Since declaring himself the unofficial cultural ambassador to Toronto (or to – excuse me – ‘the 6’), around the time that ‘Started from the Bottom’ billboard began looming over Fort York, Drake simultaneously made clear his intentions in putting our city on the hip hop industry’s map and in making clear his lack of interest in relinquishing his custom-fit ‘King of Toronto’ crown anytime soon. The role that Drake has cultivated for himself in the music industry is impressive and well-earned, one of the defining features of that role being the unique position in which it places him to prop up emerging talent. However, in his quest to give Toronto/Canada-born hip-hop artists their day in the sun, women have been conspicuously underrepresented.
Since the unprecedented success of 2010’s Thank Me Later, Drake’s reign has been a double-edged sword for aspiring Toronto MCs, as the world’s eyes are trained on the city like never before. This means that a good chunk of the hip-hop community’s view of the city remains as narrow as Drake’s selective gaze, which can be described as exclusively aimed at the artists he handpicks for his record label (OVO Sound) and to perform at his annual music festival (OVO Fest).
But where does that leave the women MCs of the 6? A Google search for ‘Toronto rappers’ pulls up approximately 555,000 results, but looking for write-ups on contemporary female MCs was akin to searching for a needle in a testosterone-infused haystack. Most of the articles on women that trickled in were from before 2013 (or around the time when Drake’s fame reached its international peak).
Drake may have effectively succeeded in cornering the market on cultural relevance in Toronto, making it more difficult for the city’s emerging female MCs to find a seat at hip-hop’s overcrowded table. So what is one man to do with all that power? Drake has been outspoken regarding his intentions in putting our city on the hip-hop industry’s map, and has proved instrumental in launching the careers of Toronto-bred acts The Weeknd and PARTYNEXTDOOR.
Drake has both the opportunity and the self-proclaimed (and I would argue, deserved) cultural authority to provide a platform for up-and-coming female MCs, yet his latest mix tape (If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late), unlike his past two albums, features no female collaborators.
Only male acts have been signed to OVO thus far, and while he welcomes artists from other labels to perform at OVO Fest, which increases in size and cultural importance by the year, this is what 2015’s lineup looks like this when the male acts are removed from the poster:
With Drake grabbing the reigns of Toronto’s hip hop community in dubbing OVO Fest a platform to showcase emerging Toronto talent, the lack of women represented in 2015, its biggest year yet, speaks volumes. So why hasn’t Drizzy shone his proverbial spotlight on any emerging female hip-hop artists?
Doing so wouldn’t be an act of charity – while the industry is still dominated by males, the demand for female MCs has spiked in recent years, with virtually every major record label eager to acquire rappers up to the task of competing with the earning abilities of the likes of Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea, who continue to hold their own commercially against their male peers.
The reason could be as simple as a lack of artists to choose from, and while the pool may indeed be shallow, there are still plenty of talented rappers fighting to be heard in an industry monopolized by masculinity.
Below are a few Toronto-based MCs worth checking out, not because of their femaleness, but because their voices are musically and culturally relevant, and because they deliver what they’re selling.
The daughter of Sudanese refugees, Major, who now calls Toronto home, has consistently released quality tracks since dropping her first mix tape at age 13. After interest expressed by several labels (she signed with G7/Universal/Interscope and has since become affiliated with Waka Flocka Flame’s label), Reema has collaborated with industry giants such as Pharrell Williams, Rick Ross, and Wiz Khalifa. Major has the talent and drive to move past the plateau of fame level: Canada that has stalled the careers of other MCs (check out ‘In This Life’) but has yet to achieve mainstream notoriety fans of the Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring might recognize her song ‘Gucci Bag’).
In This Life:
Discovered by Tyga via a YouTube video of her freestyling over one of his songs (and already with more street cred than most male rappers after getting shot in 2012), Honey Cocaine has been in the studio since age 11, has released four mix tapes to date (‘Bad Gal’ is a standout track), and is poised to become a strong contender in the American hip-hop market.
Has spent over a decade forging her own path in the industry, starting her own record label to release debut mix tape Mississauga. She was the first female rapper to be nominated for “Best Rap Video” at the MuchMusic Video Awards (2003) and has spent the last ten years honing her skills on tracks such as ‘Warrior’s Tongue’, below, which showcases her passion through a seasoned sense of lyricism and strong MC skills reminiscent of an early M.I.A.
(I would like to note that I am a Drake fan, and this article is in no way aimed at calling into question the man’s talent, or to suggest that he is intentionally keeping aspiring women in the industry down. It is a musing and a suggestion.)