In fact, some of hip hop’s best and most promising producers are emerging from Ajax, Mississauga and Brampton — from heavyweights such as Boi-1da, T-Minus and WondaGurl to a bevy of swiftly rising talents. In fact, more than half of the eight rap albums to top the Billboard chart in 2015 featured a track produced by someone from Toronto’s suburbs.
But if the world’s urban music is increasingly coming from our suburban producers, the tough question is: why? Why are districts with no tangible evidence of a hip-hop scene proving such fertile ground for earth-shaking beats?
“In the suburbs, there’s not as much going on, so you have time to perfect your craft,” said Clifton Reddick, founder of Battle of the Beatmakers, to be held Sunday at the Opera House. “(Producers) are more or less hermits in their houses creating music.
“Pretty much all the top producers,” he added, “are from the outskirts of the city.”
It wasn’t always this way. Reddick recalls the dismissive reaction that initially greeted Boi-1da — now a Grammy-winning mastermind behind hits for Eminem, Nicki Minaj and Drake — at his first competition.
Well, Reddick’s boredom-as-motivation theory definitely has its supporters.
In the formative years of his production career, he recalls barely braving daylight, spending roughly two years as a shut-in crafting beats for 18 hours a day.
“In Toronto, it’s really easy to get distracted,” said Mikhail, a former cohort of Grammy-winning Mississauga producer Arthur McArthur. “In Mississauga, there’s really not much to do, so you sit in the studio and work on beats.”
That said, the influx of production talent from the suburbs hasn’t exactly led to the industry shifting away from the core.
“Not much is going to happen for you just sitting in Mississauga,” Mikhail said. “No one’s coming to find you.”
Raz Fresco, for instance, landed tracks with Mac Miller and Tyga via social media. Born in Toronto before moving to Brampton (and attending the same high-school as rising star PartyNextDoor), he figures hip-hop’s heart may have shifted as the cost of living soared.
Yet some aren’t necessarily keen to fly a flag for their suburban roots.
Eestbound — who has given Houston rapper Travi$ Scott a Top 20 hit in the creeping “Antidote” — is, like Mikhail, an immigrant, having moved to Brampton from Holland four years ago. He partially credits the greater Toronto area’s sprawling cultural diversity with inspiring his musical freethinking.
Still, he doesn’t seem interested in loudly repping the 905.
“If people ask where we’re from, we don’t say Brampton, we say Toronto, because that’s what people know,” he said. “I don’t feel like there’s a scene in Brampton.
“I mean, Brampton’s a bit boring.”