern Touch" (winner of the 1999 rap Juno) by Rascalz with Checkmate, Kardinal Offishall, Thrust, and Choclair. Rascalz also won the 1998 Juno for best rap recording for "Cash Crop," but declined it on the basis of racism, as the first eight years of rap Juno awards (1991-8) were not televised.

Rap Adopted By Non-Blacks

The success of rap in the 1980s prompted white performers to adopt the style, among them - in Canada - the Shuffle Demons, who had success as early as 1987 with their rap-influenced "Spadina Bus" and "Get Outta My House, Roach." A rap version of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" by the bilingual and interracial Montreal trio Laymen Twaist was popular in 1990. The Japanese-Canadian Kish (Andrew Kishino of Toronto who, like Maestro Fresh-Wes, was produced by the First Offence team of Peter and Anthony Davis) made his record debut in 1991 with "I Rhyme the World in 80 Days." In the mid-1990s rap also established a foothold with Aboriginal youth, especially in Cree communities, who saw the genre as a powerful mode of political expression. Among Aboriginal rap artists to emerge in the 1990s and 2000s were Alberta's Bannock (Darren Tootoosis) and War Party (originally Rex and Cynthia Smallboy, Karmen Omeosoo, Tom Crier); BC's 7th Generation (Rob Sawan, Zane Gold, Nacoma George); Ontario's Tru Rez Crew; and others.

Rap in French

Rap in French was introduced by the Montreal group, Les French B., (Jean-Robert Bisaillon and Richard Gauthier) in 1989 with the politically charged "Je m'en souviens" (on the subject of Quebec's language law Bill 101). The Mouvement rap francophone - Kool Rock (Ghislain Proulx) and Jay Tree (Jean Tarzi) - followed with "M.R.F. est arrivé" later in 1990, and Le Boyfriend (Stephen Chétrit) with "Rapper chic" early in 1991. A white Muslim rapper, Malik Shaheed (John Morrow) of Montreal, produced politically driven tracks in Spanish, as well as French and English. The bilingual soul- and gospel-influenced Dubmatique, also of Montreal, emerged in 1997 with its debut album La force de comprendre. The album sold 100,000 copies, penetrating both Francophone and Anglophone markets, and won the group a Félix trophy at the 1997 ADISQ. The separatist rap group Loco Locass has been very successful in French-speaking Quebec. In 2004 the single "Liberez-Nous des Liberaux" (Liberate us from the Liberals) received media attention for its scrutiny of the Quebec government, and became the unofficial anthem for a variety of like-minded political groups and unions.

Rap Elements in Pop Songs

Rap choruses have also been heard in reggae songs recorded by Messenjah and in pop songs by Céline Dion, Nathalie Simard, Nelly Furtado, and others. The reggae-pop artist Snow (Darrin O'Brien) also included rap elements in some of his songs, such as 1993's "Informer." The Toronto-based rock bands Rush and Barenaked Ladies also explored rap elements in such songs as "Roll the Bones" (1991) and "One Week" (1998), respectively.

Rap Awards

Vancouver's Swollen Members have won the most rap Junos, followed by Choclair. Rap Junos since 1993 have also been awarded to Devon, TBTBT, Ghetto Concept, Rascalz, k-os, Somalia-born K'Naan, Palestine-born Belly, and Kardinal Offishall. Winners of The Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards' rap and hip hop category (introduced in 2001) have included War Party, Tru Rez Crew, Team Rezofficial, Eekwol, Reddnation, Da Skelpa Squad, 7th Generation, and Chief.

Selected Discography

Belly. The Revolution. 2007

B.T.K. Birth Thru Knowledge (with BTK). 1998

Buck 65. Vertex. 1997

Cadence Weapon. Breaking Kayfabe. 2005

Choclair. Ice Cold. 1999

Dream Warriors. And Now the Legacy Begins. (1991). Island 391-310

- A Decade of Hits 1988-1998. 1999

Eekwol. Apprentice to the Mystery. 2004

Ghetto Concept. "Certified" (single). 1993

HDV. Sex Drugs & Violence. (1990). Isba ISCD-2018

Kardinal Offishall. Not 4 Sale. 2008

Kish. Order from Chaos. (1991). A & M 70301-9172

K'Naan. The Dusty Foot Philosopher. 2005

k-os. Joyful Rebellion. 2004

Laymen Twaist. Walk on the Wild Side. (1990). Isba ISCD-2022

Loco Locass. Manifestif. 2000. Audiogram

- In Vivo. 2003. Freeset Interactive Entertainment

- Amour oral. 2004. Audiogram

Maestro Fresh Wes. Symphony in Effect. 1989. Attic ACD-1272

- The Black Tie Affair. 1991. Attic ACD-1312

- Built to Last. 1998

MCJ and Cool G. So Listen. 1990. Cap C-94700

Michie Mee and L.A. Luv. Jamaican Funk - Canadian Style. 1991. First Priority/Atlantic 7-91654

Rascalz. Cash Crop. 1997

- "Northern Touch" (single). 1998

RazorBlayd. Razor's Gruv. 1991. Blast/Justin Entertainment BLD-1001

Reddnation. Now or Never. (2006)

Saukrates. "Saukrates Season" (single). 2005

7th Generation. Kasp Komplikations. 2002

Simply Majestic. The Album. 1991. Cap C2-96543

Shad. The Old Prince. 2007

Slinky Dee. King Creo. 1988. Cold Kick'N Records CKR-001

Swollen Members. Balance. 1999

- Bad Dreams. 2001

Tru Rez Crew. Ain't No Turning Back. 2003

War Party. The Reign. 2000

- The Greatest Natives from the North. 2001

Also, the anthologies Breakin' Out (Up Your Records 2B No 1 As B4, issued in 1987), Je rappe en français (Station 12 STAC-500, issued in 1991 with 'Je m'en souviens' and 'Rapper chic,' etc) and Cold Front (Attic ACD-1313, issued in 1991 with Dream Warriors, Kish, Main Source, Maestro Fresh-Wes, Nu Black Nation, Top Secret, and others)

Further Reading

External Links