In the last decade the air of mystery that once clouded hip-hop producers has cleared up quite significantly. Listeners can easily place a name to a beat by either recognizing a tag or stalking social media accounts. Back in 2004, however, hip-hop devotee Clifton Reddick realized that the curators behind the beats had little opportunity to have their music heard on a large scale.
“I looked around and seen that pretty much all the avenues were filled,” explains Reddick, CEO of Sound Supremacy Entertainment (SSE). “They had events for rappers, singers, break dancers, DJs – every kind of element had something that catered to them except the producers.”
Eager to make a contribution to the genre and his hometown, Reddick set out to create a stage for local music producers to have their talent showcased in Toronto.
“I kind of just wanted my own lane and that was wide open, so I just jumped in it,” he explains.
Fast forward 11 years and Reddick’s Battle of the Beat Makers (BBM) competition has not only helped create a platform for music producers throughout Canada, but for beat makers around the world.
The event has drawn in applicants from across North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. This year alone saw finalists hailing from places like Vancouver, New Jersey, the U.K., Switzerland and the Philippines.
“I don’t really know the Canada culture like that, but it looks like you guys are big on producers.” – Lil Bibby
With beat visionaries like three-time BBM champ Boi-1da receiving Grammy awards and 2012 winner WondaGurl becoming one of the youngest producers to be credited on a platinum selling hip-hop album in the U.S. (Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail), Toronto and its suburbs are quickly catapulting to the forefront of hip-hop innovation.
This year’s 10th annual BBM competition relied on the expertise of a panel of celebrity judges – ATL producer Southside, Chicago rapper Lil Bibby and Boi-1da himself – to crown the next hottest beat maker.
The top 32 finalists emerged from behind their laptops and took centre stage before a riveted audience to battle it out for the best beat maker of 2015.
“I don’t really know the Canada culture like that, but it looks like you guys are big on producers,” says Lil Bibby. “I know Boi-1da told me that [Battle of the Beat Makers is] how he got his first recognition.”
Young Martey, this year’s crowned champion, flew to Toronto from Zürich, Switzerland in hopes of receiving some of that recognition. He decided to enter after watching WondaGurl slay 31 beat makers to claim her throne in 2012.
“[Young Martey] sort of reminded me of a Toronto producer and he’s not even from here,” shares Jordon Manswell, the 2014 BBM champion. “That he even heard about it and wanted to come here to battle and get his music out … speaks volumes to how Toronto is becoming the mecca of music in general, and how in the future it’s going to be as big as New York or Atlanta.”
Manswell, who didn’t compete this year, says after he won everyone took him more seriously.
“It’s like having Harvard on your résumé … also it gave me a certain confidence that my music can actually reach someone other than my mom and my brother.”
“It’s like having Harvard on your résumé … also it gave me a certain confidence that my music can actually reach someone other than my mom and my brother.” – Jordon Manswell, 2014 BBM Champion
And even for the producers who didn’t take the trophy home this year, BBM proved impactful. Here’s what six of them had to say about their experience:
EveKey (Vancouver, Canada)
When I found out about Battle of the Beat Makers, being from Vancouver where the hip-hop scene’s not huge, that was something I needed to take advantage of. [These kinds] of opportunities, unfortunately we don’t really have them in a city like that. If you’re serious about your craft and you want to get your name out there, you need to do something to be heard and that’s something that was on my mind when I applied last year. For people who are not from Toronto it’s such a big opportunity because you can make it happen, make a trip and have your own stage to have people hear your music.
Gnyus (New Jersey, USA)
I think it’s great to be able to showcase my work because I got a lot of beats that I like to hoard. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to put my music out there or get a feel of what the people think about my music. I feel like this was a good opportunity to showcase that and to get to know people from the Toronto scene.
Javi (Chicago, USA)
Toronto’s on the come up in the music industry right now; there’s a lot of big names coming out of Toronto so I figured why not bring my talents here?
Mira-Cal (Harlem, USA)
Really in [Harlem] it’s not as big as Battle of the Beat Makers. It’s usually small contests with about four producers, but with this one it’s 32, with reserves even. For an event like this, it’s pretty big.
Danny Boom (Birmingham, U.K.)
[Battle of the Beat Makers] gives people a chance to get their music heard … You can upload music to the Internet, but with things like this people already know what it’s about so it draws people in … [In the U.K.] there is a scene, but I reckon there’s more of a scene here. I wanted to broaden my reach more and work with more people. In the U.K., I wouldn’t say I’ve worked with everybody, but the main people I’ve sort of worked with. I’m trying to branch out a bit more.
Metcalfe (Ajax, Canada)
Boi-1da went to my [high] school so I’m trying to take the same path that he took. He’s influential, he changed the scene and he gave Toronto a sound and developed it. He gave the city a chance to grow rather than people latching onto different sounds from the states … Because Boi-1da went to my high school there was an award for anyone pursuing a music career, so I went for it. That was the first time I actually sent my stuff somewhere other than to my friends. I ended up winning the award. That’s where I started everything.
Photos By. Chantal ‘Rose’ Gregory & Lee Hon Bong © Urbanology Magazine