“If I was somewhere else, maybe I would do something completely different. But thanks to these people performing tonight, I am where I am,” Drake told the sold-out crowd at his All Canadian North Stars show last month. He was referring to an elite team of local hip-hop and R&B OGs – artists like Maestro Fresh Wes, Kardinal Offishall and Rascalz, who, as Drizzy wrote in his Instagram announcement of the lineup, “opened the way for all of us.” As of this week, The Boy now has 100 top 20 entries on the Billboard Hot 100, more than any other artist in the chart’s 64-year history. Look where he is now.
It’s amazing to see how far Canadian rap has come. A scene that less than two decades ago couldn’t appeal to American audiences so much as a glance in its direction has spawned an artist bigger than the Beatles. “In the ’90s, people called ‘Canadian’ music like an insult,” rapper Rascalz Red1 said in a 2018 interview. “Like, ‘Yo, I don’t know, that just sounds so… canadian.’” These days, the word is a marker of cool. Our artists are what people around the world are looking for.
But the truth is, the Great White North blew out the radiators for a minute. Canada has a rich hip-hop history that has long been ignored not only by our American neighbors, but even by our country’s media and music industry. While tracks like “Let Your Backbone Slide” and “Money Jane” may not have had as much exposure as “NY State of Mind” and “Hypnotize,” they’re just as meaningful and enduring. These are songs ingrained in the collective consciousness of our country; songs that created an environment where an artist like Drake, or the next wave of Canadian rappers who came after him, could emerge. So, now that the world is finally paying attention, it’s a good time to take stock.
To mark Complex’s 20th anniversary, we decided to do the definitive ranking of Canada’s best hip-hop bangers, old and new. Because somebody had to, and this country certainly has no shortage of classics. Based on the criteria of quality, cultural impact, popularity, timelessness and slappability, here are the 20 best Canadian rap songs of all time.