Whether they will admit it or not, the goal of every Canadian rapper is to break in the US. And for every Drake, there is a Choclair. For every Classified, there is a Checkmate. Here are 10 Canadian Rappers/Groups That Didn't Make It.
First off, let me say Choclair is a very cool guy who I've had the pleasure of chatting with on many occasions. That being said, the chiz-nock didn't make it. In 1999, Choclair signed with Priority Records in the US and the Toronto Hip-Hop scene lost their collective minds assuming THIS was the real jump-off of Canadian Hip-Hop in the US (no disrespect to Maestro Fresh Wes but that shit was temporary). The album dropped and did great numbers in Canada (GOLD) but went double aluminum in the US. The following years saw Choclair release four more solo albums on various indie labels. Today, Choclair (at least according to his Twitter page) performs in small towns throughout Ontario.
Another cool ass dude, Thrust is one of the originators of Canadian Hip-Hop. Unfortunately, Thrust never really broke through in Canada much less the US. His most popular recording was an appearance on a record by defunct Canadian Pop act Soul Decision:
Thrust also appeared on the classic posse cut "Northern Touch." Last I heard Thrust was teaching at the Harris Institute in Toronto.
Much like Thrust, Misfit and Red-1 (Rascalz) played a huge role in the development of Hip-Hop music in Canada. Formed in 1991, the duo released their debut album in 1992/1993 and struck Canadian Gold in 1997 with their album "Cash Crop" which featured the Canadian Hip-Hop smash "Northern Touch." Artistically one of the best acts ever in Canadian Hip-Hop, Rascalz never made a huge push for the US market, which was probably solid advice from their manager (and one of the nicest guys in the music biz) Sol Guy, who now manages K'Naan. Red-1 released a forgettable solo album in 2007 and that was the last I've heard of the duo.
(Checkmate on the left)
A Rascalz affiliate, Checkmate's claim to fame is appearing on the aforementioned Canadian Hip-Hop classic "Northern Touch." That's pretty much where it stopped for Checkmate whose name popped up here and there during the late 90s, early 2000s. According to wikipedia, he has been working with a Canadian artist by the name of Concise The Dark Knight forming a duo called Defenders of the Faith.
Another legendary name in Canadian Hip-Hop, Dan-e-o established his mark in the North with his "Dear Hip-Hop" track which appeared on "Beat Factory: Rap Essentials Volume 1" in 1996. Dan-e-o went on to release several solo albums and mixtapes, none of them making too much noise in Canada or the US. A huge fan of wrestling, Dan-e-o launched The O Show wrestling radio show in 2006 and has also appeared in various television commercials. He also teaches at music schools in Toronto and has clearly shifted his focus from music towards acting and wrestling. He didn't make it in the US but Dan-e-o diversified and has kept his name (and face) in the mix.
Hailing from Rexdale, Ontario, a sometimes rough area of Toronto, Jelleestone tried to bring that 'bang bang shoot 'em up' Rap to Canada while attempting to make noise south of the border. He saw minor success in Canada until his single "Money, Pt. 1" found its way on to the Billboard Hot 100. This set-up his next album (and the one that was supposed to see him blow everywhere) "The Hood Is Here." The album didn't hit and Jelleestone found himself staring down a gun charge. He hasn't been heard from since.
Kwajo Cinqo and Dolo make up the duo known as Ghetto Concept. Hailing from the Rexdale and Lawrence Heights neighborhoods of Toronto, the duo released their first single "Certified" in 1993. The early years of the duo saw them as a conscious Rap duo with Jazz influences. As the years went on, the group shifted towards more New York based, street Rap. The duo won several Juno Awards (Canadian Grammy's) and saw their biggest success with the remix to their 2001 hit "Too Much" (remix called "Still Too Much") that featured Kardinal Offishall, Snow, Maestro and Red-1. Recently, the duo changed their name to GC (terrible) and announced a new album called "Time's Up" which I don't believe has been released.
One of the best rappers you've never heard of, Juno nominated D-Sisive has been putting out material since the 90s. It is famously told in Toronto that D-Sisive nearly had a real shot at US stardom in the late 90s when a demo of his song "Whatever Happened To The Music" made its way to various US labels. Interest was there but the labels requested D-Sisive go the poppy-Hip-Hop direction and D-Sisive decided to pursue the music in its truest art form. D-Sisive songs to check for include:
"Nobody With A Notepad"
"If I Live To See Tomorrow"
Some interesting facts about Saukrates:
- He has a son with Mos Def's ex-wife Alana Wyatt Smith
- Sauks signed with Warner Bros. Records in 1996 and was dropped in 1998. In 2000 Sauks signed with Def Jam via Redman's label Gilla House Records but was eventually dropped
- Saukrates has toured as a back-up vocalist for Nelly Furtado for several years
Many would call Saukrates Canada's original greatest hope for US success and recognition. Unfortunately, Sauks has seemingly been stuck in the starting gates since the early 90s. Sure, he has ruled Canadian Hip-Hop for many years and has collaborated with countless US artists (Heltah Skeltah, Common, Redman, Method Man, etc.) but for whatever reason, Sauks career has never really gotten going. Personally, I thought his single biggest career mistake was signing with Redman's label. I mean, what artists has Redman ever been responsible for blowing up? And how was an artistic leaning rapper/singer like Saukrates going to receive the proper development on Gilla House Records?
At their peak, Dream Warriors were huge everywhere...except the US (even though they were signed to 4th & B'Way/Island). Their debut album "And Now The Legacy Begins" spread across Europe, charting in the UK and Canada. It spawned the popular underground singles "Wash Your Face In My Sink", "My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style" and "Ludi." Over the years the group recorded with such artists as Gang Starr and Beenie Man. Priority Records released a greatest hits album in 1999. The group's backbone Spek left the fold in 1997 to pursue a solo career. The group has since disbanded but remains one of Canada's most important Hip-Hop groups.