Cdn. hip-hop taking off

PAUL CANTIN

, Last Updated: 12:25 AM ET

As a measure of how far things have come for Canadian hip-hop, just think back to March 1998, when the Vancouver-based group Rascalz won a Juno for best hip-hop act.

 The group refused to accept the prize and complained that the Canadian music industry -- which declined to present the prize during the televised portion of the awards show -- was treating the burgeoning Canadian urban music scene with contempt.

 Jump ahead to Wednesday's announcement of the Juno nominees and the notable triumph of Scarborough, Ont.-born MC Choclair, who is not only nominated in the hip-hop category, but also merited a nomination in the overall category of Best Male Artist.

 There he is, alongside country crooner Paul Brandt, modern rocker Edwin and veteran singer-songwriters Bryan Adams and Tom Cochrane. It would be almost unthinkable a few years ago, and after the announcement of his nomination, Choclair credited Rascalz stand with planting a seed in the Canadian music establishment that is now coming to fruition.

 "I think the (Rascalz's) message got through a little bit," Choclair said Wednesday in Toronto after the nominations were announced.

 "(Rascalz) came out and they had no radio play or anything, and they were still able to have a gold record and sell a lot of records. They took a stand. I think the stand opened up some eyes to say: 'Okay, maybe this should be looked at a little more closely.'

 "I think they are looking at it more closely and seeing all the things that are happening with it and all the cool success hip-hop is having in Canada."

 Actually, the success of Canadian hip-hop is starting to become something more than just a domestic phenomenon.

 Rapper and producer Kardinal Offishall is currently enjoying breakout success with his single, "Husslin'." The respected American radio tracking publication The Gavin Report recently rated "Husslin"" as the most played rap track on U.S. radio.

 "By far, the hottest 12-inch on the platter right now. With three cuts to choose from, you can't go wrong," Gavin enthused of "Husslin'" and its B-sides, "Mic Thugs" and the witty "U R Ghetto When."

 The American radio magazine Hits also rated "Husslin'" as the top rap single on American radio, ahead of tracks by more established hip-hop acts like Snoop Dogg, De La Soul, Raekwon and LL Cool J.

 "I think they are fantastic considering there are American artists trying to get that kind of stature, and they haven't got it. I think it says a lot," says Anne-Marie Smith, creative manager for Warner/Chappell music publishing, which signed Kardinal Offishall to a publishing deal three years ago.

 "It's a very exciting time for Kardinal right now. Anything that happens right now will be icing on the cake. With it doing so well out of the box, it is really inspiring to see."

 While Virgin Records, which signed Choclair in Canada, opted to give his album, "Ice Cold", a massive launch in Canada before its American release next month on U.S.-based Priority Records, Kardinal has stayed independent and focused on the more mature U.S. urban radio market.

 "Obviously, urban music has been a staple in the States for the last five years," says Warner/Chappell's Smith, adding that response in Canada to Kardinal's "Husslin'" has begun to take off. MuchMusic has placed the track in medium rotation and it has landed at number 41 in The Record magazine's top 100 Canadian radio chart.

 "Things have changed drastically in the last two years. With Choclair's album doing so well, it will be for the better later on ... Canada is still in its pioneering stage of cultivating urban music. Until it gets to the point where it is a foundation rather than a guinea-pig response to artists like Kardinal, it is better to look to the States," says Smith.

 "I don't think labels here can afford to take on urban music right now. There's a lot that goes into it, moneywise. You need to promote it in a different way and treat it like a top rock act. That's the kind of audience it can pull, but I don't know if that is what the industry wants to hear yet."


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