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Joe PS Klymkiw Headshot

How Maestro Fresh Wes Jumpstarted My Love for Canadian Hip Hop

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I first heard Maestro Fresh Wes' "Let Your Backbone Slide" on a cassette tape my best friend's brother made for us to breakdance to in 1989. I couldn't stop listening to it. I replayed the song on my Sony Walkman so many times I could stop the tape at the beginning of the song perfectly each rewind.

That moment started my love affair with Canadian hip hop. Even though a majority of the music my friends and I were listening to was American, I found myself drawn to the gritty, off-timed element the Canadian counterpoint had to offer. Artists such as The Rascalz, Michie Mee, Choclair, and Swollen Members were the ones that hit home the hardest. A close friend from high school even started making beats and eventually came together as one of my favorite artists still to this day: Mood Ruff.

I got to be a part of their first video shoot in 1993, which was shot at an old garbage dump outside Winnipeg, Manitoba. In between takes, we had a competition for who could jump farther onto the hood of a stationary car, inching closer to the middle with each attempt. The camera kept rolling and the footage was eventually used in the final cut of the video. Upon watching the completed project, the feeling I got from having been involved in this slice of Canadian culture affirmed for me that this was what I wanted to do.

I took that feeling with me when I started my own show at a college radio station in Vancouver (CITR 101.9 -- Beats from the Basement). Because of the late night time slot and the flexibility of volunteer radio, we were able to do and say anything we wanted with the show. I began to recruit local hip hop artists into the station to do interviews and live freestyle sessions. Our discussions about the hip hop community would tend to lead to the difficulty of getting commercial radio play, even for the biggest Canadian hip hop artists.

This is true even with the Canadian content (CANCON) rules all radio stations in Canada are subjected to. With so much talent out there in this country, I began to think how I could possibly shed some light on this subject, which eventually led to me starting a new chapter in my life: making a documentary about the Canadian scene called Hip Hop Eh.

I'll never forget the day I was on my way to finally meet Maestro Fresh Wes, the godfather of Canadian hip hop, to interview him for the documentary. From listening to him on my tape player, getting an opportunity to interview him, to finally being invited to his birthday party was a surreal experience.