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• Mar. 18, 2024

As Premier Sponsor of the JUNO Awards for the third year – and entering the 13th year of sponsorship – TD is excited to work with Maestro Fresh Wes as we celebrate his induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, to be presented by TD. As an artist who shares the Bank's view that music has the power to spark connection and bring people together in a community – the Bank is proud to have Maestro Fresh Wes participate in the promotion of the TD JUNOS Road Case contest on TikTok and CBC Media.

The first time Maestro Fresh Wes was nominated for a JUNO Award, there was no such thing as a category for "Best Rap Artist."

It was 1990, and the Toronto-born hip-hop pioneer was nominated for his first JUNO in the "Best Dance Recording" category for his seminal track, "Let Your Backbone Slide." That first year, he went home empty-handed.

By the time Maestro – real name Wesley Williams – arrived for the second time at the JUNO Awards in Vancouver the following year, “Let Your Backbone Slide” had become the first track from a Canadian rapper to chart on the Billboard Top 40, his first album – Symphony in Effect – was on its way to becoming the first certified platinum album by a Black Canadian artist, and he entered the awards ceremony with five nominations, including Male Vocalist of the Year.

That year, he went home with two JUNO Awards – one for “Best Video” and the first-ever award for “Rap Recording of the Year.”

"Well, the first time I was nominated, I didn't win, and it wasn't a rap category," Maestro remembered during a recent interview with TD Stories.

"The next year they implemented a "Rap Recording of the Year" Award and my album won … but there was a dude by the name of Leonard Cohen who was there, rest in peace. He was receiving his Hall of Fame Award. There was a standing ovation for Leonard Cohen. I remember sitting there with my two [awards] and I said to myself, 'You know what, I've still got a long way to go.' Who would have thought I'd be where I am now."

Thirty-three years after watching Cohen get a standing ovation that night, the man known as the Godfather of Canadian Hip-Hop will join the late songwriter as the newest member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame when he is honoured at the 53rd annual JUNO Awards in Halifax on March 24, his Induction will be presented by JUNOS Premier Sponsor, TD.

From Scarborough to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame

Born in Toronto in 1968, Maestro started writing rhymes and experimenting with music after being introduced to hip-hop by his father when the genre was still in its infancy. An early pioneer of the Canadian hip-hop community, he started performing locally as Melody MC by the age of 15.

After a performance on MuchMusic's "Electric Circus" program led to him being discovered by New York record executives, he went on to record his debut album, Symphony in Effect, the first of more than a dozen EPs and LPs, establishing himself as the first true rap star to emerge from Canada.

"What I want to say to my fans is thank you, because I started writing my rhymes in the 1970s, and who would have thought that it would take me to a place where you know, like Drake said, 'We started from the bottom, now we here,'" Maestro said.

"But now we're here doing international things, and just to be recognized like this is a beautiful thing. So, I'd like to thank my fans, my friends … I really appreciate being appreciated."

"Started from the bottom, now we here"

In addition to his work on the mic, Maestro – who now resides in Saint John, New Brunswick – has helped produce many other Canadian rap artists, while also pursuing an acting career, including a prominent role on Gerry Dee's successful CBC comedy series, “Mr. D.” He is also the author of several books, including a self-help memoir and a successful children's book.

Maestro said he was proud to have been able to help inspire and break down barriers for the next generation of hip-hop artists, and is now looking to give back in other ways, including through the Maestro Fresh Wes Scholarship, which is designed to support Black and African Nova Scotian students pursuing a career in skilled trades at Nova Scotia Community College, Akerley Campus.

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