Hip-hop legend Michie Mee talks Toronto rap scene and 25th anniversary of debut

A hip-hop legend whose legacy goes back as far as Toronto’s Maestro Fresh Wes, Michie Mee is celebrating the 25th anniversary of her debut album created alongside DJ LA Luv, Jamaican Funk-Canadian Style.

Album's title track was 1st time many Canadians heard Jamaican patois in mainstream rap

Rap pioneer Michie Mee will be honoured next Sunday in a free showcase of women in hip-hop at Harbourfront Centre.

A hip-hop legend whose legacy goes back as far as Toronto's Maestro Fresh Wes, Michie Mee is celebrating the 25th anniversary of her debut album created alongside DJ LA Luv, Jamaican Funk-Canadian Style.

The album's title track was the first time many Canadians' ears had ever heard Jamaican patois in mainstream rap.

Decades later, her impact isn't lost on hip-hop fans.

"Michie Mee was a pioneer, an inspiration for young women and a pleasant shock to male rappers in the States who literally thought there was no rap in Canada," one YouTube user commented on one of her earliest singles.

Mee is being honoured on Feb. 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. in a free showcase of women in hip-hop at Harbourfront Centre as part of Black History Month.

You can hear Errol Nazareth's full interview with Mee on Big City Small World on CBC Radio One Saturday at 5 p.m

Q: How did young Jamaicans respond to hearing patois in your music when it first came out?

A: "First it was a generation of the elders, the aunts, the mothers, the siblings were like, 'Are you sure you want to speak Jamaican in your music?' You come to Canada, you're taught, 'Speak properly, speak clearly.' So here's this genre of music that's not disco — it's brand new — and this known dialect to the West Indian household but not known to the culture at large. So it was very risky but it was what made me different, coming from Canada but yet still international, from the Caribbean.

Michie Mee says the Toronto rap scene has grown 'not only as a music genre but as a city' since she got her start a quarter-century ago.

Q: Did you get any feedback from the music industry in Jamaica itself?

A: We got so much feedback we ended up going back to Jamaica and recording with Mikey Bennett because the Jamaican Funk-Canadian Style record is half reggae, half hip-hop. So yes, we went back to the Barry Gordons of the island and recorded with Shabba. This is when Shabba Ranks was just coming out and dance hall was taking a turn and I didn't know if I was going to be the reggae artist or the hip-hop artist.

Q: What were some of the life lessons you learned from Ivan Berry, Rupert Gayle and touring with the Beat Factory crew?

A: They were very protective of me. I got to see a lot very early just knowing that there was a bigger world out there that would accept West Indian culture in terms of music. The only ways I would see that would be through soca or reggae and I don't think that was as popular in Europe when I was out there. I was going to parties that were playing bits of jazz, bits of disco, what was left of it in terms of break beats and hip-hop.

Q: A lot of people look at you as an inspiration as an influence. Who were your inspirations coming up?

A: Specifically Shante, Sparky D, Salt-N-Pepa and MC Lyte. I was going to open for Salt-N-Pepa, no matter what. I was going to find them. That was a goal.

Q: In 1988 you said in an interview, "The Toronto rap scene is the best it's ever [been] and it's growing." What do you make of it now?

A: I still think it's growing, not only as a music genre but as a city. We've accepted hip-hop in corporate Canada. And slowly, I don't know if it's a good or bad thing, it's being acknowledged. When I see people can make a living from it, not just being an MC or a DJ, that's when I see growth.

All the festivals that come have a little piece of hip-hop and to me that's a gift. It's like the work wasn't in vain in our backyard. And it was going to happen regardless of myself and the early pioneers.

Q: What do you think of the all-women show you're performing at next week?

A: What I like about the vision and the persistence of these young ladies is that they're willing to be themselves. Usually you have to go through a process but these ladies really do have their heads on. So I'm looking forward to it. It shows the difference between new and old and I still have to be relevant, I still have to make an impression on them also and that keeps me humble.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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