York students learn how Toronto hip hop contributes to Canadian art history

Three York University undergraduate classes sat in on a panel discussion about the history of Toronto hip-hop culture on March 20 that featured two prominent practitioners: rapper Maestro Fresh Wes and radio DJ Mel Boogie.

Maestro Fresh Wes is a Canadian celebrity in both rap music and television (CBC’s “Mr. D”), while DJ Mel Boogie is heard live on VIBE 105 at York University as the host of “Studio B Radio.”

The panel discussion, “Connecting the T.Dots: Oral Histories From Toronto Hip-Hop Pioneers,” featured conversations about: early Toronto hip-hop history; the nature of the Canadian music industry; the way that artists use lyrics, sounds and images to challenge prominent Canadian history narratives; and the nature of inclusion and exclusion in the entertainment industry, particularly around issues of race, class, gender and sexuality.

The panel was attended by undergraduate students in the Department of History’s first-year course “Mass Media and Popular Culture in the Americas: Music, Movies and Power” and third-year course “African Canadian History,” as well as the Department of Humanities’ third-year course on Black popular culture (HUMA 3318).

“So often, in the university classroom, students and educators engage with curriculum content that takes the form of scholarly texts, primary artifacts and audiovisual texts. One of the primary goals of this panel discussion was to bring history to life and give undergraduate students the opportunity to interact in an immediate way with the history makers of our society,” said Francesca D’Amico-Cuthbert, one of the event organizers and the course director for the Department of History’s full-year course on African Canadian history.

Each undergraduate class was provided with a curated playlist in advance of the event to develop questions for panellists about artistic intentions and process. The exercise enabled students to work through this music as historical artifact in an intimate setting with the creators, and provided them with the opportunity to learn about the social, political, cultural, and economic factors and contexts that shaped the production of the music.

DJ Mel Boogie and Maestro Fresh Wes
DJ Mel Boogie and Maestro Fresh Wes

Discussions gave students insights into the process of producing art in Canada’s music industry, and the role art has in producing histories of Canada.

“Connecting the T.Dots: Oral Histories From Toronto Hip-Hop Pioneers” was moderated by D’Amico-Cuthbert (PhD candidate, History Department), Professor Anne Rubenstein (History Department) and Visiting Professor Daniel McNeil (History Department, Carleton University). The event was sponsored by the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies, the City Institute at York University and the departments of History and Humanities.