Sub-Publishers: BMG Rights Management Canada, Universal Music Publishing Canada

The story of the first Canadian rapper signed to an American record deal tells you more than just the history of hip-hop in this country, it tells you about this country itself.

Michie Mee was born in Saint Andrew Parish, Jamaica, in the 1970s, moved to Canada with her family at age six, and spent her early teens living in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood and visiting her aunt in the Bronx. Her uniquely Canadian life experiences, attitude (and accent) – as well as world-class battle rap skills – captured the attention of early hip-hop heavyweights like KRS-One, who called her “Canada’s greatest, musically inclined intellectual representative for the rap industry on a whole, a major breakthrough for female MCs everywhere.”

The country caught on in 1991 with her debut album Jamaican Funk – Canadian Style, (First Priority/Atlantic) which produced a hit single of the same name and earned a JUNO nomination for Best Rap Recording. Today, while Caribbean-flavoured Canadian rap (e.g., Drake’s “One Dance”) dominates globally, the self-described “Jamaican taking charge” retains the title of First Lady of Canadian Hip-Hop, and continues to work as a rapper, songwriter and actor. Mee recently released “Thank You,” the first single from a new album coming in 2018. She spoke to SOCAN from her home in Toronto.

You had a few singles out but this was your debut full-length. Where did the idea for “Jamaican Funk” come from?
The idea was an album where one side would be reggae and one side was going to be hip-hop. But how do you do reggae in a Canadian style, since I was a Canadian artist? I met King of Chill of Alliance, a producer for MC Lyte, who was also on First Priority, and he had this song idea for “Jamaican Funk” – based on the [1980] record “Funking for Jamaica” by Tom Browne, which referred to Jamaica, Queens, New York. Our version came from the idea that I’m a Jamaican-Canadian girl. And “Jamaican Funk – Canadian Style” became the classic.

There’s also dancehall on there, along with the reggae and hip-hop. Why did you want to mix up genres?
I just liked music. I’m surprised I’m not a rock guitarist, actually, because I loved that too. I was the one always pushing hip-hop down at Caribana! It was natural for me, an honest representation of my culture.

How outside the box was it at that time to rap with Jamaican patois for an American label?
Back then, hip-hop had an accent – an American accent. Also at that time, Jamaicans in the media were being portrayed as violent, so it definitely wasn’t considered “safe” music for a label. And it was so early, for hip-hop. So here we were – my accent, plus a genre just being built. The good thing is there were no rules for us. And me being Canadian, and being a confident Jamaican, there was no fear in me that I couldn’t be an international artist. I wasn’t the first Jamaican rapper. The influence was there with people like Kool Herc. But what made me different was my Canadian perspective.

How did battle rapping influence your early songwriting style?
It made me competitive. “I’m the best, I’m not leaving,” wrestling attitude. Being dramatic. And funny. When you’re a woman you can use that as an asset. Because some of the battle raps were so personal, so catty, when it came time to do songwriting, there was a lot of second-guessing. Also, being young, and not knowing how things worked. I wasn’t even sure I was supposed to be in that studio with all those men. But here you are coming up with ideas. And if you don’t think they’re good enough, then you go home and write more.

Looking back, what’s your strongest memory of that song?
Performing on [local Toronto TV dance show] Electric Circus. I had just come back from Jamaica, and shopping in New York, and we came back to Canada and there was this brand new dance show and here we were. You’re telling all your friends, “come down to MuchMusic.” And everybody wanted to do that. We all met in the parking lot. And King Lou [from Dream Warriors] was there as the hype man. I’m still happy now just thinking about it.