From Vinyl to Verses: Maestro Fresh Wes Dives into Hip-Hop's Past - The JUNO Awards

Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee, Maestro Fresh Wes has been in the hip-hop game for decades. Coming up in the 1980s when hip-hop was still in its formative years, Maestro Fresh Wes has not only witnessed the evolution of the genre but actively contributed to it. To celebrate his upcoming induction, Maestro Fresh Wes sat down with JUNO TV to discuss his journey and how hip-hop has changed throughout the years.

One of the most significant transitions to Maestro Fresh Wes was the shift from physical to digital music consumption. Recalling the days when hip-hop enthusiasts would journey to record stores to purchase physical copies of albums, he remarked on the commitment required to be a fan. “I think [the reason why] people gravitated towards me for such a long time is because it was a real investment to be a fan of an artist,” he explained. “It wasn’t just like [pressing] a button on your phone.” 

Maestro Fresh Wes. 30 Year of Rap Tribue at The 2021 JUNO Awards. Photo credit: CARAS /iPhoto

For him, this labour of love was more than just borrowing sounds; it was a craft that required respect for the original material and a keen eye for detail. “It wasn’t just a sample,” Maestro Fresh Wes reminisced. “It was like the science behind doing that, the science behind digging in the crates, getting your fingers dusty. That’s why when you put it together it’s something that’s epic.”

While discussing the process of creating music, Maestro Fresh Wes praised icons like Rappers Delight, Sugar Hill Gang, and LL Cool J, singling out a verse from LL Cool J’s “Ahh, Let’s Get Ill” as a favourite. Drawing comparisons to his JUNO-winning hit ”Let Your Backbone Slide”, he highlighted the use of alliteration and the significance of wordplay, stating, “He rocks with the L’s, I rock with the B’s.

“I’m the Ladies Love, Legend in Leather / Long and Lean, and I don’t wear pleather / Last of the red-hot lovin’ MC’s / Lookin’ for a Little, that’s my theory / It goes quick Like Lightning, too exciting / Lover of Ladies, don’t allow biting / Level-headed Leader, toy boy feeder”

Further emphasizing the importance of originality in crafting rap lyrics, Maestro Fresh Wes described his unique methodology, “The word mad will always rhyme with glad, it’s never going to go away, but the thing is, you come up with a concept that hasn’t been done before… How can you say something that no one’s said before or thought of and make that in a way that sounds cool and palatable to the average hip-hop head?”

This idea of coming up with a concept that had never been done before was also central to Maestro Fresh Wes’s artistic evolution. In 1988, feeling the need for change, Maestro Fresh Wes shed the name Melody MC and adopted his now-famous moniker. Walking past a Tuxedo Royal, he recalled the exact moment of inspiration saying, “There was a black tux chilling right there and I’m like, wow, Maestro Fresh Wes, that’s my new rap name.”

Maestro Fresh Wes performing at The JUNO Awards. 1990.

It was shortly after his reinvention that he released “Let Your Backbone Slide”, wearing a tuxedo in the accompanying music video. “It was just me thinking where the average head might not think of something being cool, right? I just wanted to think outside the box,” he shared. “Once you come up with the concepts, everything starts getting easier for you. It’s like it’s written already. Now it’s just connecting the dots.” 

As Maestro Fresh Wes prepares for his induction at The 2024 JUNO Awards, he remains steadfast in his commitment to making a lifelong impact on the genre, “For hip hop, I made an impact, man, a major impact for generations. I say don’t make records, make history. And that’s something I’ve really tried to do in time. So it’s not just about putting out a song. It’s about the impact on generations. To be an intergenerational artist, to me, that’s really important.”

You can witness Maestro Fresh Wes’s historic Canadian Music Hall of Fame induction at The 2024 JUNO Awards in Halifax Sunday, March 24th. Tickets available now at