As fans of the rappers Maestro, Kardinal and K-os well know, Toronto hip hop has been thriving for at least a couple of decades. But despite local success, the rest of the world was never all that interested in the T Dot’s brand of rhyme. Not, that is, until an actor from the mean streets of Fo’ Hill named Aubrey Graham packed up his Degrassi-issue wheelchair and re-emerged as Drake, rocking an auto-tuned mic beside Lil Wayne and almost single-handedly putting Toronto hip hop on the map.
Drake, of course, is now one of the hottest artists on the planet. His records go platinum. He sells out stadiums. He’s on magazine covers almost every month. And he does all that while giving big ups to his hometown—which is enjoying a full-on hip-hop renaissance. Consider Drake’s collaborator The Weeknd, who headlines music festivals and remixes work by some of his increasingly famous friends, including Florence and the Machine and Lady Gaga.
The mastermind of this new breed of artists is New York’s Raekwon, the rapper who made his name (and his money) in the ’90s as part of the Wu-Tang Clan. He recently bought a condo at Maple Leaf Square and set up a Toronto branch of his own label, Ice H2O, to take advantage of the city’s abundance of untapped talent. His first hand-picked acquisitions were Scarborough rapper Gangis Khan, a.k.a. Camoflauge, and the MC JD Era. Era has already recorded with Drake and Raekwon—he has adopted Drake’s successful formula of brashly rapping about being rich and famous long before he’s actually rich and famous—and is poised to be the city’s next hip-hop superstar.
That’s if Toronto groups like The Airplane Boys don’t beat him to it. The duo recently opened for Snoop on his U.K. tour and are playing the festival circuit this year, starting at SXSW and Coachella.
On any given weekend in Toronto, there are rap battles, concerts and festivals. And unlike previous generations, the artists aren’t satisfied with headlining a CityTV New Year’s special—they’re set on making it legitimately huge. Because if Drake can be the biggest star in the world, it doesn’t seem so far out of reach.