ARTICLE: A Hip-Hop Oral History of The Concert Hall (Now Magazine)

Ty Harper | Community,Editorial,Interviews,Music | Monday, June 12th, 2017

Now Ron Nelson

Lots of great stuff in this piece, but I think it’s important to think about how we respond to media coverage like this. I know the immediate feeling we have when we see one-off articles like this is ecstatic elation. But that’s only because we’ve been STARVING for our history. A history Toronto and Canadian media continue to erase through their privilege, their ignorance and arrogance.

Think about it: if someone had the power to deprive you of water, food and the necessities of life you rightfully deserve, what would be the appropriate way to respond to them when they randomly decide to feed you some scraps?

“Toronto’s Apollo,” “a mini-Caribana,” “the matriarch” of Toronto’s hip-hop scene.

Storied live music venue the Concert Hall is most often associated with 60s rock acts like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. In the 70s, 80s and 90s it was the place to see punk, new wave, funk, dancehall, reggae and grunge.

Much less talked about in mainstream media is the pivotal role the 100-year-old venue at 888 Yonge played in laying the foundation for Toronto’s currently thriving hip-hop scene.

In the 80s and early 90s, hip-hop parties were dispersed around suburban neighbourhoods in community halls, schools, basements and rental places. The crowds and musicians were young, primarily Black first- and second-generation Canadians. But as the scene grew, the venue housed in the centrally located Masonic Temple at Yonge and Davenport became hip-hop’s mecca.

FEATURE: Kardinal Offishall Full Circle (

rez | Editorial | Wednesday, October 28th, 2015


Wow man. In honour of Kardi‘s upcoming release (this Friday!), Del F. Cowie and Exclaim Magazine pay him some WELL DESERVED respect and outline his whole career in a beautifully laid out years-by-years breakdown. Definitely a must-read! I even learned a couple things.

Before it was the 6ix, Toronto was the T-dot. While he didn’t make up the term, no one contributed more to its popularity than Kardinal Offishall. Yet Kardinal’s achievements go well beyond influencing a lexicon. As a hip-hop artist who has developed his own inimitable and versatile style, seamlessly meshing dancehall influences, lyrical dexterity and party-starting energy, Kardinal Offishall is a Toronto hip-hop pioneer.
By forging a career as a well-respected MC when Toronto’s hip-hop scene wasn’t in the spotlight, his determination broke down barriers. Having established himself with a relentless work ethic, whether applied to his recording output or his undeniably entertaining live shows, Kardinal has gained the respect of some of the world’s most influential artists and producers. As he readies his latest album Kardi Gras: The Clash for late October, balancing the responsibilities of working as an A&R at Universal Music indicates Kardi still wants to add some more words and chapters to his story.
1976 to 1992
Kardinal Offishall is born Jason Harrow on May 12, 1976 in Scarborough. He lives in the Flemingdon Park area of Toronto as a youth and becomes very interested in his father’s music collection. Harrow’s mother works as a teacher and he occasionally is in a class where she is the teacher. She discovers he has an interest in rapping and she encourages him to write his first rhymes. Newly christened MC J-Ski records a demo at a Mr. Greenjeans restaurant in Toronto’s Eaton Centre. He enters an anti-drug rhyme he had written in a Scadding Court community centre contest and wins. One of the prizes is to meet Maestro Fresh Wes, the pioneering Canadian hip-hop artist fresh off the success of his debut album Symphony in Effect. Maestro tells the young high school student to stay in school. J-Ski is interviewed on CBC’s The Journal by Barbara Frum about the anti-drug message in his rhymes. Soon the young MC transforms into Gumby D, and is a regular performer at malls, with two friends, known as Young Black Panthers, winning money from contests. These include Harrow performing for Nelson Mandela on his first foreign trip after being released from a South African prison.
1993 to 1996
Out of Stephen Lewis’ commissioned report, following a 1992 racially motivated protest in Toronto referred to as the Yonge Street rebellion, a youth jobs program called J.O.Y. (Jobs for Ontario Youth) is created. Harrow enrols in the program’s first year in an arts-oriented section of the program called Fresh Elements, where youth are given income assistance to pursue their creative paths. The next year, the program is retitled Fresh Arts, and features many more students. Among those involved in the program are artists who will come to be known as Saukrates, Jully Black and video director Little X (now Director X).
While in the Fresh Arts program, Harrow (now rapping as Kool Aid) forms the Figurez of Speech (F.O.S.) hip-hop crew with other program participants. The program provides mentorship and an  opportunity to intern at radio stations, among other opportunities, and leads Harrow to seriously consider a recording career. Meanwhile, under his DJ name J-Rock Ultra, Harrow sells mixtapes in school. When his Fresh Arts friend Saukrates decides to record his first single, Kool Aid is in the studio and earns a co-production credit on the recording, “Still Caught Up.” The song becomes a key track in Toronto’s mid-’90s hip-hop resurgence, garnering significant play on local university radio and is nominated for Best Rap Recording at the 1996 Junos.
By this time, Harrow has changed his rap moniker to Kardinal Offishall after learning about Cardinal Richelieu, the 17th century adviser to Louis XIV. One morning during school, he hears a song and some lyrics in his head. He writes the track, called “Naughty Dread,” and heads to the studio that evening. Featuring a fairly prominent Bob Marley sample of “Natty Dread,” the song is featured on the landmark all-Canadian rap compilation Rap Essentials Vol. 1. Kardinal also releases a twelve-inch for “Naughty Dread” featuring a song called “On Wid Da Show” on the flip side. It’s on Kneedeep Records, run byChoclair‘s producer and manager Day. Soon Choclair’s crew Paranormal and Figurez of Speech converge into one larger crew known as The Circle.



FEATURE: Manifesto – Redway Tribute

rez | Editorial | Sunday, October 25th, 2015


Manifesto pays tribute to Redway proper. Take in the article and some of the videos here or peep the YouTube page for a few more, including interviews and performances from some of the city’s nicest. Still can’t believe this dude is gone. Rest in Peace brotha!

Right before Years Ahead was released, a friend of mine asked if I was downtown, and what I was doing. At the time I was pre-occupied but still said, “Not much, what’s up?” He responded back saying Redway was having his album release party – an project produced by WondaGurl who had just appeared on Magna Carta Holy Grail – at Get Fresh Company. “Not another one,” I thought. Regardless, he was convincing and sounded passionate about this artist, so I made my way over. Unfortunately, I caught the tail-end of the event with people spilling out of 498 Queen Street W. in droves. The street became loud, as if family from years just reunited. I remember this night vividly because that was also the first night I met Redway – someone I would come to know as a passionate artist, and someone most people knew as a “us against the world” type of guy.

The project knocked, and Redway immediately got thrown into my list of Toronto-artists-not-named-Drake I’d share with my American peers who inquired often about our music. Quite frankly, Redway will always be in that list of mine. I also got aquainted with Redway’s previous music, but I was steadily hooked on Years Ahead – a title that now seems to hold more meaning than ever before. I’d miss the opportunity to work with Redway from a PR standpoint, something I’d later regret in 2014, but rambled about his music when I could. Even when I was hit up by CJ Fly’s management about openers for an upcoming show, I found myself telling her the story about this guy I’d just found out about who packed a popular clothing store to the brim.

That summer, I ended up running into Redway several times – at the most random times and places, and eerily almost too many times for someone I had just met, but that bright smile and coy demeanor was always welcomed. I also respected Redway’s hustle – the respect he showed others, the effort he put into his career, and how he thought of the city’s changing landscape. As I was putting together a last-minute Toronto showcase for the A3C Festival in Atlanta in August, I reached out to him to see if he wanted to be a part of it. To my surprise, he put trust in myself and this showcase, and said yes.



EDITORIAL: NOISEY presents “An Insider’s Look In: Examining the real value of Toronto’s rap scene” (written by Ian Kamau)

Ty Harper | Community,Editorial,Music,News | Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Ian Kamau 567

Great critical piece about the undervaluing of our local hip-hop scene and the role that has played in its economic/industry shortcomings, written by Ian Kamau and currently up on Vice/Noisey.


A few weeks ago I read an article that addressed a statement made by Drake in a short promotional documentary which features the Toronto rapper. In the commercial Drake confidently encourages emerging artists to “do it from where you’re at!” This statement grabbed my attention, partly because I think it’s an important one, and partly because I am an rapper born and raised in Toronto. Although the statement has some merit to it, it isn’t totally true. Yes, the Internet has changed the music industry completely by providing an opportunity for international exposure where at one point there was nothing. Artists like Shi Wisdom, Jazz Cartier and Daniel Caesar (currently some of my favorites from Toronto) have all used the Internet to build their audience locally and internationally. However, Drake’s statement is oversimplified and doesn’t take into account the labyrinth of gatekeepers, relationships, and power dynamics in the music industry as a whole, and the lack of accessible music infrastructure in Canada specifically.

Read the full piece @


ARTICLE: The Grid: “1994: The Year the T-dot broke” (by Del F. Cowie)

Ty Harper | Editorial,Music | Wednesday, June 25th, 2014



The Grid publishes a nice reflection on a critical year for hip-hop in Toronto from one of the city’s premier hip-hop writers, Del F. Cowie.

Twenty years ago, two independent singles—by Ghetto Concept and Saukrates, respectively—changed the future course of Toronto hip-hop.

The year 1994 saw the release of several landmark American hip-hop albums, and 2014 has been doing a good job of remembering them. In addition to Notorious B.I.G.’s debut, Ready to Die, 1994 yielded such classics as Nas’ Illmatic and Outkast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,whose 20th anniversaries are currently being celebrated with a remastered re-release and an extensive comeback tour, respectively.

With hip-hop firmly established as a global phenomenon by the early ’90s, Toronto aficionados were no less voracious in their consumption of these records than our counterparts south of the border. But the city’s rappers and producers were, in hindsight, also on the cusp of a key, transformative moment for the city’s embryonic yet prodigious hip-hop scene.

While mixtapes, Soundcloud pages, and YouTube videos define the independent hip-hop grind these days, 1994 saw a surge in the number of local MCs committing their work to vinyl, building on the groundbreaking success of Maestro Fresh Wes, Michie Mee, and Dream Warriors in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and ushering the phrase “T-dot” (coined by pioneering Toronto MC K-4ce) into the local lexicon. But of the countless people contributing to the scene at the time, two entities stand out from the crowd: Ghetto Concept and Saukrates.

Read the full article @

EDITORIAL: Jully Black – What I Would Change About R&B and Soul Music in Canada (HuffPost)

rez | Editorial | Sunday, July 7th, 2013


Jully contributes to The Huffington Post’s “What I’d Change About Canada” editorial series. If Kardi’s “Mr. International” then Jully is definitely “Ms. Media Mogul”. She can rock the stage, the studio, the radio (as artist or personality), TV (as artist or personality, lol) and now print media. Jeez.

What I Would Change About R&B and Soul Music in Canada.

When I was asked to contribute to the Huffington Post, I got fired up! I was ready to speak on every unfair thing that I experienced as a Black, Female, Canadian-born R&B Soul Singer and Songwriter. As I started typing I could feel my blood pressure rising so I stopped, took some deep breaths, and asked God what I should write about and to please give me the right words that will reach and impact even one person In a positive way. Believe me, I was prepared to call it like it is about the Canadian music industry. But then I realized that in spite of it all, I have been so blessed to make music for a living for the past 18 years. Now, are there things I would change or reform about the Canadian music industry? Oh, you best believe it! But in order to affect change permanently, you have to be the change you want to see. So with that in mind, here is what I would change about the Canadian music industry.

If I was handed a magic wand, I would erase all of the unsaid fear that a lot of the executives at radio stations, record companies, corporate brands, television and print media outlets have in promoting and celebrating our domestic R&B soul singers. I would urge them to passionately and freely support the artists of this genre in ways that are equal to the artists of other genres. This support will not only allow them to attain enough success to stay in Canada, live great lives, and support themselves full time, but it will provide a way to pay it forward.


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