When Canadian actor-turned-rapper Drake landed his breakthrough single “Best I Ever Had” in 2009, it seemed like a nation of talented artists would soon follow in his footsteps.
Canadian rappers have long lingered at the margins of American hip-hop: Maestro Fresh Wes in the late ‘80s, Dream Warriors and Ghetto Concept (authors of cult classic “E-Z On the Motion”) in the ‘90s, and Kardinal Offishall, Saukrates, Swollen Members, K-os and many others.
Six years after “Best I Ever Had,” Drake has inspired vocalists, including The Weeknd and Majid Jordan, who mine the same mock-introspective “singrap” and R&B-inflected pop style he occasionally employs for hits such as “Hotline Bling.” However, as far as rappers who’ve earned critical and commercial acclaim in the U.S., Drake remains a Canadian outlier.
But that may soon change.
On the Sidelines, Ready for the Spotlight
Tory Lanez hovers in the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 with “Say It,” which has a chorus inspired by Brownstone’s R&B classic “If You Love Me.” It’s the radio-friendly surface for a Toronto rapper who made a splash on social media by attempting to spark a war of words with Drake while logging several YouTube videos with million-plus views. Time will tell if Lanez can build toward a major label debut that makes him more than just gossip on rap websites.
Meanwhile, other Canadian rappers appear poised to cross over to the U.S.
Much of the activity centers on Toronto, or the “6.” “All you boys in the new Toronto wanna be me a little,” raps Drake on “Summer Sixteen.” “6! 6! 6! 6! 6! Soon as I’m back in the city they throw a parade.”
Thanks to the amoeba-like spread of ever-multiplying rap voices across the Internet, any major city can produce a movement — it’s much harder to garner widespread respect. From this American’s perspective, Toronto probably isn’t deserving of some of the social media criticism claiming that its scene “sucks.”
The rap culture there undoubtedly runs deeper than Tory Lanez and Drake. For now, we’re waiting for standouts that compare with past Canadian classics like K’naan’s The Dusty Foot Philosopher and Buck 65’s Talkin’ Honky Blues.
When the “new Toronto” leads to memorable work that also reaches the U.S. charts then we’ll know the city is a rap force to be reckoned with. Until then, the future is wide open.