Documentaries

Why the greatness of hip-hop in Canada is hugely underappreciated

Through a mix of archival footage and interviews with hip-hop experts and first-hand witnesses — including Master T, Michie Mee, Maestro Fresh Wes and Jully Black — documentary "Northern Beats” looks at the Canadian roots of arguably the most popular music genre in the world today.

Director Will Prosper explores the rich history of the genre in ‘Northern Beats’

Filmmaker Will Prosper on how Black musicians overcame challenges to be recognized in Canada | Black Life: Untold Stories

6 months ago
Duration 2:36
Director of “Northern Beats,” shares his vision for the music episode of CBC docuseries Black Life: Untold Stories.

Black Life: Untold Stories is an epic eight-part documentary series that reframes the rich and complex histories of Black people in Canada over 400 years. Watch now on CBC Gem. Each episode is directed by a different director, who shares their experience in a series of video essays. 

Montreal filmmaker Will Prosper believes music is powerful. 

Music is "that safe space that we're looking for to re-energize our body, our mind, our soul," said the director of "Northern Beats," the music-focused episode of CBC docuseries Black Life: Untold Stories

Through a mix of archival footage and interviews with hip-hop experts and first-hand witnesses — including Master T, Michie Mee, Maestro Fresh Wes and Jully Black — "Northern Beats" looks at the Canadian roots of arguably the most popular music genre in the world today.

"I'm not quite sure that people understand the impact of Black Canadian music," Prosper said. "I don't think they know how far it goes back, as well."

In "Northern Beats," Prosper uncovers the long history of struggles faced by Black Canadian artists, including fighting for commercial radio stations to play their music and facing a lack of support from mainstream media.As a result, many musicians sought success in the U.S. and U.K. in the 80s and 90s.   

Two young men dance in bright retro clothes.
The story of the Dream Warriors, a Canadian hip-hop duo from Toronto that found success in the U.K., is featured in the 'Northern Beats' episode of the CBC docuseries Black Life: Untold Stories. (Studio 112/Northwood Entertainment/Ugly Duck Productions)

"What's really frustrating about all these artists," Prosper said, "[is that] whatever the era was, it was always hard for them to be recognized within Canada."

Despite these challenges, community radio shows, promoters, DJs and artists themselves ensured there were spaces that supported the music and impacted Black communities.

LISTEN: Black Life: Untold Stories playlist


"As Black Canadians, we face a lot of struggles. I'm just hoping that, you know, there's that little girl, little boy, that little person, that is going to take a look at this music episode and say, 'Well, it's possible I can be that person.' And that it's going to keep on making our community striving to break [down] these doors, because there's still some barriers," Prosper said. 

About Will Prosper

Born and raised in Montreal, filmmaker Will Prosper is known for his poignant explorations of underrepresented communities and Afro-descendant cultures in Quebec. His notable works include The Lost Tapes du hip-hop au Québec, Les derniers pèlerins, Républik Basket, Aller simple : Haïti and the award-winning Kenbe la – Jusqu'à la victoire.

"Northern Beats" is streaming now on CBC Gem. Watch it on CBC-TV on Nov. 8 at 9 p.m. (9:30 p.m. NT).



For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.
(CBC)

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