Metro Morning

Before Drake, there was Johnbronski: remembering Toronto's hip-hop roots

John "Johnbronski" Adams, a DJ and producer known as the "godfather" of Canadian hip-hop music, says Toronto's distinct cultural composition resulted in a unique sound long before Drake or The Weeknd put the city on the map of hip-hop culture.

John 'Johnbronski' Adams to speak at 'Before the 6ix: And Now the Legacy Begins' at Toronto Reference Library

DJ and producer John 'Johnbronski' Adams was a major figure in the early era of Toronto hip-hop music. (CBC)

John "Johnbronski" Adams, a DJ and producer known as the "godfather" of Canadian hip-hop music, says Toronto's distinct cultural composition resulted in a unique sound long before Drake or The Weeknd put the city on the map of hip-hop culture.

"The reggae music, the West Indian culture, the Trinidadians, the Jamaicans, the Guyanese. The West Indian diaspora had a definite influence on the music," Adams told Metro Morning host Matt Galloway on CBC Radio this Monday morning.

Adams will be speaking at "Before the 6ix: And Now the Legacy Begins," a Monday evening panel discussion on Toronto's hip-hop history being held at the Toronto Reference Library as part of Black History Month.

From Cold Front to Drake

Adams produced the 1991 Cold Front Rap Compilation that's credited with helping to amplify the Toronto sound across the country. But Toronto's nascent hip-hop culture also got critical help from other places, Adams told Galloway.

Campus radio, especially the University of Toronto's station CIUT, "played a big part," said Adams, as did York University's CHRY and Ryerson University's now-defunct CKLN.

"It was a great platform for a lot of the artists, and anyone who had an ability to rhyme, or to DJ, and even to spit poetry, at that time too," said Adams.

More mainstream media, like MuchMusic's RapCity and Canadian music label Attic Records, also embraced the local hip-hop scene, he said. 

When Attic put out Adams' Cold Front record in 1991, he believes it "triggered something" for the hip-hop community across Canada.

"Because from that album I met Buck 65, and then I met The Rascalz — and that's like from Halifax to Vancouver, so what does that tell you?"

Staying true to Toronto in the age of 'The 6ix'

Even though Toronto hip-hop is now a global phenomenon, Adams said it retains some core characteristics that remind him of the old days.

"I think the general texture of the Toronto rap scene has maintained itself, and I think it does live in Drake, in terms of his rhyme style, the things he rhymes about, the way he rhymes, the words he says."

"Before the 6ix: And Now the Legacy Begins," will be at the Toronto Reference Library at 7:00 p.m. Monday night. Tickets are available online.

With files from Metro Morning

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