Canadian Artists Explain The First Time They Heard Hip-Hop

Complex Canada asked a selection of Canadian artists of various ages when they first discovered hip-hop. Here’s what they said.

Kardinal Offishall and Haviah Mighty
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Happy 50th anniversary to hip-hop.

1520 Sedgewick Avenue in the Bronx is viewed as the official locale that birthed the crucial two of the four elements (b-boy and graffiti would follow on the streets), when two tables and a microphone were pulled out in the rec room on August 11 of 1973.

So Canada is a little behind its own 50th anniversary of hip-hop, but not by much. The first Canadian rap song emerged in 1979, courtesy of Mr. Q’s “Ladies Delight,” his answer to The Sugarhill Gang’s now-classic “Rapper’s Delight.” For a quick history lesson, check out the 50th anniversary tribute Kardinal Offishall put together for the 2023 Juno Awards back including Canada’s contributions.

Pioneering DJ Mel Boogie says “Canadian hip-hop has a very rich history that sometimes gets overlooked. I know we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the culture as a whole, but Canada’s contribution to that incredible complex, layered intricate history."

Complex Canada asked a selection of Canadian artists of various ages when they first discovered hip-hop. Here’s what they said.

Kardinal Offishall and Haviah Mighty

Kardinal Offishall

We don't get to really expound with a lot of detail, but there is a lot of mentions. Sunshine Sound Crew, Kilowatt, Sheet Dynasty, going back, talking about Fantastic Voyage and Powermove, all these different things that laid very important bricks in the foundation, if you will. That's the thing, there are so many different people and angles that you could take, but I think what we did [with the Juno tribute], and I think we did a decent job, is mentioning the staples, but then also some people that people may not be aware of. We're talking about B-Kool, although he didn't win a Juno for best rap. He was the first rapper to win a Juno [featured on Simply Majestic’s win for best R&B/soul recording for ‘’Dance To The Music’] or any of the other artists that we mentioned. So it's a good, it's a good starting block.

Maestro Fresh Wes

The first time I heard hip-hop was ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by Sugarhill Gang—the ill part was I had a chance to perform with them because one of the members passed away— I don’t think I heard ‘Ladies Delight.’ Here, it started in the 70s with Sunshine Sound Crew, bringing music from the States.

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Preston Pablo

My first memory of hip-hop was Eminem and 50 Cent. I was a little young at the time but they were huge and they were running that era at the time. And Canadians, Kardinal I used to listen to all the time.

Jessie Reyez

It was Biggie. The skating rink I used to go to as a kid had this rotating playlist and it was always Biggie. I was like, ‘What is this?” and then I dove in. Canadian hip-hop, I’m a massive fan of k-os. I think the end of "Man I Used To Be" is probably one of the best pieces of music that exists. I think it’s perfect. It’s hard not to be critical as a musician. It’s hard to suspend that analytical state when you’re consuming the world that you’re in, but that song and that outro is something. There’s so much hip-hop history in Canada, it’s insane.


When I was much younger, probably three or four years old, but ever since I was a kid. My mom had a Nelly album that she’d play on repeat. That was the first one. He’s great. That’s the one that sticks out.


I’ve heard a lot of the old stuff and new stuff, but I don’t remember the first time. Probably Eminem was my first exposure to any kind of hip-hop or rap music. Then Dre and Tupac. I was deprived of the hip-hop genre growing up, probably until high school, and then I really got into Action Bronson.  He’s hilarious. That was the first artist I dove into.


My brother was a rapper. He makes electronic music now. Brian Aysanabee. He introduced me to all kinds of people from Wu-Tang Clan to MF Doom, who was one of the earliest rappers I got really into. He used to wear this metal mask; you never saw his face or what he looked like. And to this day, Kendrick Lamar at WayHome was probably one of the best shows I’ve seen. Canadian rappers, I listen to Classified. Is Drake a rapper? [laughs}. He’s like pop.

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Julian Taylor

It would’ve been "Let Your Backbone Slide," of course. Maestro Fresh Wes. That’s when I heard it and that’s when I got into Canadian hip-hop. Hip-hop before that would’ve probably been from New York City.


Th first hip-hop song I ever heard was DMX. I was probably six or seven years old. My cousin put it on. I had no concept of what it was. Maybe "Where My Dogs At?" or something like that. I couldn’t tell you, but there was just something about it. It just caused an internal visceral feeling. Then I did my research. It was like another course at university, but I did it myself. Canadians, Kardinal, Saukrates, for sure, and then k-os. I like k-os because he’s mad eclectic and was just free. And Kardinal was just raw, and Saukrates just soulful, vibey, groovy, and just nasty.

Haviah Mighty

My discovery, I believe it was Lauryn Hill. That was my intro and the Fugees. That was the overall intro. There were other artists, but that was the monumental life-changing recurring in the home, playing the records. Canadian, I can’t say I remember the first, but the biggest Canadian songs to me, in my home—there’s "Let Your Backbone Slide" by Maestro, of course, and "Let’s Ride" by Choclair, for me, was huge, and also, there’s a track by BrassMunk called "Big" and it was so big, I love that song. I’m still discovering. I’m also going forward as well, so I’m listening to the sounds of today. I’m listening to the sounds of then and I’m also figuring out where I fit amongst that and trying to make sure it comes out authentic.

Michie Mee

It was mostly funk, like "Genius of Love,"  "Le Freak," "Get Down On It." And Rick James. It was out of the funk, mixing with a little jazz and a lot of dancehall. Sister Nancy, Lone Ranger, Yellowman. There was a lot of influence in the reggae, but I couldn’t write reggae as well as I could rap, so it was easier for me to come out with the rap because that was my generation’s music at the time. Female MCs, when we saw Us Girls in [the 1984 movie] Beat Street, that put a whole spin that women can actually do hip-hop too. Seeing the three ladies perform in kind of a Sister Sledge, coming from being fans of Diana Ross and trying to be in a girl group and we were all trying to be in entertainer try to go to the school of arts, anything along those lanes. And then when hip-hop became so powerful and "The Message" came out and "Rapper’s Delight," we saw a way to find a structure of our own, in terms of the underground–‘that’s a group; that’s a group; they’re in Canada or they’re in New York or they’re in Florida. Let’s make a scene.’

Shakura S'Aida

I’m from Brooklyn so the first time I heard hip-hop I was visiting my cousin in New York and listening to what he was putting on. The first time I heard hip-hop in Toronto, there used to be a station called WBLK out of Buffalo, and, if you put tinfoil on your antennae, at night if you turned it the right way, you could get songs. And I heard this song [lyric] ‘broken glass everywhere’ on the station “and you just don’t care” and that was my first introduction into hip-hop. There was something melodic about spoken word. That was "The Message" a very long time ago.  Of course, Dream Warriors and Michie Mee were the people, and later on it was Kardinal Offishall, they really helped cement a Canadian version of hip-hop because it was mixed with all the flavours of where they came from and it was very authentic to Canada.

Dom Vallie

When did I first hear hip-hop? In the womb. My dad and my grandmother would hold up the speakers to my mom’s belly and play music. A lot of Tribe Called Quest. A lot of Bob Marley. And then once I popped out of the womb, a lot of Lil Wayne and Lil Wayne signed Drake and he became my idol. I then went right back to the two turntables. I had this book on rap history and it breaks down every year. And Canadian? Maestro, obviously, "Let Your Backbone Slide." My mom went to a Maestro concert when I was in the womb—I met him couple of times. Showed each other love. Huge respect to him. Opened the doors. But to me, honestly, it’s Drake. I was 10 or 11 years old when Lil Wayne signed him and I was like, ‘Woah. He’s from Toronto?’

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I’ve heard hip-hop for as long as I’ve been alive. My first memory is probably Biggie. I’m pretty much aging myself by saying Biggie. I’m an R&B artist and I think R&B has always had a blend between R&B and hip-hop; it’s almost been a marriage, and to understand R&B you almost have to understand hip-hop too and that goes with Lauryn Hill, people like that. James Brown, who is an R&B artist who influenced a lot of the beginning of hip-hop through samples. Canadian hip-hop, I like Michie Mee. Kardinal Offishall was the first. I’m Nigerian. I moved to Canada 14 years ago and Kardinal Offishall was the first rapper that showed up on my TV. For the longest time, I didn’t know he was Canadian until I started to hear the more Canadian-centric songs. He’s definitely a legend.

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