It would be foolhardy to brush off the impact that artists like Drake and the Weeknd have had on hip hop and R&B, and on bringing Canadian pop culture to the international stage. But there’s so much more to the Canadian music scene than just the two biggest artists. So if you’re looking for some great hip hop from the Great White North, here are some underrated artists to check out and add to your playlists.
DijahSB has been on the come up these past two years, releasing 2020 the Album last summer, and following it up with their critically acclaimed album Head Above Waters earlier this spring. Their laid-back and effortless delivery belies the truly masterful nature of their bars. Dijah brings the heat without breaking a sweat. Check out the tracks “Butter Crisp” off 2020 the Album and “Way too many Ways” off Head Above Waters.
Bouncing between Toronto and Montreal, Patrik Kabongo has got a taste for beats and bars to 9match. Kabongo moved to Montreal before writing his 2018 EP Spadina, an ode to the experiences of young Black men living in Toronto. Since then, Kabongo has released a series of singles, including his 2020 hit song “High End,” and most recently, “Repentance.”
Cartel Madras is a duo of sisters Eboshi and Contra whose music ranges from hip hop to house with influences from punk, electronic and South-Asian music in a sound they characterize as ‘Goonda Rap.’ Originally from Tamil Nadu, India, the pair relocated to Calgary as children but bring small tastes of their heritage through in their music. Their debut mixtape Trapistan released in 2018 and would become the first installment of a trilogy they call Project Goonda, with the third entry The Serpent and the Tiger expected later this year.
Charmaine and her family settled in Toronto after first landing in the US from Zimbabwe. Last year she exploded onto the Toronto scene with her aptly-titled single “BOLD,” which showed she’s not here to play around. The single appeared on her debut EP Hood Avant-Garde from April of this year. The beats go hard, with bombastic basslines and driving percussion – but Charmaine goes harder on the verses.
Haviah Mighty set herself apart from the Toronto rap scene with her breakthrough sophomore solo album 13th Floor in 2019. Her voice is uniquely raspy and brings a moody yet versatile character to songs that draw from old-school boom-bap to dancehall, tying the album together. Since the release of that Polaris-prize winning album, Mighty has released numerous singles, which will culminate in a new mixtape set to release this fall.
A frequent collaborator with Haviah Mighty in their hip-hop group The Sorority, Lex Leosis is another up-and-comer out of Toronto who knows how to spit. Her aggressive flows and clever lyricism are on full display throughout her 2020 album Mythologies, but you can also find her dropping fire on TikTok, making duet videos to freestyle over different users’ instrumentals. There are some clear funk and soul influences that come through on tracks like “Ouzo,” and her latest release, “Wanted.”
Clairmont the Second
Clairmont the Second is one of few artists bringing alternative hip hop to Toronto. In 2020, he released an album called It’s Not How it Sounds, which makes use of alien-sounding synths and bouncing 808s, peppered with Clairmont’s slick syncopated verses over top. For fans of Brockhampton’s 2017 run of the Saturation trilogy or Nnamdi Ogbonaya’s Brat, Clairmont the Second offers his take on a similar exploratory sound that can be seen on his latest release, “no u don’t / interes-ting / mi pce.”