Canada's Hip-Hop Legacy - The JUNO Awards

Since its origins in the early 1970s, hip-hop has transcended borders becoming one of the world’s most popular musical genres. In 2023, The JUNO Awards celebrated 50 years of hip-hop paying homage to the pivotal moments and influential artists that have shaped the country’s hip-hop landscape over the past half-century.

Interweaving storytelling with performances by hip-hop legends Choclair, Dream Warriors, Maestro Fresh Wes, Michie Mee, and TOBi, hosts Haviah Mighty and Kardinal Offishall guided audiences on a journey through the history and evolution of hip-hop with a focus on Canada’s contributions to the genre.

Beginning with hip-hop’s inception in New York City’s West Bronx in 1973, Kardinal Offishall reflected on the legendary “back to school jam” hosted by Jamaican native DJ Kool Herc. A pivotal moment that catalyzed the spread of hip-hop, DJ Kool Herc introduced a new form of music and culture to the world.

As hip-hop found its footing in Canada, it began to flourish in cities like Montreal and Toronto thanks to radio shows such as Club 980 and Fantastic Voyage. “If radio was the medium, then hip-hop was the message,” Haviah Mighty explained. “This finally meant airplay for hip-hop pioneers like Mr Q, the man behind Canada’s first known hip-hop single ‘Ladies Delight.’”

Transitioning from radio to live music venues such as Toronto’s Concert Hall, fans gathered to hear hip-hop artists such as Kilowatt with Lady P, Chic Dynasty, and Sunshine Sound Crew. Television shows like MuchMusic’s RapCity and X-tendamix (later “Da Mix”) further fueled the movement, showcasing videos from B-Kool – the first Rapper to win a JUNO for best R&B/Soul recording – Simply Majestic, Frank Morrell, MCJ & Cool G, Kish, Rumble and Canada’s Godfather of hip-hop, Maestro Fresh Wes.

The 1990s, often hailed as the “Golden Era” of Canadian hip-hop, ushered in a fresh wave of talent, including Ghetto Concept, Saukrates, Swollen Members, and k-os. Adding to the list of up-and-coming rappers at the time, Kardinal Offishall told audiences, “DIY trailblazers like Monolith, Citizen Kane, The Circle with Tara Chase, GCP, Frankenstein, GrassRoots, Point Blank, Mathematics, Red Life, and Black-I were among those who reshaped the hip-hop landscape as we know it.”

The West Coast rap group Rascalz single “Northern Touch” featuring Kardinal Offishall, Checkmate, Thrust and Choclair connected coasts, solidifying a space for hip-hop in the national conversation. Their album Ice Cold went gold in 30 days and drew attention from some of the biggest names in hip-hop including Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.

The 2000s and beyond produced some of the most talented and successful hip-hop artists of all time. “The world would not look the same if it wasn’t for the unprecedented talent, influence and vision of [men] like Drake.” Kardinal Offishall declared. “He continued to open doors and helped focus the world’s attention on our thriving hip-hop scene.”

From Belly to Classified, Nav to Mercules, and Shad to Cadence Weapon, Canadian hip-hop continues to thrive and evolve, with a new generation of artists pushing the boundaries of the genre. “The history of hip-hop around the world is incredibly rich, with so many distinct voices contributing to the narrative,” Kardinal Offishall shared in advance of the tribute. “It’s an honour to be able to help tell this story through a distinctly Canadian lens and celebrate this important cultural milestone…”

Featured photo: The 50th Anniversary of Hip-Hop tribute at The 2023 JUNO Awards Broadcast. Rogers Place, Edmonton. March 13 2023. Photo by CARAS/Ryan Bolton