‘I enjoy being the first’: Maestro Fresh Wes doesn’t mind breaking hip-hop barriers

‘I enjoy being the first’: Maestro Fresh Wes doesn’t mind breaking hip-hop barriers

Some moments in a career of “firsts” achieved by rapper Maestro Fresh Wes seem bigger than him, and next Sunday is certainly one of them.

That’s when the Canadian star officially becomes the first hip-hop artist inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the Juno Awards. His name will be added to a succession of influential homegrown acts such as k.d. lang, the Tragically Hip and Deborah Cox.

It’s a moment the “Let Your Backbone Slide” performer, born Wesley Williams, patiently awaited for years, confident the country’s music industry would eventually come around, as it has before.

“I enjoy being the first,” the Toronto native explained during a recent interview about reaching new heights in Canadian hip-hop.

“I’m a foundation of something that starts breaking international parameters.”

As one of the country’s first hip-hop artists, Williams blazed trails for generations of Canadian rappers, notably Kardinal Offishall and Drake, who took the local game to global levels.




In his early twenties, he won the inaugural 1991 Juno for rap recording with his party anthem “Let Your Backbone Slide,” which broke ground in the United States for Canadian rap. His 1989 record “Symphony in Effect” became the first Canadian rap album to receive platinum certification, meaning it sold 100,000 copies.

More recently, “Let Your Backbone Slide” became the first rap song inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019. And this year, he’s the first-ever hip-hop recipient at the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards.

In some ways, it seems as if Canada’s institutions are hurriedly catching up to the influence of Maestro Fresh Wes. If that’s true, it doesn’t seem to bother him much.