At the beginning of December 2019, it was announced that, according to Spotify, Drake was the most streamed artist of the decade. Since 2010, it was estimated that the Toronto-born MC’s music had been streamed 28 billion times.

Whether you have reservations about streaming being an accurate barometer of listening tastes or not, the fact that this news was greeted with a collective shrug, conveying a lack of surprise, is actually quite telling. A decade ago, there were very few people that would have predicted that a Canadian hip-hop artist might be the most listened-to artist on the planet – even in the decade when hip-hop largely supplanted every other music genre in popularity. On one hand this is indicative of the uncharted territory in which hip-hop from Canada in 2019 finds itself, but it’s also only the tip of the iceberg, and offers a very small window into the breadth and potential of the hip-hop scene in this country.

While Drake’s influence straddles the decade, because his debut album Thank Me Later dropped in 2009, it was in 2011 that his influence arguably kicked Canadian hip-hop’s worldwide recognition into overdrive. His sophomore effort exerts a sonic influence so wide, its effects are still evident on hip-hop as a whole, let alone the newer crop of emerging Canadian hip-hop artists to this day. The album opened the door for a slew of Canadian hip-hop producers, like Boi-1da and T-Minus, to make their mark on hip-hop and pop music as a whole – through what became known in hip-hop circles as the Toronto Sound. The current Canadian hip-hop focus on Toronto is not an excuse to defer to the city, as the Canadian centre of the universe. Simply put, Toronto can now count itself as a city that exerts notable influence on hip-hop culture around the world, behind traditional spheres of influence such as Atlanta, Los Angeles, and the genre’s birthplace of New York.

Consequently, it’s now commonplace to see names like Murda Beatz, Frank Dukes, Wondagurl, and a slew of other producers who got their big break with Drake, presiding over some of the biggest pop, let alone hip-hop, hits of this past decade.

With this evidence, on the surface it’s easy for the casual observer to surmise that Drake’s hyper-visibility means that he’s the only hip-hop artist from Canada making music of any significance. But nothing could be further from the truth. It’s never been the case. Historically, hip-hop from Canada has always been high-quality, and could always go toe-to-toe with the American originators of the form, whether we’re talking about Maestro Fresh Wes (recently honoured by the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame), Michie Mee, or Vancouver’s Rascalz. However, these artists never benefited from, among many other things, the de-centralized digital distribution of mixtapes that emerged in the late 2000s, that ultimately helped Drake to get his music heard when he first started out.

Shad, the London, Ontario, rapper who actually beat Drake for the Best Rap Recording JUNO in 2011, with the outstanding TSOL, has established an enviable catalogue in the past decade, with a steady stream of witty and conceptually taut album releases, including Flying Colours and A Short Story About a War. These are important entries in the Canadian hip-hop canon that the Kenyan-born MC, of Rwandan heritage, uses to deliver a widescreen view, expounding on a number of relevant issues of diasporic identity that reflect crucial perspectives and voices. All told, Shad has had four albums  short-listed for the Polaris Music Prize, more than any other artist.

Indeed, Haviah Mighty, this year’s winner of Polaris – and the first hip-hop artist to actually win the award – is a good indicator of the future directions Canadian hip-hop could be headed in during the next decade. Her album 13th Floor unapologetically addresses the marginalization she’s experienced as a Black woman in Canadian society, delivering a potent tour de force that builds on, and broadens, the perspectives of whose voices are heard, and what they’re talking about, in the country’s hip-hop scene. Continuing in that vein, Mighty’s fellow 2019 Polaris Prize short-listers Snotty Nose Rez Kids are bringing hip-hop by Indigenous artists to the forefront. The Haisla Nation duo, currently based in Vancouver, continued their subversive critiques of colonization, and spiritual devotion to the environment, on their latest album Trapline.

Of course, there are countless other hip-hop artists across the country making compelling music. The list of artists who could be set to blow up on a larger scale is too numerous to mention (a very good problem to have), but there are some trends that seem primed to continue as we enter the 2020s.

Hip-hop culture’s influence is undeniable, and will continue to appear strongly across popular culture, and in genre-adjacent music such as electronica, through the work of acts like Kaytranada and A Tribe Called Red, and through the cadre of established Canadian hip-hop producers plying their wares. Hip-hop will continue to re-shape and evolve notions of what Canadian music sounds like. Additionally, staying true to its roots, Canadian hip-hop will continue to highlight voices and issues that aren’t favoured by the mainstream, to deliver cutting-edge, thought-provoking music. And finally, because of the increasing influence of hip-hop artists and producers from this country, a nurtured and supported infrastructure for those artists in successful programs or initiatives like the Remix Project could lead to an increased development of global superstars, furthering Canada’s growing effect on hip-hop culture

With established hit-makers like Tory Lanez, and exciting creatives like Clairmont the Second, Sydanie, and Sean Leon also in the mix, forging their own creative lanes, the drive, passion and ingenuity emanating from Canadian hip-hop artists ensures that their voices will be heard.

Laurence-Anne’s debut album Première apparition will turn one year old on Feb. 8, 2020. Mysteries, ferns and tyrannosauruses punctuated her album release party, while a very different setting served as a backdrop for the singer-songwriter’s multi-genre gems when she played her last gig of 2019 at Montréal’s Katacombes. From a tropical jungle to the night of the living dead, she’s cultivating a garden pf which we were all dreaming.

 Laurence-Anne“It’s like a coded message,” she says. “It’s based on daily events, but everything is described with images and metaphors. I might be the only one who gets its, in the end, but it’s still a universe into which anyone can dive.” The songs settle inside her when she herself settles down for a moment, and when her band plays them, beautiful accidents occur. “I like to leave things as raw as possible to give space for sparks to fly,” she explains.

Listening to her album is as calming as a stroll through a forest, yet her stage show is nothing like a yoga class. “The songs take on a new life onstage,” says the artist who, during her December concert, emerged from a chrysalis after being liberated by a giant, scissor-wielding crustacean. “It’s more ethereal on the album. The rock side comes out onstage. There’s more noise. I think we embody it more when we’re on stage.”

From one gig to the next, Laurence-Anne’s band lets itself be carried away by the costumes and themes. And the setting is largely botanical, it remains dependent on the spontaneous impulses of the musicians. “The songs are full of imagery, and that’s why I find it interesting to bring up visual elements to keep that imagery ever-present,” says the singer. That can mean dressing up as a sports team, or a zombie lifeguard, or something inspired by vegetation.

“We’re all hyper-creative and we each have our own colour,” according to Laurence-Anne.  “I give them [the band] a lot of freedom. I’m not the type of musician who’ll give you specific directions. The people who work with me inspire me.” One would indeed be hard-pressed to try and box in musicians with such flamboyant inspirations. Naomie De Lorimier, who sings and plays synths, is also known for her solo project N Nao. David Marchand (a.k.a. zouz), on bass and guitar, among other instruments, is everything but a newcomer. Laurent St-Pierre’s drums and Ariel Comptois’ sax are constantly renewing themselves, and Étienne Côté’s percussion unravels before our very eyes like a surprise menu: we never know quite how it’s done, but it’s always delicious.

Laurence-Anne cultivates a sound that’s more firmly rooted each day, and her second album is already sprouting. “We’re going to give ourselves more time to work on it over several studio sessions this spring,” she says. “We still record live, all of us together, in order to preserve the organic dimension of it.” After greenery, Laurence-Anne will eventually tell us about storms and outer space. “I’d like to try new instruments that are seldom heard in Québec pop music,” she says, tempted, among others, to use ondes Martenot, an instrument resembling the theremin.

For Laurence-Anne, songs can originate from everywhere and nowhere. “‘C’est un virus’ is my song that’s the most different from all the others on Première apparition,” she says. “I wrote that song differently from the others. I used an old Yamaha keyboard with pre-set beats, the kind you often get as a kid. I plugged it in my effects pedals and I selected the bolero beat. I used my reverb pedal, and that’s where it started! It was the first time I composed without a guitar. I had no idea where I was going with it. I didn’t think much of it, but in the end, after jamming on it for a while, it turned into something.” A framework is nothing but a constraint, and the same goes when defining her style, which borrows left and right without ever staying long enough in one spot to be defined by it.

So what’s the recipe for a good song, according to Laurence-Anne Ricardo? “You need to choose the right beat setting, it’s like the oven temperature,” she says. “Between 1 and 100. The melody is really important. You have to nail it, otherwise your recipe is a disaster,” she jokes. “And you can’t forget about textures. It’s 2020, everything has been done, musically. It’s the only way to re-invent oneself.”

SOCAN is encouraged to learn that the Federal Government will follow-up on its intention to introduce by December 2020 new legislation on discoverability for tech giants.

New mandate letters released December 13 to the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Canadian Heritage Minister, and to the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science & Industry, confirmed that the government has tasked them to introduce legislation that will take appropriate actions ensuring all content providers, including internet giants, offer significant levels of Canadian content in their catalogues, add to the creation of Canadian content, promote this content and make it easily accessible on their respective platforms.

These mandate letters also charged both ministers to modernize the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act, exploring how best to support Canadian content in English and French while ensuring quality and affordable internet, mobile and media access. It also asked them to review the Copyright Act, which among other things should ensure that private copying levies are payable on both blank audio recording media such as CDs and devices such as smart phones and tablets.

“SOCAN has long advocated that the Copyright Act and other regulatory measures should be amended to make sure music creators receive fair compensation for their work,” said Eric Baptiste, CEO of SOCAN. “And while we recognize and understand the current political landscape in Ottawa, we nevertheless sincerely hope all parties will work together to support new legislation designed to strengthen copyright and cultural industry protection in Canada and also increase and promote Canadian Content.”

Meeting the December 2020 target is imperative and doing so will require immediate action by the federal government and all stakeholders. SOCAN is at the ready and pledges to continue to collaborate with all interested parties to find more ways to support creators across Canada.