7 - 9 of the Bay St. Bull Power 50: Toronto Music
The Power 50 is a collection of Canada’s top people, places and things of 2016. Our list is filled with game changers from all corners of the nation that are inspiring, innovating and influencing the way we live and work from the top. Giving you the best from every city, industry, office and home, The Bull’s Canadian Power 50 is not your typical list and instead is the definitive guide to who and what is changing the way Canada lives, works and plays.
7. The Weeknd: Singer, Songwriter, Producer
If all things Drake now embody the spirit of Toronto, then the bleary lovelorn haze and gloomy self-indulgence of fellow hometowner Abęl Tesfaye—the singer, songwriter, and record producer better known professionally by his stage name The Weeknd—have undoubtedly come to characterize the city’s soul.
We’ve already observed in our Power 50 profile on Drake that Toronto was a city long in the midst of identity crisis. Simply put, for decades it didn’t know who or what it wanted to be. Was it Hollywood North? New York Junior? That multicultural capital with the big needle in the sky? And while Drake was no doubt the emissary who gave the city’s image a much-needed reboot, maybe it is The Weeknd’s existential, narcotized slow jams that more accurately define the true Toronto: enigmatic, vulnerable, and utterly intoxicating.
“I’m the drug in your veins…”
“I forgot how it feels to regret my sins…”
“When I’m f*cked up, that’s the real me…”
It's difficult to not kick back and listen with wonder as The Weeknd’s conceit spirals into a self-deprecating nightmare. For those still resisting Drake’s vice-grip on Toronto, these alienated lyrics better embody the city they know.
And despite all its vanity and unabashed decadence, you can’t argue the results of The Weeknd’s music. His 2015 effort, Beauty Behind the Madness, became his first number one album on the Billboard 200, included the top-five hit "Earned It", and produced the number-one singles “The Hills” and “Can't Feel My Face”. The songs simultaneously held the top three spots on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart, making Tesfaye the first artist in history to achieve this. Plus, not to be outdone by Drake on the awards front, he’s also won two Grammys and been nominated for an Oscar.
Drake can be king of Toronto. With his slow tempos, rumbling basslines, and forlorn echoes, The Weeknd is more than happy to be its new Prince.
8. October's Very Own
You know that black and gold owl emblem you keep spotting everywhere? The one that’s quietly become Toronto’s unofficial logo while actively spreading its wings worldwide? Despite the omnipresence, that influential owl’s origins are humble and can be traced back to 2006, when a still-unsigned Drake released his early mixtapes under the unofficial October’s Very Own (OVO) umbrella. With an ambitious vision in mind, the rapper then made a concerted effort to establish the brand by shouting out to OVO on every song he could.
Fast forward to 2012. Thanks to a partnership deal with Warner Bros. Records, the OVO Sound record label was officially founded that year by Drake and Noah “40” Shebib, which now hosts a roster of talented emerging musicians and producers. But to view OVO today as just a record label is to severely limit it. Because in the years since Drake quietly dropped those mixtapes, OVO has evolved into a highly influential aesthetic movement; one that not only sets trends, but furthers them.
Take OVO Fest, the annual Toronto concert hosted by Drake that has grown famous for the stars that he brings to his hometown. Featured attractions and surprise guests have run the gamut, including such names as Jay-Z, Eminem, Kanye West and more… way, way more. The celebrated gathering has single-handedly transformed Toronto, if for one weekend a year only, into ground zero for live rap music. That’s the OVO influence at play.
Or look at OVO’s garment collection, which began as a series of collaborations with Roots and has become a full-fledged clothing line sported by tastemakers the world over, with flagship stores in downtown Toronto and Los Angeles. That’s the OVO influence again.
Other collaborations involving OVO have included Canada Goose and Air Jordan. There’s a digital radio station to boot, and this summer, Drake will again spearhead the celebrity basketball tournament, OVO Bounce.
To say the OVO influence is real and not going anywhere would be an understatement.
9. Drake: Singer, Songwriter, Producer, Entrepreneur
If you can credit Drake for anything (aside from his multi-platinum albums, pop culture influence and business savvy), it’s that the man knows how to keep himself relevant.
But the achievement that remarkably sticks out from it all is funnily enough the single one that money could never buy. And that’s the deity-like influence he holds in his hometown of Toronto.
Drake’s rebranding of Toronto has been organic as it has all-encompassing. There’s ‘The 6’ nickname itself, derived from Toronto’s two area codes (416 and 647). There’s the perpetual name-drops of anything and everything T.O. There’s his official role with the Toronto Raptors, where Drake’s involvement alone made supporting a struggling team ‘cool’. And there’s his stewardship of OVO Fest, the star-studded annual event the city waits year-round for. It doesn’t end with that either. Drake just put out a wildly popular Toronto-centric album called Views that features now-iconic artwork of him sitting perched atop the CN Tower, Toronto’s second most famous landmark next to him.
The funny thing is that Toronto has a short memory and likes to forget that Drake was once its red-headed stepchild. He was the kid from Degrassi with zero street cred getting ripped across local message boards as a wannabe emcee. But as witnessed with the city’s sporting franchises, Toronto is quick to back a winner. And when Drake soon proved himself the consummate thoroughbred and worldwide Toronto ambassador he has, the city bought all the stock in him they could. It’s been paying huge dividends.
In return, Drake has not only shone an international spotlight on a town craving it, but helped alleviate the identity crisis that Toronto has long been pegged as suffering from. Oft accused as a city lacking individuality, Toronto projects a sense of selfhood and hometown pride today not witnessed since perhaps the Jays won the World Series back-to-back in the early 90s. And guess what? You can thank Mr. YOLO for that.
Love it or hate it, it’s Drake’s Toronto and we’re all just living in it.