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what happened to vancouver hip-hop?

Posted on 14 May 2016

The thing I’m enjoying most about Drake’s victory lap after releasing Views is the amount of light being shone on Canadian hip-hop circa 1998-2003. I’m only a few months older than Drake, so we were both Canadian teenagers when songs like “Money Part One” by Jelleestone became Canada-only hits. The obvious difference is that while while I might put the song on my barbecue playlist to inspire some nostalgia among friends, Drake is able to bring it to a global audience new audience by quoting it at the end of “Weston Road Flows.”

A lot has been made of how Drake is giving exposure to new Toronto rappers, but I think it’s fair to say he’s also shining a light on the Toronto rap scene of ten years ago. By giving love to still-relatively-unknown-globally MCs like k-Os, Kardinal, and Saukrates, he is retroactively giving early 2000s Toronto the same legendary status of the Bronx in the 1970s or L.A. in the 1980s, hotbeds of creativity that would give way to global movements.

But back when The 6ix was known as the T.Dot, there as another centre to Canadian hip-hop: Vancouver. The most commercially-successful Canadian rappers of the era were Swollen Members, a hip-hop duo from the Lower Mainland who were frequently joined by fellow Vancouverite Moka Only. Nelly Furtado came up with them and went on to global superstar status. And arguably the most important Canadian rap song of all time, “Northern Touch“- which was the first chart hit for Toronto’s Choclair, Thrust, and Kardinal Offishal- officially belongs to  Canadian hip-hop legends, and Vancouverites, the Rascalz. Just as the States had New York and L.A., Canadian hip-hop had two poles, Toronto and Vancouver, neither one clearly dominant.

That’s changed today. Not just because of Drake, but certainly helped by him, Toronto is now one of the global heavyweights in the hip-hop world. Jazz Cartier, Majid Jordan, the Weeknd, Derek Wise- all routinely hitting the charts or being touted as the next big thing, not just in Canada but globally. And Vancouver? I honestly can’t name a single contemporary Vancouver MC. While Toronto’s catapulted onto the global stage, Vancouver doesn’t even seem to hold the same status on a national level. I know there is still hip-hop in the YVR, but it doesn’t seem to be spreading across the country in the same way it once did. If you have any thoughts as to why, let me know on Twitter.

Filed under: Canada, music

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