In honor of the Ottawa's first Urban Music Festival -- kicking off tomorrow night -- I thought I would write a column on the Canadian hip-hop scene.
But since I have been brainwashed into believing that hip-hop can be found only in the mecca and medina of L.A. and New York, I tracked down a true expert -- Canada's former (and soon-to-be future?) rap superstar, Maestro Fresh-Wes.
A true old-schooler, the Maestro began rapping in '79 and had himself a rep in Toronto by '82. But national fame eluded him until 1990, when his debut album Symphony in Effect went nearly double platinum on the strength of Let Your Backbone Slide.
He won a few Juno and MuchMusic video awards, released a couple follow-up albums and then promptly fell off the radar.
"I blew up in Canada and that was great and all but (my label) wasn't doing their job in America," says Maestro. "I was tired of going over there and visiting so I had to move over there to take care of my career."
Maestro lived in New York from '92 to '96 in an attempt to build some credibility in the U.S. But his label didn't know how to market him and eventually went under. So Maestro just put out a couple of records on his own
"You always have to prove yourself. This is a very fickle fan base. I love my true die-hard fans, but in terms of hip-hop in general, it's always the flavor of the month."
On the heels of his recent Pioneer Award from the newly-formed Canadian Urban Music Awards, Maestro is set to drop the needle again this fall with a new album called Built To Last.
"When I did this album, I listened to a lot of my fans. The underground heads, you know, they was liking the VIP-only joints. The lyrical underground stuff. So I made sure the album was bodied with lyrical potency on that level. At the same time it's very multi-dimensional. It's not one style alone."
So what's your spin on the state of CanCon rap in '98?
"I like these new guys, I feel 'em. I support 'em. I buy their records and stuff. But I feel that we, as a whole, have a long way to go.
"We should improve, you know, in terms of our music, in terms of our management, in terms of our self-esteem, in terms of our overall outlook.
"I just think we need hit records. We need better music, man. Straight up, you know what I mean?"