The top 10 Toronto hip hop albums of all time
The top Toronto hip hop albums of all time make us proud. It's far from a secret anymore - over the years Toronto has earned its reputation as a hotbed for hip hop talent.
Oh how quickly things change: back in the day Drake was on Degrassi, working on his rhymes on the side while looking up to rap music's legends. Today he's an international sensation and getting punched by Diddy in nightclubs. Although Drake has a lot to do with the spotlight shining on hip hop in our city, before him there were others laying a foundation for the growth of this rich culture.
In no particular order, here are my picks for the top 10 rap albums by Toronto artists.
Dream Warriors - And Now the Legacy Begins
In 1991, hip hop duo Dream Warriors' released their debut album And Now the Legacy Begins. The project was released worldwide on Island Records and received praise from critics globally. Although the album didn't make waves in the USA, it was especially well received in the UK and Canada. Stand out tracks include "Wash Your Face In My Sink," "Ludi," and "My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style," which sampled Quincy Jones' Soul Bossa Nova. This album became a true Canadian great and would go down in history as a golden era hip hop classic.
Choclair - Ice Cold
This album is often slept on aside from hit single "Let's Ride," which trickled into the USA and eventually reached #37 on Billboard's Hot Rap Singles chart. Choclair worked with the who's who of Toronto hip hop for this project, with production coming from the likes of Da Grassroots, Kardinal Offishall, Solitair and Saukrates. Ice Cold caught fire in Canada and went gold in just over a month. The only remaining question is - was Choclair really sitting on an ice chair for the album cover?
Kardinal Offishall - Quest for Fire: Firestarter, Vol.1
Quest for Fire: Firestarter, Vol. 1 is the second studio album by Toronto icon Kardinal Offishall. This record made him a staple in Canada's entertainment industry. It was his first on a major label and included some songs previously released, such as "Money Jane (remix)" and "Husslin," which initially appeared on a 2000 EP. Quest for Fire also included singles "Ol' Time Killin" and "Bakardi Slang," the latter becoming his first single to chart on Billboard. The album featured production from Toronto's own Solitair and Saukrates, and was nominated for Rap Recording of the Year at the 2002 JUNOs, but lost to Swollen Members' Bad Dreams.
Da Grassroots - Passage Through Time
Kids! If you don't know about this one, there's no better time to dive into one of the finest rap albums to come out of Toronto. Da Grassroots are a production trio composed of Mr. Attic, Mr. Murray and Swiff. This is their only album, though they went on to release a few other singles. In November 1999, the album was released independently through Conception Records in the US. There were a whole slew of Toronto guest appearances on the project, including K-Os, Thrust, Ghetto Concept, Choclair, and Saukrates. This album is the quintessential showcase of the level of production and lyrical talent that existed in Toronto during the late 90's.
k-os - Joyful Rebellion
Dubbed as Canada's king of alternative hip hop, k-os' second album Joyful Rebellion is jammed with hits that crossed over into the mainstream. The album debuted at #7 on the Canadian Albums Chart, and through the success of singles like "Crabbuckit," "Man I Used To Be" and "B-Boy Stance," it would go on to sell over 100,000 units. Joyful Rebellion was praised by media outlets around the world and also won two MuchMusic Video Awards and three Juno Awards in 2005.
IRS - Welcome to Planet IRS
The trio behind IRS (Instinctive Reaction to Struggle) made up of Korry Deez, Black Cat, and T.R.A.C.K.S., hit the metaphorical nail on the head with record. Welcome to Planet IRS is as accessible to the mainstream as it is intelligent with an underground aesthetic that lends nicely to Toronto and its surrounding area at the time. Their style is heavily influenced by west coast gangsta rap, mixed with an experimental lyrical approach.
Drake - Take Care
With a cookbook of top producers, many local, Drake's second studio album was brewed with one purpose: world domination. He took his time, finding a balance between hit singles and tracks where he could effectively drive his signature style into the heads of listeners around the world. Singles like "Headlines," "Crew Love," "Take Care," ft. Rhianna, and "HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right)" made it clear that Drake was here to stay. Take Care won a Grammy for Best Rap album, was named as a longlisted nominee for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize, and ended up going double platinum in both the USA and Canada.
Maestro Fresh-Wes - Symphony in Effect
Released in 1989, this record put Canada on the map, mainly because its lead single "Let Your Backbone Slide" became the first in Canadian hip hop history to appear on Billboard's Hot Rap Singles chart, peaking at #14. At a time when our country wasn't making noise on an international level, Maestro was leading the pioneering pack. Eventually the album won the first Juno Award for Rap Recording of the Year and almost went double platinum in Canada.
Saukrates - The Underground Tapes
You can't mention Toronto hip hop without Saukrates' body of work. Of all his releases, 1999 debut studio album The Underground Tapes became a classic and set the precedent for hip hop at the turn of the century. The album had some highly respected features for the time, including Xzibit, Pharoahe Monch, Common, and Masta Ace. The 14 track album was first released in the US and later re-released in Canada with an additional 6 songs. Its only single, instant Canadian classic "Money or Love," was nominated for a JUNO. Not only did Saukrates deliver cutting edge contemporary lyricism, but, with the help of a few others, he also produced practically the entire album.
Beat Factory - Rap Essentials Volume One
The only compilation album on our list, Rap Essentials Volume One was released in 1996 on Beat Factory Music and was distributed by EMI. The record featured songs from Concrete Mob, Red Life, Dan-e-o, Ghetto Concept, Choclair, and Kardinal Offishall, among others - providing listeners with a grab bag of Canada's finest selection of hip hop, with a majority of the artists calling Toronto home.
Lead image Maestro Fresh-Wes - Symphony in Effect
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