While the stratosopheric success of Drake casts a large shadow over Toronto's hip hop scene, the number of talented non-OVO voices is as long as the lineups at Uncle Tetsu. I've left out those who have gained notoriety through mass radio airplay, skyrocketing buzz (Jazz Cartier), or Juno or Polar Prize recognition (sorry, Tona, Rich Kidd and Adam Bomb).
Here are my picks for five of the most underrated hip hop artists from Toronto.
Taking giant strides from his days as a member of the 88 Days of Fortune collective, Spek Won released his proper debut LP this spring. Sofa King Amazing (say it aloud but not in front of Grandma) comes damn close to its lofty title. The MC, blooming from south Rexdale's Ghanaian community, fires sharp wisdom over jazzy, head-nod gems and collaborates lovely with R&B singer Shi Wisdom.
Tasha the Amazon
An emcee, a producer, and a tornado of a live performer, Tasha mustered critical acclaim with her freebie mixtape FiDiYootDem and walked a Bengal tiger through Kensington Market for her "Thru the Fire" video. If "Jamaican Funk"-era Michee Mee time-warped forward and Voltron'd together with M.I.A. and Azealia Banks, she might sound like Tasha.
Born in Bristol, England, Keita Juma's attention has yet to match his talent. First turning a few heads with the addictive loop of "Repeat" in 2009, the bassy-voiced KJ rhymes over a mix of East Coast boom-bap beats, dancehall, dub and rock. Creative, versatile, and fresher than most, the Mississauga artist takes interesting chances.
A thoughtful storyteller wise beyond his years, Reign has a gift for painting pictures through carefully crafted rhymes, as soulful and refreshing in lyrical content as they are in sound. He made noise years ago with Brassmunk and has collaborated with hip-hop royalty (Drake, Pharoahe Monch), but brought his own vision to life with 2014's under appreciated Sincere.
Representing Scarborough, the 24-year-old Sean Leon's sound aligns closest to the hip-hop zeitgeist -- the type of thumping, trapped-out haze an American like Future would kill to get on. Though he's been honing his craft for a couple years now, Leon's on-record character is darker, more unpredictable and stronger than ever.
Who did I miss? Add your underrated Toronto hip hop artists to the comments.
Writing by Luke Fox.
Photo of Spek Won.
by Staff via blogTO