Even before we get into the discussing Maestro Fresh Wes' new Black Tuxedo EP, or the almost unimaginable point that we're fast approaching the 25th anniversary of his seminal track "Let Your Backbone Slide," the Canadian hip-hop icon tells the Huffington Post that he needs get some things off his chest.
His recent performance at this month's Public Enemy concert in Toronto was not a "politically-charged" freestyle and were actually lyrics from a new song titled "Black Trudeau." It was intended as "political satire" and not slamming Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. And, finally, the Internet scuttlebutt on sites like Facebook and Huffington Post confirms that many people don't expect a lot from hip-hop these days.
"Some people need a hug, man," the Canadian rap elder statesman says.
Part nostalgia, part reverence, Toronto's Wes Williams has rightly been regarded as the "Canadian godfather of rap." He notes that he was just there to take in the show when Chuck D called him onstage to show respect.
"I just went to be inspired, then he called me onstage so I had to spit my hardest bars. And that wasn't freestyle, that was a public service announcement. I was inspired by This Hour Has 22 Minutes and the Rick Mercer Report. Nobody's doing rhymes like that and I thought I would do something interesting," he explains.
"But the way people looked at it was like, 'Yo, I'm slamming the government.' But if you listen to the lyrics, basically what I'm saying is that with hip-hop, not everything we do has to be simplistic. Not everything has to be trivial. There can be humor and intelligence while we're doing it. That was me not playing and showing other emcees that I'm the Rap Prime Minister. And it is funny. I mean, c'mon, 'Stick to nutrition.' That's a funny line. Ford himself would laugh at that. I'm not talking about his policies or anything like that. I'm just trying to show that rappers don't have to be basic when we rhyme."
It's hard to believe that it has been nearly 25 years since Maestro Fresh Wes unleashed "Let Your Backbone Slide" upon an unsuspecting mainstream audience. To this day, the song remains the largest-selling Canadian hip-hop track and easily ranks as one of the best Canadian songs ever released. He muses that at age 44, he's been thinking about his Canadian hip-hop legacy -- and the ever-enduring legacy of the 1989 track.
"I was in Vancouver and this young lady from Somalia came up to me saying that she learned to speak English from memorizing 'Let Your Backbone Slide.' So that's big," he says.
At this point in his career he's also an accomplished film and TV actor (currently co-starring on CBC's comedy sitcom Mr. D) and motivational speaker/author (he tours schools with his 2010 self-help/inspirational book Stick to Your Vision) and frankly has nothing to prove by releasing new music.
"Every destination you reach there's another set of expectations. A lot of people just know me as a rap artist, so I wanted to use that template and apply the same work ethic as an actor. That's how I made the transition to film and TV," he says. "I look at the book as a 250-page business card. When you think about hip-hop, there are lot of negative connotations and stigmas. It's about taking it to the next level. Hip-hop is the platform."
But the five-track Black Tuxedo EP is a thing that exists nonetheless. Featuring production by The Rezza Brothers, Classified and Rich Kidd, Black Tuxedo serves up Maestro's trademark lyrical wordplay and is something he says is designed to whet the appetite for a full-length project titled Orchestrated Noise due in 2013.
In today's hip-hop era of maximum swag, hip-hop needs to go back to its roots, he offers.
"I ain't trying to wear them tight jeans, man. I just want a balance," he says. "Back in the day with hip-hop, when Public Enemy was fighting the power, Biz Markie was picking boogers. We had a balance. Nowadays there is no balance and I think that's intentional. There's a vested interest to divide our people. By keeping us shiftless, mindless and distracted. And with something like this, even though it was humorous, there was intelligence behind it. The [Public Enemy concert] crowd was receptive because the people want to hear something different, you know what I mean?"
Maestro has "mad respect" for artists that build off the hip-hop foundation he provided, pointing out Canadian rappers and producers such as The Airplane Boys, Classified, Luu Breeze, Rich Kidd and obviously the success of someone like Drake.
"I love Drake. His work ethic is incredible. It's something that we should all be proud of, man. I never had people to look up to when I was recording. I can learn from them and they can learn from me. A black point of reference is something that really didn't exist for me in Canada when it came to hip-hop. I can sit back and say, 'Yeah, I did that,'" he says.
Ultimately, he notes, it's about respecting this genre of music and showing its potential -- even if it means speaking truth to political power now and then -- and calling out people like Harper and Ford in the process.
"I spit 'Black Trudeau' and that's comedy. I tell these young cats all the time, 'Don't make records, make history.' Anybody can make a record. And that's what I think kids are doing, they're selling themselves short," he says. "I want to inspire them, to make them tap into their own creativity and be leaders instead of following. If I can show that I'm displaying skills that challenge -- no profanity, no n-bombs -- that's creative."