SoundProof Recycled: Are the Junos Racist?
By: Adam Bunch
Originally posted: Mar., 2007 – Toronto, Canada
The Juno Awards, which celebrate the "best" in Canadian music, are being presented this Sunday night. (You can join us here for our live commentary.) This year, like most, there will be only one urban artist performing on the televised broadcast. After the ceremony in 2007, we talked to ex-Rascalz member Red1 about the award show's dubious history when it comes to hip hop and R&B.
The Junos caught a lot of heat last year thanks to Kardinal Offishal, one of Canada's greatest hip hop artists and long-time presenter and performer at the awards show. He announced on the red carpet that he would never again be attending the event, citing the fact that not a single urban music award would be presented during the televised portion of the show. He called it a "farce" and declared that he wasn't "going to be the Junos' monkey no more."
But Kardinal wasn't the first to draw attention to the Junos' poor treatment of urban artists. All the way back in 1998, Vancouver's The Rascalz refused to accept their award for Best Rap Recording for the same reasons. "We were trying to stand up for our genre and our culture," explains Red1, the member of the group who first suggested they turn down the award. "At the time, urban music had the top eight spaces on the Canadian Billboard charts. Hip hop and R&B were blowing up. We were the number one genre as far as sales." But the Junos didn't seem interested in supporting the newly successful genre with any airtime.
In the wake of The Rascalz's protest though, it seemed like the Junos were listening. The very next year, producers televised the rap award, and asked The Rascalz to perform with their Northern Touch collective, featuring Canadian hip-hop legends like Kardinal, Choclair, and Saukrates. "It was a chance to have all these artists from across the country perform together," Red1 says, explaining that they did have some reservations. "But if you're going to ask and they're going to give it to you, you kind of have to take it."
The victory was short-lived. According to Red1, the Junos didn't take long to slip back into their old ways. "The spotlight was on them [in '99]," he says, "So they had to adjust, but now they've gone back. They've got one token urban cat; one hip hop artist." And looking at this year's broadcast, it's hard to argue. Even with Kardinal's outrage fresh from last year, the two-hour show featured only one performance by a hip hop artist (k-os, who lost each of the five awards he was nominated for) and presented only one urban music award (Best R&B/Soul Recording). The Juno producers chose instead, as usual, to focus most of their attention on pop and rock artists; of the seven televised awards three went to the host, Nelly Furtado, and two went to Billy Talent. When you factor in how much of the show seemed to be filler (a lot), the inclusion of urban music does seem like little more than a token gesture.
"I guess in a sense urban music has lost its foothold in the country," Red1 continues. "Much doesn't really play us anymore; all these radio stations that were playing us have switched to pop. In a sense I'd say we're back to where we were before we rejected the award." And he doesn't hesitate to point out where he thinks the problem lies. "It's the people in power in the music industry. They're working to keep their jobs, not to do their jobs. So when some young guy comes in and is going to turn everything upside down, they don't want that." And again, Kardinal Offishal is the perfect example. "Kardinal has been one of the top three dopest cats in the country and he has been for years. The people on the Juno committee don't know what's going on. Among artists it's almost a joke. You go up to someone and say, 'I'm nominated for a Juno?' And they say, 'So? So what?'"
And while Red1 stops just short of calling the Junos racist (the show and associated parties are "almost segregated" he says, and "almost racist"), as far as the reputation of the show is concerned, it's already too late. Year after year the producers of the telecast have shown that they are not interested in giving airtime to the young, exciting, up-and-coming acts of any genre. Their priority has long been to support established artists and milk them for all the ratings they're worth. And there's a price for that: anyone who knows anything about Canadian music knows that when you're looking for great artists, the Junos are one of the last places to look.
Video: "Northern Touch" by The Rascalz