Hip-hop has enjoyed many periods of renaissance over the nearly four decades it's served as the soundtrack to urban America. While birthed and cultivated within the borders of New York City, those humble beginnings would soon turn into a burgeoning cultural movement that would eventually spread to other locales throughout the country, sparking a rise in popularity of the little genre that could.
But while hip-hop has been around the world and back, reaching as far as the U.K. and Asia, America's neighbor, Canada, has long been known more for hockey, cold weather and free healthcare than beats, rhymes and life. While artists like Kardinal Offishall, K-os, and others have managed to gain credibility on the underground, no Canadian artist had been able to penetrate rap on a mainstream level, leaving the country as an afterthought to many rap fans and critics until Drake.
The emergence of Drizzy, who transformed himself from a former child-actor-turned-aspiring-rapper into one of the biggest stars in all of music, prompted many to ponder what other unearthed talent might be lurking in the home of the maple leaf. And that question has been answered slowly, but surely, over the past few years with a number of Canadian acts like The Weeknd and PartyNextDoor emerging as heavyweight talents and helping to change the face of rap and R&B as we know it.
Much of this credit should go to Drake, who has continuously repped his hometown of Toronto and turned it into a hotspot destination for anyone with aspirations of good living, but artists like Tory Lanez are also doing their part in stamping Canada as a certified spot on the hip-hop map and making it prime for the next regional explosion. We've rounded up 10 artists from Canada with the potential to make major noise in the near future and add their unique stylings to the game.
Notable songs: "Rose Quartz/Like, Crazy," "Dead or Alive," "Stick and Move"
Sounds like: Canada's answer to Travis Scott (sans the production prowess), but more lyrically adept.
Why you need to know him: Jazz Cartier is at the top of many rap fans' list of artists from Canada bound to make a big splash in 2016, and with good reason. After toying with the idea of pursuing a rap career, the Toronto native built a buzz for himself with the release of his debut single, "Set Fire," in 2014, which led him to unleash his introductory long player, Marauding in Paradise, in 2015. The project would position Cartier as one of the more talked about rappers emerging in Toronto's burgeoning music scene, as well as gain him traction among listeners in the states who became enamored with his expansive sound. Fresh off the release of his Hotel Paranoia album and with an upcoming tour run with stops in the U.K., France, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and other countries abroad, Jazz Cartier is looking like a potential superstar in the making and is definitely an artist to get familiar with.
Notable songs: "Kenzo," "Settle Down," "Lake," "Runnin' It"
Sounds like: Future with a slight twist of Tyler, the Creator during his demonic musings.
Why you need to know him: Derek Wise is as equally controversial as he is entertaining. Born Derek Bissue, the Toronto native made headlines in December of 2014 after being arrested on 15 charges in relation to a human trafficking investigation, but the real reason the rising rapper and affiliate of pop star The Weeknd is noteworthy is due to his music. Prior to his arrest, Wise had already been making a name for himself via releases like "Kenzo" and "Lake," piquing the interest of The Weeknd, leading to his induction into the crooner's XO camp and an appearance in his "King of the Fall" music video. He also hasn't let the turmoil stop his grind, releasing an EP, titled Glam Wave, in late 2015, as well as three more loosies just last month. The Get Home Safe crew member is on the move to making a major impact on the rap game this year.
Notable songs: "Feel," "Eternity," "Nuh Time"
Sounds like: A sonic hodgepodge of Drake and The Weeknd with a smidgen of Future sprinkled in.
Why you need to know him: When the right-hand man to the biggest rap star on the planet says your shit is hot, there's a good chance that you're destined for big things. And that seems to be the case with Safe, who has emerged as one of the hottest prospects in Canada's rap scene. Born Saif Musaad, the Toronto rep caught his big break after meeting Oliver El-Khatib at a video shoot for rapper Jimmy Prime and hit it off with the mastermind behind the OVO brand. That relationship earned Safe a position working in OVO's store in Toronto and eventually led to Safe revealing his own aspirations of being a rapper, immediately gaining a fan in El-Khatib and a cosign from Drake. With those props in tow, Safe released his Stay Down EP in late November of 2015 and speculation grew that he could be the latest addition to the OVO roster. While Safe maintains that there's no deal in place at the moment, it will be a shock if he's a free agent for much longer.
Notable songs: "Pretty Girls Put Boys in Cemeteries," "This Ain't 2012," "81"
Sounds like: If Big Sean and Mac Miller combined their artistry and morphed into one singular MC.
Why you need to know him: When thinking of elite spit-kickers from Canada, if Sean Leon doesn't come to mind, we'd suggest you do your research. The 25-year-old MC from Ontario caught the ears of listeners with his debut project, Ninelevenne, the Tragedy, which earned Leon rave reviews from critics and tastemakers alike. Following up with his 2014 effort, Narcissus, Drowning of the Ego, Leon has been relatively quiet as of late, but has kept his name afloat with sporadic releases like "Miles" and "81." And with producer Jordan Evans, who helped craft the beat to Drake's "Pound Cake" with Jay Z, in his corner, Sean Leon should have no problem making waves whenever he decides to liberate his next album.
Notable songs: "Brick," "Stamina," "6GAWD"
Sounds like: A trapped-out spitter reminiscent of a Wiz Khalifa with a delivery that sounds equal parts Kendrick Lamar and Nicki Minaj.
Why you need to know him: Dillan Ponders is Canada's resident shameless stoner and his fans have come to love him for it. The zany rapper has built a reputation for his high-octane live shows -- usually performed while inebriated -- and has rocked stages with the likes of Mac Miller, among others. After making his bones on the local scene, his breakthrough came with the release of his The Boy Who Lived LP, which introduced a wider range of listeners to Ponders' music. Releasing Rotex in 2015 on SmashMouth Music Group, Ponders solidified his standing as one of Canada's most seasoned rap talents and put In 2016, Dillan Ponders is looking to put himself in rare air, as evidenced by his brazen "6GAWD" track, which finds him noting that he's not down with chasing cosigns and that Drake isn't the only rapper worthy of royalty in Toronto.
Hometown: Brampton, Ontario
Notable songs: "Drama," "Get You Good," "All of You"
Sounds like: A vocally aggressive crooner with shades of The Weekend (sans falsetto) and the edge of "Bad" era Michael Jackson.
Why you need to know him: Roy Wood$ is arguably the most popular name on this list, but has also kept a relatively low profile in comparison to the others. Originally from Brampton, Ontario, Wood$ (born Denzel Spencer) chose to walk off the gridiron and away from a promising football career and into the booth during his high school years, a period that serves as the genesis of Roy Wood$. Taking advantage of his talent to sing in a local scene full of rappers, his distinct style caught on with the people. But it would be the release of a song titled "All of You" that catapulted Wood$ from another hopeful to being featured on some of the biggest media outlets in all of music. Already having announced plans to release his EXIS project in 2015, Wood$' music eventually landed in the hands of Drake's OVO team, who premiered the Drake-assisted lead-single from the tape, "Drama," on their OVO Sound radio show on Beats1 Radio. It was soon announced that Wood$ had signed a record deal with OVO Sound, releasing EXIS in late July of last year. Peaking at No. 10 on the Billboard R&B chart, the EP raised Wood$ buzz to a fever-pitch and makes him one of the more intriguing artists to watch moving forward in 2016.
Notable songs: "Poison," "Hold Your Hand," "Still In Love"
Sounds like: A hybrid of Avant and an ample dosage of Jeremih.
Why you need to know him: Jahkoy is looking to break out of the incubator for talent that is Toronto and make his name resonate on the biggest of stages. After switching his stage name from Raheem to his government name, Jahkoy released his first project, Dying to Live Forever, in 2013, and made a big impression on fans with his melodic vocals and what he dubs as "bipolar" music. Deciding to take his talents outside of the Canadian borders, Jahkoy settled in L.A. in late 2014, and quickly got to work while finding a valuable cosign from famed producer No I.D. Signing a record deal with Def Jam, Jahkoy's most recent one-off, "Odd Future," has only increased anticipation for his forthcoming project, Temptations, which could turn Jahkoy from promising novice to a superstar.
Notable songs: "Northside," "Rest of the Night" "Owe Me"
Sounds like: Early Drake, but with a more carefree disposition and delivery.
Why you need to know him: Drake may be the most influential Canadian when it comes to rap, but even he's taken pointers from Jimmy Prime, who's looking to build upon Drizzy's success and build an empire himself. Formerly rhyming under the moniker Jimmy Johnson, Prime has been a fixture in Toronto's music scene for quite some time, but his profile was raised when his single, "Pray," was posted on the OVO blog, leading to speculation that Prime would be a new addition to the house that Drake built. While those rumors was premature, the buzz from "Pray" definitely wasn't, as Prime's mixtape, In God We Trust, was touted as one of the best releases to come out of Toronto in quite some time. Returning to the scene in 2015 with his mixtape, Block Boy, the newly christened Prime won listeners over in a big way, leading some to mark 2016 as the coming out party many of his fans have been waiting for. And from the sounds of "Owe Me," his collab with Amir Obe, Jimmy is more than ready for prime time.
Notable songs: "Hope City II," "The Storm," "Get Down," "Learned My Lesson"
Sounds like: A touch of J. Cole for his introspective lyrics and flow delivered over solid, stadium-ready beats.
Why you need to know him: John River lives by the mantra that he can't just be good, he has to be the best coming out of his city of Mississauga. The 20-year-old rapper is on the track to do just that with with more eyes and ears set in his direction after the visual for his poignant track "Hope City II" was nominated for Best Hip Hop Video at the 2015 Much Music Video Awards and he showcased his freestyle chops on Sway in the Morning recently. The rapper already has two mixtapes under his belt, 2012's The Calm, and the aptly titled follow-up The Storm, which he dropped last year. River is a man of many talents since he not only serves intelligent bars but he's also mastered his own production. The Storm boasts some of his beatwork along with Wondagurl and FrancisGotHeat. He's maneuvering the hip-hop game on his own as an independent artist but it seems like only a matter of time before his name and his music reaches a more national level. His first headlining tour, which kicks off next month, will certainly help the process.
Notable songs: "Sweeterman," "Bodmon," "Hey Mr. Ramriddlz"
Sounds like: R&B Drake with a heavy tinge of Caribbean flavor.
Why you need to know them: Few Canadian artists had a bigger year than Ramriddlz. The Mississauga native went from a relative unknown to having his song remixed by one of the most popular artists in all of music. His track, "Sweeterman," was touched up by none other than Drake, putting Ramriddlz under the microscope of listeners curious of the man behind the original. And what they've heard so far has tickled their fancy enough to make Ramriddlz one of the most buzzworthy artists in Toronto's thriving hip-hop scene. Ramriddlz's debut EP, P2P, which was released in July of last year, would build on that momentum, with songs like "Sweetersound" and "Pineapple Crush" proving that he is no one-hit wonder and capable of rising to the occasion. While Ramriddlz hasn't announced plans of a follow-up to P2P and remains non-committal about pursuing his music career, recent loosies like "Hey Mr. Ramriddlz" and a recent performance in New York tells us that the pride of Mississauga has something big in store for 2016 and is someone who should definitely be on your radar.