For the past three months, we've been working on a new feature series entitled "Real Recognize Real."
The goal of the series is simple: ask a handful of up-and-coming artists from the same city to co-sign another artist from their city. Along with their selection, each artist would provide an explanation as to why they made their selection.
Given the incredible amount of talent in Toronto not named Drake and The Weeknd, we chose our neighbor to the north as the first city in our series, but almost immediately, we were met with opposition.
In total, we reached out to 20 artists (or their reps) who call Toronto home and asked them to provide us with their co-sign. From that total, only five artists participated. Out of the remaining 15 artists, 10 respectfully declined to participate, telling DJBooth they didn't want to co-sign another artist or didn't feel comfortable co-signing another artist, and the remaining five simply ignored our correspondence altogether.
To better understand why Toronto artists were, by and large, unwilling to openly support one another, we reached out to several local tastemakers. While several cited Toronto as the "Screwface Capital," an unattractive label affixed to Toronto's famously cynical hip-hop scene, most of the feedback focused on the same 'crabs in a bucket' mentality that has crushed smaller hip-hop markets for years being is embedded in Toronto's DNA.
On Thursday (August 10), after setting the entire feature series on our editorial back burner for the past six weeks, we decided to share our thoughts on Twitter.
While there were a handful of loyal Torontonian artists who took offense to our findings, most of the replies echoed the same frustration and disappointment we felt.
The best, most thoughtful reply, however, came courtesy of Toronto-raised and based native of Sri Lanka Shan Vincent de Paul, a talented rapper and producer who has graced our homepage eight times since January 2016.
In an email to DJBooth, de Paul wrote:
Hey, guys, thank you for all your support thus far, it means a lot to me. There's a big misconception about Toronto due to the fact that some of the culture's biggest stars are from here.
The 'crabs in the bucket' mentality stems from the fact that so many artists are trying to function with VERY sparse resources, $$$ and almost a non-existent infrastructure. For example, there are still only a handful of independent labels that focus on rap music, we don't have ANY terrestrial radio that focuses on new rap music, the majors here don't fuck with rap and the Juno [Awards] (our GRAMMYs) don't even televise the rap awards. Simply put, rap is not respected or rewarded here (only exploited), which is probably why many artists are looking for the approval of American media/labels/artists.
Of course, there's also the covert racism that the industry still functions on while trying to please Canada's white audience. A radio outlet will openly state they don't play or support rap music because it doesn't fall under their wheelhouse but will turn around and play 21 Pilots, Gorillaz, Eminem, Macklemore, Beck, or countless other white artists that are clearly rapping.
Let's also keep in mind, Drake's success was propelled by American acceptance and him signing with Young Money. Canada did not foster that movement, it only jumped on the bandwagon after. The only rappers I can think of recently that have been supported internally in Canada are Classified (with obvious reasons), SonReal, Shad, K-os, and recently Jazz [Cartier]. The list is limited.
Though we may be a one-hour flight from New York and have some of the biggest stars, our infrastructure is 15 years behind the US, and shit... even that may be generous. So it really is a chicken and egg question: Is it the artists' mentality or infrastructure?
With that being said, I'm looking forward to our culture building our own infrastructure here and shining a light on the many incredible artists we have—without having to rely on a dated system that has not caught up yet. We're still a small world city trying to fill some big shoes due to Drake's success, but we'll get there.
I'm excited about our future.