One’s a certified hip-hop legend, the other, one of the most promising young MCs in the game today. Together, Maestro Fresh Wes and Famous are artists who represent the past, present and future when it comes to heralding the growth of Canada’s hip-hop scene.
For Black History Month in February, CBC Music connected with these two black Canadian artists for their thoughts and insights on how far our hip-hop scene has come and where it’s going.
Is hip-hop in a good place right now, in terms of industry support and genre recognition?
Maestro: I would say that there’s never really been an industry, but there’s always been a scene. To have an industry means more than one or two artists who are selling units and making a substantial income. So based on that, there’s not really an industry based on hip-hop in Canada in terms of making money off record sales and off touring.
Famous: I’ve watched Maestro answer this question before and it’s exactly my answer. That’s exactly how I’m feeling.
Maestro: So from a scene perspective, there are a couple of anomalies like Drake or K’naan, who are taking things to the next level. So in terms of the scene and artistry, there’s a lot of talent coming out of Canada from an international perspective and I think we’re just as good or better than anyone on this planet.
Famous: I feel there’s more reception to the music when we travel [abroad]. The genre itself, music is like the last thing people are listening to [these days]. It’s more who produced it or what’s the gimmick. In Canada, just population-wise, we just don’t have the numbers. I think Toronto, as a city, has the numbers and in Canada is a big spot but support is often not there.
Maestro: There’s always room for improvement.
So is there a strong sense of community in the Canadian hip-hop scene?
Maestro: Definitely. I’m working on my new album Orchestrated Noise, and I think that the community came together to help me on this one. I’ve got people like Saukrates and Kardi on this album. I’m excited about it and the thing is, these artists were excited to work with me. So it’s a blessing that we’ve got so much history and talent. We might not have an industry but we’ve definitely got a community. We’ve made mistakes in the past, but now we’re just trying to keep things moving. It’s a great time right now in terms of black music in Canada, when two of the biggest artists out there right now are Drake and K’naan.
Famous: I think there’s two different kinds of communities. When I first came into the game, I probably had a [guest appearance] from everybody who I thought was talented in the city. I wanted to work with everybody and everyone was so hungry to work with each other. And then now, it’s kind of at the point where everybody is like, "show me the money." But with Drake’s success, it has taken competition to a whole new level. There are just so many more artists now. Drake’s created a situation where there’s a whole bunch of kids from Toronto who say they’re next.
From a generational perspective, do you think that the current (younger) generation fully respects the older hip-hop artists? And are the old school artists up for mentoring the younger rappers?
Famous: I think the reason why I look into the old school hip-hop with people like Maestro and Michie Mee is because to me it’s about learning from history. So I really take in everyone’s stories. [For me] it’s about learning from people who have been in this industry for years and I’ve really gained a lot of knowledge. I’ve got a Juno nomination, an MMVA, I’ve opened for Nas and toured the U.K. But then I realize that it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s like you get there and then cool, what’s next? I’ve only realized this from seeing [the older artists].
Maestro: We’re always here. It’s like in Canada, there’s an insecurity that we’re always trying to fight. It’s like we always feel like we’re the underdogs. But realistically, [Canada is] like New York City: every borough is representing hard. I think all we’ve got to do is continue to support each other. With Famous, he’ll ask me for certain advice, and I can ask him for advice as well. When an artist passes a certain threshold, they question certain things. That’s what I’m here for. A lot of cats like that, they still see me involved in music to some capacity, but then they see my other hustles in film and television and being an author. It’s one thing to tell someone something but another to have them see you actually doing it. It’s about inspiring each other, and not just in the month of February.
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Ryan B. Patrick
on Feb 20, 2013