The Emergence of the Indie Canadian Hip Hop Scene

Indie Canadian Hip Hop is underrated and deserve a lot more fame. This scene is full of gems to be discovered and contemplated. Canada has the advantage of being culturally close to America but at the same time managed to keep proximity to the old continent with UK and France. Also, being a small country gives them a precious freedom and the diversity of their immigration gives extra spices to the melting pot.

During the early 00s, some artists – often self released – started to spark the world’s attention. We can call it its golden age of indie Hip Hop as a lot of interesting artists and labels from this period are still relevant and haven’t lost of their freshness.

Let’s start our journey from the west with Swollen Members from Vancouver. This band is the flagship of the underground Canadian Hip Hop. Tracks like “Pokerface” showed the world that they were playing on the same league as the cream of the American scene.

From the beginning, one of the MCs named Mad Child started to the hold rein of the business side by building the label “Battle Axe” where they released their first releases. One of the local great bands they signed is Sweatshop Union. A lot more poppy and happier than the Swollen Members, they still hold the flag high.

TRACK >> Swollen Members
Pokerface (Bad Dreams, Battle Axe, 2001)

TRACK >> Sweatshop Union
Union Dues (Sweatshop Union, 2002)

 

On the same turf another kind of Hip Hop was blooming. Producer / MC and entrepreneur McEnroe entered in the game at a pretty early age. Dinging up samples from his huge collection or records from Balkan folk to classical music records, he managed to produce very sleek and rich beats. Founder of the record label Peanut & Corn, he signed interesting artists for whom he often produced instrumentals. Gruf (aka Gruf The Druid) from Winnipeg is probably the most abstract lyricist among them. His thoughtful words seem to be inspired by the nature.

TRACK >> McEnroe
Wandering Eye (Disenfranchised, 2003)

TRACK >> Gruf The Druid
Wandering Eye (Druidry, 2001)

 

Now let’s move a little bit further east. Again, Toronto has been a nest for different type of Hip Hop. The producer & rapper Noah23 also founded his own record label named Plague Language. He managed to push the Hip Hop musical boundaries a little bit further with his spontaneous fusion of raw acoustic instrument, electronic beats and wild MCing. The lively result was a fresh breeze of Hip Hop artists coming from this imprint.

The Jamaican and Drum & Bass influences of the label became a lot more obvious on Orko’s release “Atom of Eden”.  This concept album is a stunning painting of a dark (not so distant) future.

TRACK >> Noah23
Insect Network (Neophyte Phenotype, 2001)

TRACK >> Orko The Sycotik Alien
Future Evolution (Atoms of Eden, 2003)

 

Québec, the French speaking part of Canada hasn’t been waiting in the dark. Music there is more influenced by the French speaking Caribbean islands and now more and more by Arabian immigrants. A lot closer to Europe, the scene brings an electronic feel to Canada. But at the same time, the Native American blood of the Canadian nation seems to be more present.

One of the most famous one is Loco Locass who signed on Audiogram their first album. This independent label uses to focus on artists from Québec.
Loco Locass proudly defend the “francophonie” but also reject simplistic anti-Americanism. Lyrics are also often denouncing ultra-liberalism and the world of finance’s abuses of power.

On the other side, bands like Omnikron are more influenced by American Hip Hop and especially the Crunk / Dirty South genres. Not afraid of anglicism and raw lyrics, they did interesting collaborations with the French band TTC (signed on the English record label Big Dada) and the Quebecer Electronica / Hip Hop / Tropical Bass producer Ghislain Poirier.

TRACK >> Loco Locass
La Bataille des Murailles (Amour Oral, 2004)

TRACK >> Gislain Poirier ft. Omnikron
Rivière de diamants (Futurs Millionaires Vol. 1, 2005)

 

I wouldn’t have finished my tour of this era without mentioning 2 artists who have released amazing tunes on both majors and prestigious non Canadian independent record labels.

Buck 65, from the remote Nova Scotia, is a very interesting artist in the indie Hip Hop world. Producer and MC, he created a blend of folk and abstract Hip Hop tracks with various influences. In 2001, one of his first release “Man Overboard” was signed on Anticon, certainly the most avant-garde American Hip Hop record label of the early 00s.

The second artist worth to be mentioned is Kid Koala. This Canadian, from Chinese descent born in Vancouver, is probably one of the most original Turntablist / producer of its generation. Far from the American turntablism schools (such X-Ecutioners) this guy crafted his own unique sound influenced by Jazz, Blues and the cartoon world. His releases, on the British forward thinking record label Ninja Tune, have literally transported turntablism to the next level where narration is more important than technical performances. He also participated to the crazy futuristic concept album project named Deltron 3030. This Hip Hop supergroup gathers Dan The Automator, Kid Koala and Del The Funky Homosapien. Less experimental than his other projects, this album remains a masterpiece.

TRACK >> Buck65
Roses and Bluejays (Talkin’ Honky Blues, 200.)

TRACK >> Kid Koala
Skanky Panky (Some of My Best Friends Are DJs, 2003)

 

This small Canadian Hip Hop revolution managed to find its way in the Hip Hop international game and set the basis of a thriving musical scene. This evolution is actually parallel to a more global evolution in the indie world where a lot of labels are coming from every corner of globe with nice productions.

 

 

Swollen Members
Pokerface (Bad Dreams, Battle Axe, 2001)

Sweatshop Union
Union Dues (Sweatshop Union, 2002)

McEnroe
Wandering Eye (Disenfranchised, 2003)

Gruf The Druid
Wandering Eye (Druidry, 2001)

Noah23
Insect Network (Neophyte Phenotype, 2001)

Orko the sycotik Alien (AKA Orko Eloheim)
Future Evolution (Atoms of Eden, 2003)

Noah23
Insect Network (Neophyte Phenotype, 2001)

Baracuda72
Duplicate Version featuring Noah23 (Tetragammoth, 2002)

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