Originally Posted: April 29, 2022
By: Ron Fanfair
Canadian singer-lyricist Raffi is an award-winning children entertainer and holder of seven Juno Awards, six of which are in the Children Album of the Year category.
Nominated for his first in that classification, Wesley Williams (Maestro) — considered the Godfather of Canadian hip hop — jokes he might consider changing his name to the ‘Black Raffi’ if he wins the award next month.
‘Young Maestro School Days’ is an eight-track album inspired by his children’s book that celebrates family, mentorship and the valuable contributions of elementary school teachers to children’s success.
In the book, a young Maestro is introduced to hip hop and competes against ‘Julia the Great’ and ‘Hakeem the Dream’ in a writing contest.
“I am having fun with this,” said Williams. “It definitely means a lot to me because this project would not have happened had it not been for COVID. That was an inspiration for the book. Then I started thinking this guy could have his own sound track and what would that be. Putting out a children’s book was on the backburner until the virus grounded almost everything to a halt.”
The nomination, he says, reinforces, hip hop music’s overwhelming influence.
“It’s not just stuff that’s cool for the 80s and 90s,” Williams, who has received 14 Juno nominations in the last three decades, pointed out. “It is something that transcends time and that’s why I always say I make history and not records. It is good to have music that is timely because that means you are current. Having music that is timeless is something I believe in and always try to maintain.”
The album features celebrated hip hop artists and lyricists Rochester and Keysha Freshh.
“Rochester is a parent with two kids and I thought he would be good to play the role of ‘Hakeem the Dream’,” said Williams who was the first Black artist to receive platinum status in Canada. “It was a toss-up between him and Rich Kidd but Rich had already produced ‘Backpack Check’ on the album. Rochester was down when I told him and he did a good job. Before he recorded that, there was a point of reference he had to listen to which was the character ‘Julia the Great’ played by Keysha. I knew she would do her thing with that and she proved me right. She is amazing.”
Being part of the album, said Freshh, is significant.
“I have always wanted to work with Maestro,” she said. “It is so awesome that our first record is on a Juno-nominated album. I am super proud of him and the work that was put into this piece of art.”
Recording artiste and Juno-nominated songwriter/producer Black Orchid produced some of the songs on the album.
“It was very important for me to have a female producer and a female MC on this project,” Williams noted. “Women have always been on the frontlines of hip hop music, yet they never seem to get the acknowledgment they deserve.”
The award-winning musician has an affinity for books.
Williams authored ‘Stick to your Vision: How to Get Past the Hurdles & Haters to Get to Where You Want to Be’ that was published in 2010. Based on his experience, he offers guidance to young adults and other individuals who are seeking help in achieving their goals.
The book was named for his 1998 hit single, ‘Stick to Your Vision’.
“I have always enjoyed reading,” Williams, who was inducted into Scarborough’s Walk of Fame in 2006, noted. “I did a lot of that for my son as he was growing up. There is this children’s book, ‘Christopher, Please Clean Your Room’, that I bought from A Different Booklist, and read many times for my son in addition to a lot of other kids books. We did not have those Black books with Black characters as much in my time as a child. It’s so cool that I am in a position to provide some cool Black children books.”
Chancellor Williams, his only child, is 13.
Surrounded by music growing up fueled Williams’ passion for the creative arts.
His mother played the piano and dad is a jazz aficionado. An uncle, Ted Matthews resides in New York, is a songwriter.
“There was always music around me and I had no other choice but to listen and let it soak in,” the product of Guyanese immigrants said.
Williams is also an accomplished actor, appearing in several films and television projects, including ‘Soul Food’, ‘Instant Star’, ‘The Weight’ and ‘Poor Boy’s Game’ that featured two of his songs on the film score. The movie premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
He was the recipient of the Reelworld Film Festival Trailblazer Award in 2003 and a Gemini nominee six years later for his role in ‘The Line’.
Two years ago, Williams moved to Saint John, New Brunswick.
The first hip hop artist inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame is relishing life in the Maritime province.
“In Toronto, there are so many layers to life,” said Williams whose sister, Mel Boogie, is an accomplished disc jockey. “It is like people meet you and say you could be nice, but we don’t know you yet. I understand that happens in a big city. Here, people gravitate to you right away and accept you for who you are.”
To mark the one-year anniversary as a resident in the seaport city, Mayor Donna Reardon appointed Williams an official ambassador of Saint John.
It is an honour he doesn’t take lightly.
“My parents taught me to be humble and respectful of everyone, regardless of their status in life,” said Williams who spent five years in the United States in the 1990s. “Through travelling a lot doing my music and acting, I learnt to wipe my feet before I walk into any new territory, whether it be small like Saint John or large like Toronto and New York. I just try to make the people around me feel comfortable and respected. I did that when I got here. Shortly after I moved, the former Mayor Don Darling invited me to City Hall. Everyone has been so accommodating, warm and generous.”
On June 20, Williams will host Game One of the Memorial Cup hosted by the Saint John Sea Dogs.
“This is huge for the city and it’s quite the honour for me to be part of it,” he said.
An even bigger honour would be to win a Juno on May 15, just over 30 years since making history as the first Canadian hip hop artist to receive a nomination.
Source: Ron Fanfair