Grandfather of Canadian rap music recruits all-star lineup for first full album in 13 years
Published on Fri Jun 28 2013
For his big return, Maestro Fresh Wes has pulled out all the stops.
To commemorate his 25th year as Canada’s breakthrough rap pioneer, Toronto’s Wesley Williams waded deep into Canadian and U.S. talent pools to help him record his brand new album Orchestrated Noise, released earlier this week.
Although the 18-track project boasts hip-hop heroes old and new (veterans Chuck D. of Public Enemy and Brand Nubian’s Sadat X; Circle alumni Saukrates and Kardinal Offishall, and younger lions like Rich Kidd and King Reign), Williams didn’t stick to his own genre when issuing invites: soul singers Glenn Lewis and Divine Brown, rockers Sam Roberts andsThe Trews, opera star Measha Brueggergosman and electronic pop siren Lights were all asked to the party.
“This album was a community project, where people say, ‘Let’s make this work, let’s make this happen, because you mean something to me,” asserted a smiling Williams in an interview this week, lounging back in a leather chair in the spacious lobby of a Bloor Street office building.
“It’s an awesome thing to know that what I’ve done, I feel appreciated. And it was a blessing to be able to work with Classified, King Reign, Lights — just these different artists, man, and do things that I wouldn’t normally do outside hip-hop’s comfort zone.”
If you recall Maestro’s introduction back in 1989, it was via a groovy little featherweight earworm called “Let Your Backbone Slide,” that burst into the mainstream and became Canada’s first homegrown rap hit, helping Williams earn a Juno Award for its corresponding album Symphony In Effect. The album’s sales of nearly 200,000 copies pegged it as Canada’s bestselling domestic rap recording until another guy named Drake broke the record a few years back.
Back in the day, rap was simpler and rudimentary, as many were just beginning to explore its potential — and hip-hop pioneers like Maestro were blazing their own trails without previous guidance.
“I came up with the slogan, ‘Don’t make records — make history,’ and that’s what I was doing back then without knowing,” says Williams, 45.
“It wasn’t just about playing music — it was about making a statement. We had no social media. We had no computers, so anything that we did was rudimental from a technological perspective. On top of that, we had no reference point, so we were doing what felt right and relying on a lot of instinct.
“Still, it resonated with the public to the point where after 25 years, people are still checking me.”
For the new album, his first since 2000’s Ever Since, Williams wanted to link the past to the present. He spent two years working with many producers — Lord Quest, the Rezza Brothers and fellow emcees Classified and Saukrates among them — to develop his distinct, fuller vision.
“I wanted to make it a conceptual extension of my first album, Symphony In Effect,” Williams declared. “So I asked myself, ‘what would a Maestro really do?’ He’d make Orchestrated Noise.”
To help present his more worldly perspective, which includes influences and subject matter ranging from Jamaican political leader Marcus Garvey (“Look For Me In The Whirlwind”), responsible parenthood (“See You On The Weekend”) and tapping your potential (“Reach For the Sky (Try)”), Williams said he relied on his younger disciples.
“I got rap coaches — like King Reign, Rich Kidd, Promise Shepherd, Rochester — they’re the kind of the guys who gave me a little guidance on how to flow, to make sure my stuff was right,” says Williams. “I hadn’t put out an album in awhile. But I’m glad to be back and I’m glad cats are checking for me.”
Williams, who also sustains careers as an actor (he plays Paul Dwyer on the hit CBC comedy Mr. D.), author (Stick To Your Vision, McClelland & Stewart) and motivational speaker and intends to tour the new album in the fall, says he feels both relevant and grateful.
“I’m from the era of the physical in the era of the digital,” he states. “It’s a different world and I’m glad I’m still part of it.”