40 AT 40: REVISITING THE BIRTH OF HIP-HOP IN TORONTO

In our series of 40 memorable NOW covers from the past 40 years, we revisit a 1982 report on a hot new trend called rap music

In February 1982, NOW Magazine put the spotlight on an interesting new trend that was popping up in the Toronto music scene.

It was called rapping.

Less than six months into NOW’s existence, the magazine had its finger on the pulse of an underground scene that would soon take over the culture.

Looking back at it now that hip-hop is arguably the biggest genre in the world, it’s funny to read the cover story written by NOW’s co-founder Michael Hollett, now the editor and publisher of the recently launched print music publication NEXT Magazine. As he reported on the scene at the Dub Club – aside from some nights at 14 Hagerman Street, maybe Toronto’s first hip-hop venue – Hollett also had the task of explaining what rapping actually is.

“You’d hear dribbles about some new type of poetry music going on in New York,” Hollett reflects now. “But unless you were really clued in you might not know what it really was. Now it’s everywhere, but at the time it was so new and different you really had to explain it to people. It’s like telling people about this new thing called television.”

In the story, he describes it as a form of disc jockeying that “sees the DJ move from passive record pusher to performer… [adding] his vocals live along with recorded sounds… to make sure the dancing doesn’t stop.”

By 1982, Sugarhill Gang had already released the first big rap record Rapper’s Delight and the genre was starting to pop off in New York, but hip-hop was still very much in its infancy. Though Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow had both played shows here, as Hollett writes in the piece, hip-hop was nowhere near Toronto radio. But some predominantly white bands like Tom Tom Club and Blondie were starting to bring a version of the burgeoning genre to punk and new wave scenes.

The Dub Club, at 115 McCaul (now an OCAD building), didn’t actually start as a rap club. It was more about Jamaican culture and the city’s Caribbean diaspora. Hip-hop had roots in Jamaica with reggae, dub music and sound systems, with “toasters” rapping over instrumentals of existing records. As rap gained steam as its own thing, it started to take over the Dub Club.

 

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