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Del Cowie

Del Cowie is an Toronto-based music journalist and editor who has worked as a producer for CBC Music and the Peabody and International Emmy Award-winning  Netflix series Hip Hop Evolution. He has also written for several outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Noisey and Exclaim! where he was editor for over decade and serves on various juries including the Polaris Music Prize.

"ELEMENTS OF STYLE: How Michie Mee built Toronto hip-hop"
Aside from breaking a number of streaming records, another notable development after the arrival of Drake’s 2017 More Life ‘playlist’ were debates on the authenticity and ownership of diaspora narratives, cultural appropriation and genre-blurring. While many of these perspectives rightfully took into consideration factors such as the polycultural demographic nature of present-day Toronto, nary any of these perspectives took into consideration the historical importance and hyperlocal influence of Michie Mee, Toronto’s first hip-hop artist to sign a major label deal in the late 1980s -- over 20 years before Drake inked a contract. It is her wilful, intuitive blending of hip-hop and dancehall, code-switching practices and diasporic worldview that is the sonic, cultural and attitudinal template upon which Toronto hip-hop is founded and the context through which releases such as Drake’s More Life should be viewed. By touching on elements such as Michie Mee’s direct and indirect diasporic connections to soundsystem culture, Jamaican folklorist Louise Bennett, KRS-One and Scott La Rock of the South Bronx’s seminal hip-hop crew Boogie Down Productions and, of course, Drake, this paper will explore and frame Michie Mee’s precursive and peer influences, the structural barriers and inequities that have obscured and minimized her influence and the largely undocumented sonic continuum she has paved for subsequently globally successful Toronto hip-hop artists like Drake. In doing so, we can apply an informed perspective to frame the overlooked and inescapably immersive diasporic realities that are reflected in the music and everyday life of Toronto.