For the Record: An Idea of the North - Toronto Hip Hop Exhibit Opens Feb 16, 2019

February 8, 2019 | Bill V.

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For the Record: An Idea of the North is our newest exhibit in the TD Gallery on the main floor of the Toronto Reference Library. This interactive mixed media exhibit focuses on the role of Soundsystems and DJs in the emergence of Toronto's hip hop music scene. The TD Gallery features free exhibits for Torontonians and visitors and is open during Toronto Reference Library's open hours.

The show, produced in partnership with Northside Hip Hop Archive, features material from the Library's collections, the Archive and also loaned items from the local music community. The quotations in this article are from the writings of guest curator Mark V. Campbell (aka DJ Grumps), assistant professor at Ryerson and a founding director of Northside Hip Hop Archive. 

A Sneak Peek

1984 Toronto Star Photograph Archives Whole lotta breaking goin' on
Whole lotta breaking goin' on: Nigel “Sugar Pop” Walters, an 18 year-old student at North York’s Earl Haig Collegiate, shows off his scissor kick during a headstand. A few days after this photo was taken, “Breakdance ’84,” Toronto’s “first ever high school street dance show,” was held at Riverdale Collegiate. 1984 Toronto Star Photo Archive


Cosmic Force Cosmic Force member Ainsley Drakes AKA “The Thing” 1984 Toronto Star Photographic Archive
Meet the Thing: Cosmic Force member Ainsley Drakes AKA “The Thing” 1984 Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Scarborough’s eight-member b-boy crew Cosmic Force, whose ages ranged from 10 to 19, won over $3,000 in prizes at competitions throughout 1983 and 1984, including the Pepsi High School Challenge held at the Masonic Temple on Yonge Street. 17 year-old Ainsley Drakes, otherwise known as “The Thing” and the group’s designated record keeper, demonstrates one of the spins that helped make Cosmic Force one of Toronto’s premier breakdancing crews.


"SoundSystems in Toronto innovated new sonic realities that ensured this city became ‘home’ to a new generation of Caribbean migrant youth. Central to this process was the vinyl record."


Let Your Backbone Slide LP record vinly Maestro Fresh-Wes
Maestro Fresh-Wes : Let Your Backbone Slide (12” vinyl single Attic 1989). Northside Hip Hop Archive. With a strong black consciousness, two dope dancers and DJ LTD, Maestro Fresh Wes had audiences everywhere trying to thread the needle--a nod to bboy culture with his first hit single.


Rap Recording of the Year,  Maestro Fresh-Wes AP Leafax, CP Picture Service Laser wire photograph 1991 Toronto Public Library Toronto Star Photograph Archive  Maestro Fresh-Wes holds the first ever Juno for Best Rap Recording in 1991. The award category was created to honour the the astounding success of his debut album Symphony In Effect, released in 1989, which went double-platinum in Canada.
 Maestro Fresh-Wes holds the first ever Juno for Best Rap Recording in 1991. The award category was created to honour the the astounding success of his debut album Symphony In Effect, released in 1989, which went double-platinum in Canada Toronto Public Library Toronto Star Photograph Archive.



"The vinyl records played by Soundsystems like Sunshine Sound Crew, Chic Dynasty, Maceo, Killowatt, TKO and Powerhouse Divine Sound weren’t solely sources of jubilation but were also tools of community building, placemaking and identity formation particularly for a generation of young Caribbean and British migrants new to Toronto."

King Jammys Dub SIDE 1_ album center
This 10 inch dubplate from King Jammy’s is a test pressing of Rumble’s future hit single ‘Safe’. Following the long line of Soundsystem innovations, Rumble recorded in Jamaica, was signed to Island Records in the UK and was based in Scarborough-- a truly transnational life for one of Toronto’s earliest hip hop stars.
Crack Song/Free the World/All I know/Wishing on a Star King Jammy 10” vinyl record King Jammy’s Dub 1990 ca. Generously gifted to Northside Hip Hop Archive by Rumble.


Rapper's De Feet Scottie Peter Gang 7 inch vinyl single 1980
Rapper’s De Feet Scottie Pete Gang (7” vinyl single Quality 1980) Northside Hip Hop Archive.
This parody of The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rappers Delight.” recorded by a DJ at Hamilton radio station CKOC is one of the earliest known hip hop records cut in Canada.


Still caught up SIDE A_ album center
Saurkrates - Still Caught Up (12” vinyl single Steppin’ Bigga Records, 1994) Northside Hip Hop Archive.
 Emerging out of Play De Record on Yonge Street, Steppin Bigga Records was responsible for putting on wax Saukrates, a key member to the legendary Circle Crew and a representative of the second wave of Toronto hip hop artists.


Exhibit Features

We plan on having listening stations, cassettes and even mixtapes. The bright yellow listening stations were designed in the Digital Innovation Hub at the Toronto Reference Library using 3D technology available to the public (the prototype was also printed out here using the 3D printer). 

3D printed yellow "walkman" holder
3D printed yellow "walkman" holder.


“Ghet to Storm Pt. 2” Soul Controllers featuring DTS & Motion Cassette No label n.d. Northside Hip Hop Archive
“Ghet to Storm Pt. 2” Soul Controllers featuring DTS & Motion Cassette No label n.d. Northside Hip Hop Archive



"For the Record proposes we listen to the building of Toronto’s urban identity over the last four decades. The exhibition focuses on the DJs, radio shows and Soundsystems that crafted an imagining of home and belonging through sonic innovations in black musics."

There will also be magazines, posters and, of course, awards from back in the day. 

Much Music Video Awards
Much Music Video Awards won by director David Cropper.


Female hip hop artists will also be represented: this magazine and poster promoted Honey Jam, an annual showcase for women in rap. 

FtR-28_Honey Jam_summer 2002
Honey Jam Magazine, Summer 2002.


FtR-30_Honey Jam_sunday may 7th
Honey Jam Sunday poster.


Make sure to check out the specially-commissioned for the show graffiti stools highlighting the art and skills of local artist Elicser. You may recognize his work from the Runnymede subway station where he has just installed pieces. 

local artist Elicser working on stools for the "For The Record - An Idea of the North - New exhibition celebrating Hip Hop in Toronto
Progress shot of the custom graffiti stools.


Exhibit Programs

The show runs from Saturday February 16, 2019 until Sunday April 28, 2019. 

There will be free guided tours on Tuesdays from 2-2:30 pm, February 19 to April 23.


Other Hip Hop Programs

Before the 6ix: Classic 1999 Toronto Hip-Hop Albums. Tuesday February 12, 6:30 - 8:00 pm at the Toronto Reference Library / Hinton Learning Theatre.

When Choclair's Ice Cold was released in 1999, it represented a milestone in Toronto hip-hop. But it was just one of many significant releases that year which is arguably one of the finest in the history of the city's hip-hop scene.  Join moderator Del Cowie and DJ Agile as Choclair, Saukrates, Mathematik, Murr of Da Grassroots and former music industry professional Mansa Trotman take part in an in-depth discussion and play music from some of the classic 1999 Toronto hip-hop albums that turn 20 in 2019.


Hip-Hop History with GeneONE. Monday March 11, 2:00 - 3:30 pm at the Richview Branch.

Local Toronto professional hip hop and graffiti artist GeneONE will discuss the history of hip hop and how it has influenced and impacted African Americans. He will also teach some basic skills in hip hop production and rhyming. If you are a hip hop enthusiast this is your chance to get exclusive industry tips and tricks from one of our very own local Toronto artists. This program will also introduce the Richview Digital Innovation hub recording studio and how you can mix and record your music in the library for free. Drop-in program for youth 13-19 years only. Space is limited so please arrive on-time. Call 416-394-5120 for more information.


Unity Hip Hop Dance Workshop. Monday March 11, 4:00 - 5:00 pm at the Maria A. Shchuka Branch.

Drop in and join us as we learn how to dance to Hip Hop music with the incredible Dance group, Unity! For youth 13-19 years only.


Hip Hop Dance with Bucc N Flavr. Thursday March 14, 4:00 - 5:00 pm at the  North York Central Library  / Room 101.

Learn the basics of hip hop dance style with a live workshop by a professional dancer from Bucc n Flvr! 4-5 pm. No registration required. For youth 13-19 years only.


Panel Discussion: Impact of 1990s-2000s Independent Music Magazines. Tuesday April 16, 6:30 - 7:30 pm at the Toronto Reference Library / Beeton Hall.

Journalists and Magazine Publishers explore the impact of independent music magazines such as Mic Check, WORD, Peace, Pound and Urbanology, in the 1990s and 2000s in reference to hip hop culture.


The Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Collection

You may also be interested to know about the Library's Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection.

This collection features over 16,000 print and audiovisual materials for adults, children, and teens about the Black and Caribbean historical and cultural experience – with a special emphasis on Canadian content. Material covers history, social science, and the contributions and achievements of Blacks in Canada. The collection also includes a small selection of titles about world figures in Black history and culture.

Recognized as one of the most significant Black and Caribbean heritage collections in Canada, it is an invaluable resource for the Black and Caribbean community as well as students and researchers.

Formats available include:

Print: fiction and non-fiction, newspapers and periodicals
Large Print
Digitized content

The collection is available at four branches across the city: