Maestro Fresh Wes's Legacy of 'Firsts' - The JUNO Awards

Few artists have made an impact on Canadian music history quite like the Godfather of Canadian Hip-Hop, Maestro Fresh Wes. A true trailblazer, Maestro Fresh Wes’s career is studded with historic firsts, and on March 24th, he is set to achieve yet another as the first Rap artist to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. 

In celebration of Black History Month and his upcoming induction, we are shining a light on Maestro’s pioneering spirit by recounting the many historic achievements that have defined his career.

The first Canadian rapper to break into the Billboard Top 40

In the late 1980s, when Canadian Hip-Hop was still finding its voice, Maestro Fresh Wes surfaced as a fresh talent with the release of his debut album Symphony in Effect. The album’s lead single, “Let Your Backbone Slide” not only soared to No. 10 on the RPM Canadian Singles Chart but also broke barriers by securing a spot on the Billboard Top 40, making Maestro Fresh Wes the first Canadian rapper to achieve this feat.

The first Canadian artist to receive Gold and Platinum certification

The success of Maestro Fresh Wes’s music did not stop there. Maestro Fresh Wes’s impact extended beyond chart success when he became the first Canadian rapper to receive the Gold certification for his single “Let Your Backbone Slide”  and the first Canadian artist, regardless of genre, to earn Platinum certification for Symphony in Effect

Maestro Fresh Wes performs at the 50th Annual JUNO Awards Broadcast during the 30th Anniversary Tribute to Rap at the JUNOS. Photo by: CARAS/Denis Duquette

The inaugural winner of the JUNO Award for Rap Album of the Year

In 1990, “Let Your Backbone Slide” received its first JUNO nomination. The single was recognized for Best Dance Recording, a result of the lack of dedicated Rap JUNO categories at the time. However, the song’s immense popularity and the growing influence of Black music in Canada prompted the JUNOS to establish the Best Rap Recording category in 1991. This decision marked a significant milestone, with Maestro Fresh Wes making history as the award’s inaugural winner.

Maestro Fresh wins the first JUNO Awards for Rap Recording of the Year. 1991. Photo Credit: Barry Roden

The first Rap song to be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame

Decades after its release “Let Your Backbone Slide” remains one of the most successful and influential Canadian songs of all time. In 2019, commemorating its 30th anniversary, the track was inducted into the Canadian Songwriter Hall of Fame. This milestone carried significant weight as it marked the first time a rap song had ever received the honour.

The first Rap artist to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame

At The 2024 JUNO Awards on March 24th, Maestro Fresh Wes will make history once again. His induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame not only pays homage to his remarkable career but also positions him as the first Rap artist to join the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, solidifying his legacy as the true Godfather of Canadian Hip-Hop.

Witness Maestro’s Fresh Wes’s historic induction live in Halifax. Tickets to the 2024 JUNO Awards are on sale now at

Feature image: 2019 JUNO Awards Broadcast. Maestro Fresh Wes introducing performance by Nav. Budweiser Gardens, London, ON. March 17, 2019. Photo: CARAS\iPhoto