Published Jul 05, 2013Everyone knows the Maestro Fresh Wes hip-hop classic "Let Your Backbone Slide" from his 1989 platinum-selling album Symphony in Effect, but not everyone may know certain details about the career of the durable Canadian rap legend.
The ins and outs of the rap career of Maestro, a.k.a. Wes Williams — and, by extension, the entire Canadian hip-hop scene — are documented, from the early '80s to today, in Exclaim!'s new Timeline, which you can read in our new issue and online now. Whet your appetite with five highlights from the piece below.
5. Maestro lived in Brooklyn during the mid-'90s in an effort to boost his success in America. It was a tough time for Wes, as his 1994 album Naaah, Dis Kid Can't Be from Canada?!! doesn't quite meet expectations.
"My vibe was just to do what I felt like doing, which was introduce yourself to America. So don't introduce yourself in a tux right now," he says. "It was a tough transition for me. It was basically starting from scratch again. The game changed. Hip-hop started to be broader. I did a lot of work myself on that project. So I learned around that time that you have to be hands on with your work. It was tough."
4. As an actor, Williams once shared a dressing room with rapper Drake.
Wes "Maestro" Williams appears in films such as Paid in Full, Honey, Four Brothers and with rapper 50 Cent in Get Rich or Die Tryin'. On the small screen, he lands lead roles on the early 2000 series Metropia as nightclub owner Quincy Daniels, music mogul Darius Mills on CTV's Instant Star and the HBO Canada series The Line in 2008, for which he's nominated for a Gemini Award. Working on Instant Star, he shares a dressing room with Aubrey "Drake" Graham, who is starring on the popular teen series Degrassi at the time. "We shared a dressing room. They would just change our name tags from Darius to Jimmy. He was always polite. He'd say he knew me and that he was also doing music. It's like what Chuck D told me: 'Always inspire young people coming up,'" says Williams.
3. Maestro's original rap nickname was Melody MC when he appeared on college radio when he was 15.
15-year-old Williams performs live on-air at Toronto's Ryerson Polytechnic Institute (now Ryerson University) during the popular CKLN rap radio show The Fantastic Voyage, hosted by Ron Nelson. "My man Ron Nelson put me on in 1982. [Before that] the first place I ever performed was at my high school. I rhymed over Vaughan Mason & Crew's 'Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll.' Nelson would tell listeners: this is Melody MC, he's 15 and damn he's good."
2. He met a 16-year-old Nas while working on the 1990 sophomore album The Black Tie Affair.
"I remember them telling me about this kid named Nasty Nas. And everything was just about Nas, who was 16 at the time. You don't know how many times I've heard that verse from Live at the BBQ. I stayed at K-Cut's house at the time while we were mixing and Nas came over and I met him."
1. Although Drake is the current Canadian hip-hop king, "Wheelchair Jimmy" still ain't got nothing on Maestro's all-time Canadian music success; "Let Your Backbone Slide" is still the best-selling Canadian hip-hop single in history.
"Let Your Backbone Slide" would become a smash hit record; more than 50,000 copies of "Backbone" are sold across Canada, the first gold-selling hip-hop single in the country. "Backbone" would also top the Record Singles Chart in 1990, selling more than 25,000 in the U.S within the first few weeks. "This record came out and today it's still the best selling hip-hop record of all time in Canada. Even the Drake albums haven't exceeded Symphony in Effect, which is crazy to me. That's monumental to me," Maestro says.