The Chronicles''WE THE NORTH''

Nordic touch part 1
August 15, 2023 by
Nation Hip-Hop, Alex Wallace

The MC’s Canadians who have marked the history of hip-hop culture.

Canadian rap is a constantly evolving musical universe. Year after year, remarkable new artists succeed one another and stand out on the local, national and international scene. Although Canadian rap is doing very well, it remains characterized by a profound duality between the francophone and anglophone scenes. Since its inception, English and French rap have evolved independently, each developing their own artists, styles and themes. This separation has often created cultural and linguistic barriers. Fans and artists on both sides sometimes struggle to connect and enjoy each other’s music..

The Hip-Hop Nation editorial team believes in bringing these two distinct cultures together. This article is the first in a series highlighting our legends in Quebec and Canadian English rap. A subject too often forgotten... By recognizing the essential role of English-speaking rap legends in the evolution of culture, we pay tribute to the entire Quebec and Canadian musical landscape.

Here are 10 essential names in the history of English-language rap in Canada:

Maestro Fresh Wes

Originally from Toronto, Wes Williams, known as the Maestro Fresh Wes stage, was instrumental in the introduction and evolution of hip-hop in Canada.

Born in 1968, Maestro Fresh Wes emerged on the music scene in the 1980s, a period when hip-hop was only beginning in Canada. In 1989, he released the historic album Symphony in Effect, becoming the first Canadian rapper to reach Billboard’s top spot in Canada. The hit single Let Your Backbone Slide became a true Canadian rap anthem and ushered in a new era for urban music in the country.

Maestro Fresh Wes was also a pioneer in exploring social and personal themes through his lyrics. His impact goes far beyond music. He has helped shape the perception of rap as an artistic and social medium in Canada 

Maestro is our Rakim. Needless to say more.​


Choclair, whose real name is Kareem Blake, is one of the greatest pioneers and legends of the great city of Toronto

Born in 1975, Choclair emerged on the music scene in the mid-1990s, at a time when rap was beginning to define itself in Canada. He played a crucial role in establishing hip-hop as a respected musical genre in the country. His unique style of intelligent lyrics mixed with current sound has allowed him to stand out not only in Canada but around the world.

One of the greatest moments of Choclair’s career was the release of his first album Ice Cold in 1999. The album was an instant hit, placing Choclair on all channels: BET, MTV, Much Music as well as in all radio and clubs in North America. The single Let’s Ride, among others, became a Canadian rap classic and helped establish its international reputation. 

Choclair is a world-renowned artist and one of the most recognized voices in Canadian rap.

Shades of Culture

At the heart of the Montreal hip-hop scene is a band that has made an impression: Shades of Culture. Formed by D-Shade, Revolution and DJ Storm, this collective has left an indelible mark on the local music scene and beyond.

Their legendary album Mindstate quickly captured the attention of hip-hop fans in early 2000. This opus, offers an eclectic mix of styles, sound and ideas 

The Payin Rent single is a brilliant example of their distinctive style. This song, anchored in a fluid production, explored the challenges of everyday life and the struggles that often affect urban neighborhoods. All on a light and humorous tone..

Shades of Culture’s legacy still resonates in Montreal’s musical fabric and in the Canadian hip-hop landscape. They paved the way for a new generation of English-speaking artists from La Belle Province.


The Canadian rap scene is full of diverse talent from coast to coast to coast. Classified, also known as Luke Boyd is an MC from Enfield, Nova Scotia. Classified has established himself as one of the best-known maritime voices.

Born on December 13, 1977, Classified grew up influenced by a variety of musical styles, from hip-hop to rock to reggae. This musical diversity is clearly reflected in his music.

One of the hallmarks of Classified is her ability to tell honest and emotional stories through her lyrics. The album Self Explanatory where he explores a wide range of subjects is a striking example.

In addition to his career as an artist, Classified is also an accomplished producer, working with various artists and collaborators.


Among the pioneering rap groups in Canada, it is impossible not to mention the iconic group Rascalz. Originally from Vancouver, Rascalz is one of the pioneers and standard-bearers of hip-hop on the West Coast of Canada combining elements of breakdance, graffiti and DJ with their music and performance.

Formed in the early 90s, the band Rascalz consisted of Red1(MC), Misfit(MC) Kemo(DJ), Zebroc(BBoy) and Dedos(BBoy). Their innovative approach to rap combined thoughtful lyrics with punchy rhythms. The group was a major influence on the development of hip-hop in Canada.

In 1997, the Rascalz surprised the world with the release of their album Cash Crop, an album that redefined the sound and identity of Canadian rap. The single Northern Touch from this album became a true Canadian rap classic bringing together several notable artists of the time, such as Choclair, Checkmate, Kardinal Offishall and Thrust.

In 1999, the Rascalz solidified their place in global rap with the release of their second studio album Global Warning. Carrying a powerful message, this album demonstrated the group’s commitment to social change and the celebration of cultural diversity.

This spectacular album contains works that transcend hip-hop such as Top of the World. This song, with the legendary Barrington Levy, introduced us for the first time a certain K-OS, who will also be a legend of Canadian rap.

For the song Witness, the Rascalz showed boldness and open-mindedness calling on their distant cousins from 67, MUZION, another legendary future Canadian rap band. Two giants, two cities, two languages, one voice. Today, this collaboration between Rascalz and Muzion is recognized as one of the greatest moments in the history of Canadian rap.


Yassin Alsalman is a legendary Montreal rapper of Iraqi origin who has established himself on the music scene under the pseudonym The Narcicyst. With his undeniable talent for words and commitment to social and political subjects, The Narcicyst, now better known as Narcy, has crossed artistic and cultural boundaries.

Born at the crossroads of two worlds, Narcy tapped into his Iraqi heritage to create a unique rap mixing oriental influences with hip-hop groove. His deep and poignant words often address difficult issues such as global issues or social injustice. 

In addition to his musical career, Narcy has also distinguished himself as a committed journalist. He used his talent for writing to give voice to the voiceless and to illuminate the dark corners of society. 

Over the years, The Narcicyst has become an icon, a role model for those seeking to use art and the media as a means to bring about positive change. His legacy as a rapper, activist, journalist will continue to inspire future generations to stand up and speak out. 

Swollen Members

Swollen Members, founded in Vancouver in 1992, has become one of Canada’s leading hip hop brands.

Consisting mainly of Madchild, Prevail and Rob the Viking, Swollen Members made its debut on the local stages with fiery performances. The band quickly established itself as a pioneer of underground rap, pushing boundaries and exploring new sonic frontiers. Their distinctive mix of hard lyrics, energetic rhythms and dark moods catapulted them to the forefront of the Canadian rap scene.

The album Balance (2001) was a turning point for Swollen Members, launching the band into a new era of recognition. Driven by hit tracks such as Fuel Injected and Bad Dreams, the album showed their ability to create a sound capable of attracting international attention.


K-OS, whose real name is Kevin Brereton, is a Canadian rapper known for his unique fusion of hip-hop, rock and various musical elements. Originally from Toronto, he quickly captured the attention with his thoughtful music and lyrics. Its name K-OS stands for Knowledge of Self reflecting its commitment to creating music that explores personal and social themes.

His albums Joyful Rebellion and Atlantis: Hymns for Disco were acclaimed for their originality and musical diversity. K-OS has the ability to effortlessly switch between styles, incorporating elements of rock, funk and reggae into its tracks. His intelligent words address topics ranging from spirituality to politics.

K-OS solidified his place as an influential Canadian artist, spreading a positive message and rich musicality through his art. His creativity and musical exploration have made him a respected and globally recognized artist.

Ghetto Concept

Ghetto Concept occupies a central place in the history of hip-hop in Canada. Formed in the late 1990s in Toronto, the duo of Kwajo Cinqo and Dolo quickly gained fame for their bold music. It is important to remember that the prolific rapper Infinite was a member of the band at their beginning.

At a time when hip-hop was still establishing itself as an influential musical genre in Canada, Ghetto Concept helped shape the sound and identity of the Canadian scene. Their humble beginnings in underground rap battles led them to create songs that reflected the realities of urban neighborhoods while addressing often overlooked social issues.

Their self-titled debut album, released in 1998, captivated listeners with tracks like E-Z On Tha Motion. Ghetto Conceptz still active today, still enjoys a loyal and diverse fan base.

Ghetto Concept’s legacy continues to resonate in the Canadian music landscape. As pioneers of hip-hop, they paved the way for a new generation of artists. Their influence is felt not only in music, but also in how they have helped shape the cultural conversation in Canada.

Kardinal Offishall 

Kardinal Offishall, a true icon of Canadian hip-hop, quickly rose to the top of the international music scene. Born Jason Harrow in Toronto, he stood out for his exceptional talent and inimitable style. From the beginning of his career, he took the world of rap by storm with his captivating energy.

Known for her ability to blend diverse musical influences, Kardinal Offishall has brought a breath of fresh air to the hip-hop landscape. He put elements of reggae and dancehall in his rap thus creating a distinctive sound of his own. The song Ol time killin is a perfect example. This innovative and original approach earned him the respect of his fans as well as his peers.

Over the years, Kardinal Offishall has managed to maintain a constant presence on the international scene through collaborations with renowned global artists including Rihanna. His famous song Dangerous in collaboration with Akon positioned his career at a higher level, becoming a worldwide success. This ability to cross musical and linguistic boundaries testifies to its great versatility and versatility 

In addition to his musical success, Kardinal Offishall is also recognized for his social and humanitarian commitment. He uses his reputation to raise awareness of social issues and support important causes, including education and youth development. His influence as a positive role model and desire to give back make him more than just a rapper.

Kardinal Offishall led the way for other Canadian artists in the hip-hop industry. His legacy continues today through his music, community engagement and inspiring role for future generations of Canadian artists.

Canadian rap legend Kardinal Offishall has announced that he has joined the Def Jam team as their latest A&R mondal, where he will work alongside CEO Tunji Balogun and Executive VP LaTrice Burnette. He revealed the news on his Instagram page.



McGee, Jay W aka MR Q, was born on January 23, 1950 and died on January 8, 2021, Jay W. McGee was much more than an American-Canadian musician; he was the true pioneer of rap in Canada. His musical legacy of originality and creativity has left an indelible mark on the Canadian music scene and beyond. His crucial role in the evolution of the rap genre in the country cannot be ignored, testifies to his memorable contribution under the stage pseudonym "Mr. Q". This distinction makes him the first recognized rapper in Canada, unless evidence to the contrary emerges.

His musical career took off in Toronto in 1974, where he quickly gained notoriety by collaborating with various bands such as Giant Step, Salongo and Crack of Dawn. However, it was under the stage name "Mr. Q" that Jay W. McGee left an indelible mark on the history of Canadian rap. In 1979, he was spotted by George Lewis of Monica’s Productions for his contribution to "Ladies Delight", an innovative response to the famous song "Rapper’s Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang

This bold initiative marks the beginning of a series of rap/hip-hop songs that have marked the rise of the genre in Canada. Among them, "DJ Style", "Rapping Time", "Party, Party" and "Party Rapp" were able to captivate the audience thanks to their contagious energy and originality. Of particular note is "Party Rapp," which explicitly refers to the 1979 Mississauga train accident, demonstrating McGee’s concern to reflect local realities in his work.

In 1982, Jay W. McGee took another step by releasing his first solo album entitled "Over & Over". The album included the memorable single "When We Party (Uptown, Downtown)", which ignited the dance floors while reflecting its distinctive musical style. Although this song was a club hit, its reach in the music charts was limited due to financial constraints that prevented McGee from touring on a large scale. Yet his talent and creativity continued to shine through works such as "Another Love in Your Life", from his 1988 album "Survivor". This song was honored with a nomination at the prestigious Juno Awards for Best R&B Soul Recording Performance.

His commitment to music, his indelible contribution to the development of rap in Canada and his ability to address social issues in his works have made him an outstanding artist. Jay W. McGee remains Canada’s first recognized rapper.

Happy 50e! 






Nation Hip-Hop, Alex Wallace August 15, 2023