Toronto rapper Smiley’s welcoming energy precedes him.
Standing in front of his trailer handing out cups and drinks, he pauses to ask his crew if they need anything moments before stepping onto the main stage at Rolling Loud, an international hip-hop festival held in Canada for the first time last weekend.
Smiley was grateful for the chance to perform a full set in front of a large crowd gathered at Ontario Place in Toronto for the three-day festival.
“I hope the crowd is excited today. I hope they come with that energy,” he said before his performance.
“It means a lot of growth, because it never happened. So hopefully everyone will do some good to make it happen again and keep it going.”
Canada has a long — albeit complicated — history with rap music and hip-hop culture.
In the 80s, Canadian rappers Michee Mee, Maestro Fresh Wes and Bobby Deemo started gaining traction in the United States.
But even after decades of success from top Canadian artists like Drake and Nav, it can be difficult for others to find adequate space to showcase their talents and cultivate support.
Some women in the industry say it’s even harder for them.
Women in the industry say they need help
Rolling Loud’s lineup over the weekend included Future, Dave, Wizkid, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, Rae Sremmurd, Roddy Ricch, Trippie Redd and Canadian talent like Baka Not Nice, Killy, Nav, Pressa, DJ Charlie B and Haviah Mighty.
Earlier this year, some critics denounced the lack of female headliners in the lineup.
And for their part, women in the industry say opportunities to gain notoriety as rappers are rare.
Toronto rapper Paris-Richard says she dreamed of moments like when she had the chance to invite Canadian R&B legend Jully Black on Saturday to perform their heartfelt song I got you from his latest album Queen of the 6ix.
“Everything I ever wanted in this musical realm came together and it was just amazing,” she told CBC News, while acknowledging the struggles she faces as an artist. independent in a male-dominated scene.
“I don’t get love on the radio and on blogs, but I love my music,” she said.
“I think it’s really important to empower women because we’re a minority when it comes to hip-hop culture. We can do everything men do and even better.”
Richards has worked closely with producer Dub Jwho says he understands why the scene is different for female rappers, noting that music blogs and social media sites often feature men involved in politics within the industry.
For him, seeing Richards preform with Black was historic.
“Seeing Paris and Jully there was a year of preparation. We made it happen,” he said. “Getting that co-sign from the Queen of R&B.”
from Montreal SLM (pronounced thin) also took the stage at Rolling Loud in Toronto on Sunday, expressing her eagerness to tap into the Toronto market.
“I definitely don’t hear the radio in Montreal because my music is considered provocative and it’s English so they don’t move with it,” the rapper said.
Triumphs and Complications
An important aspect of advancing in the industry is also having the chance to perform in front of new audiences. Rolling Loud provided a space for emerging artists and household names to take the stage, and for some artists it became a first in their careers.
Although Drake’s OVO Fest made history when the Toronto-based multi-day hip-hop festival launched in 2010, Rolling Loud brought a slew of artists to three distinct stages.
But organizing a festival bringing together dozens of artists and three days of concerts is not without complications.
Some performers had filming schedules changed or delayed, Toronto rapper Chromazz was severely booed during his Sunday set, overcrowding was common near the stage, and some performers failed to show up for their sets.
On Saturday, Toronto police said on Twitter that they responded to reports of gunfire at the festival. Police issued a statement on Sunday confirming that a firearm had been discharged and a weapon had been recovered in the area, but no injuries were reported.
Growing Canada’s hip-hop community
But for the artists who have had the chance to take the stage, the impact of the festival is lasting.
Toronto rapper Gucci Televisionanother rapper closely affiliated with Drake’s OVO camp, recalls a time when a festival like Rolling Loud would have been unimaginable for local rappers.
“It’s getting better. Notoriety is crazy. Now I show up and people know who you are,” he said, noting that social media has empowered Canadian artists to manage and grow their own careers.
Both Richards and SLM are heavily invested in promoting their music on social media, but to advance the careers of Canadian rappers, SLM says the industry in this country must continue to create these spaces.
“Allowing artists to have stages to show off their talent when it’s deserved, especially when they’ve done the underground work to get there. It’s a lot to keep yourself in this game, especially as a woman,” she said.
“Support local talent. If you believe in someone, tell a friend, tell a friend.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of.