It’s been estimated that Toronto rap ambassador Drake has worked with some 60 locals on his albums and, no doubt, as he helped put the Canadian city on the map for a new generation, he’s done the same for producers working locally. With Canadian Music Week taking over downtown Toronto this week, the spotlight is on some of the beat-makers who started from the bottom — and now they’re here, as influential and respected members of the global hip-hop community.
Among the top producers is Boi-1da (born Matthew Samuels), who started working with Drake super early, starting with 2006’s “Room For Improvement.” We first see Frank Dukes’ credit on that album, too. Dukes has graduated to producing albums for Camila Cabello and The Weeknd, among many others, while Boi-1da went on to work on Drake’s “Comeback Season” a year later, and more than a decade after, several of those names continue to contribute to notable records, including Rich Kidd and T-Minus.
Noah “40” Shebib came on board with Boi-1da on 2009 mixtape “So Far Gone” and continued on to Drake’s debut album, “Thank Me Later,” where On the songwriting side, we first see Matthew Burnett’s name.
Boi-1da took Burnett and Jordan Evans under his wing, bringing them aboard for a career-making co-write on Eminem’s 2010 hit “Not Afraid,” a No. 1 song that’s now certified 10-times platinum in the U.S. alone. Sevn Thomas got his break through Boi-1da, too.
As Evans told SOCAN, “the producers that are making songs with big artists, it’s a pretty small community, and we help each other out a lot. I can speak for myself, Matthew, and other people that we work with, we definitely mentor a lot of the new guys, the new beat-makers, giving them help, advice, pointers, and whatever they need. “
Burnett — who in just two years has taken Daniel Caesar to next-big-thing with two Grammy nominations, two songs on Barack Obama’s playlist and five sold out Toronto shows — developed the Oshawa singer with Evans and the two now manage him.
Drake’s early talent pool also included Vinylz, PARTYNEXTDOOR, WondaGurl, and others, which also opened doors for them with other major names. PARTYNEXTDOOR, an artist in his own right, is credited on Rihanna’s “Work.”
Other producers landing choice gigs include Nineteen85 (Drake’s “One Dance” and “Hotline Bling”), Prezident Jeff (Wiz Khalifa, Roy Woods), Big Pops (The Game, Meek Mill), Mikhail (Flo Rida, Vybz Kartel, Lil Wayne), Moss (Ghostface Killah, Raekwon) and Raz Fresco (Tyga, French Montana, Mac Miller).
WondaGurl, another Boi-1da protégé, still remains the most notable Canadian female beat-maker. Toni Morgan of The Beat Academy says she is working on an all-women Canadian producer event in the summer. “We’re pretty excited,” Morgan tells Variety. : It’s ambitious, but it’s a start to hopefully unearthing some of the talented women behind the boards.”