Canadian Rap Pioneer Maestro Fresh Wes Goes on a Champagne Campaign
Today when we think of Canadian rappers, our minds often go to the Six’s Drake, but in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Canada’s rap MVP was Wes Williams, better known as Maestro Fresh Wes. His debut album, 1989’s Symphony In Effect received a JUNO Award for Best Rap Recording of the Year and was the first Canadian Hip Hop album to go Platinum. It spawned the single “Let Your Backbone Slide” which hit Gold status, was the first song by a Canadian hip hop artist to hit Billboard’s Top 20 Rap Singles chart and still feels at home on any party playlist in 2019.
Maestro Fresh Wes is celebrating 30 years in the entertainment industry with the release of his ninth album Champagne Campaign. "I never imagined I would be doing music this long when I started,” said Wes via email and admitted those around him suggested his career as a rapper would just be a fad. Wes admitted that music was one of his only real interests but tried branching out and studying Law and Political Science in university.
Wes was refreshingly not modest when we asked if he considered himself a pioneer of Canadian rap. “Yes, I am a Canadian hip-hop pioneer,” he said. He recalled the burgeoning hip-hop scene in 1980’s Toronto and called it “beautiful” and remembered gravitating to the sounds of rappers from New York and Philadelphia. “I was in high school when LL Cool J dropped “Radio”, [it was] crazy!” he said.
He compared that era’s LL Cool J to current hip-hop king Drake. “Drake is the voice of his generation,” said Wes. [I’m] very proud of him.” Comparing his generation with the current crop of Canadian rappers, Wes said, “we grew up with an underdog mentality [but] this generation know how great [they] are.”
As far as up and coming Canadian rappers, Maestro Fresh Wes said to be on the lookout for Dre Barrs, WhyG, Houdini, as well as L Dusty Wallace who appears twice on Champagne Campaign.
The album’s first single “Somewhere Down The Line” features Adam Bomb and addresses the topic of age and the public's fascination with the next big thing. Rap has notoriously been seen as a young man’s game, though this perception is changing as established rappers like JAY-Z continue to release critically acclaimed albums that push the culture in new directions.
Wondering if Maestro Fresh Wes feels the pressure of ageism, he joked, “I was called old and washed up in 1987; I obviously didn't listen!” Now 50, Wes also admitted he had no idea what a rapper of that age would look and sound like back when he released “Let Your Backbone Slide”. “I love making music, and I’m very proud of my new album.”
Possibly one of the reasons Wes continues to sound “fresh” is because he doesn’t seem to be limited to the sounds of a genre. In 2014 he collaborated with well-known Nova Scotian rapper Classified and sampled Canadian music royalty Blue Rodeo on the single “Reach For The Sky” which was used during Canadian broadcasts of the Winter Olympics in 2014.
“I'm cool with a lot of Canadian Rock acts,” said Wes. “[I’ve collaborated] with Sam Roberts, The Trews, Lights, Danko Jones, [and more].” Along with Blue Rodeo, Wes said it was an honour to sample other Canadian rock icons as Haywire (on “Drop The Needle”), The Guess Who (on “Stick To Your Vision”) and Gowan (on “Criminal Mind”).
Champagne Campaign also samples Toronto underground MC’s Tona, Adam Bomb, and Rich Kidd. “I love working on music,” said Wes. “My slogan is DON'T MAKE RECORDS, MAKE HISTORY!”
Champagne Campaign is out now.