It’s been 20 years since Maestro Fresh Wes commanded the entire country to “Let Your Backbone Slide.”
The rapper, a.k.a. Wes Williams, is marking the anniversary of his album, Symphony in Effect, with a birthday bash in his hometown of Vancouver this week, an event that doubled as his fourth annual charity fundraiser.
“A lot of time has passed, man, but it’s a blessing that people still check for me after all that time,” Williams said earlier in the week during a visit to Toronto, noting that he unleashed his hook-laden single just as the hip-hop scene began burgeoning into a full-on movement.
“I came out in 1989 when (rap) was the cusp of something new. MuchMusic was (young), everyone involved in it were fans, you get what I’m saying? It wasn’t just me alone, MuchMusic happened, (there was the Much series) ‘RapCity’ at the time, you know what I’m saying? Things were going through a transition where this genre of music was slowly but surely evolving into the mainstream. And I was the guy, one of the guys, the local cats.”
Today, Let Your Backbone Slide remains one of the country’s bestselling hip-hop singles of all-time. But despite charting unprecedented territory for Canadian rappers, Williams says the genre has not evolved as far as he thought it would in the last 20 years. It’s not for lack of talent, he says.
“There’s always been a scene but there’s never been an industry and that’s one of the problems,” said Williams, now 40.
“We live so close to America and it doesn’t matter if Kardinal (Offishall) has an album out now or Maestro has an album out right now when you have U.S. artists with major marketing dollars right behind, you know?
“The only place in Canada where they really embrace their artists is Quebec, man.”
More recently, Williams’ passion has been acting. Over the years, roles have included stints on the TV teen drama Instant Star, and the 2007 film Poor Boy’s Game, along with bit parts in the 2005 John Singleton film, Four Brothers, and 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin.
But Williams says he’s landed his best role yet in the new cable series, The Line, airing Mondays on The Movie Network and Movie Central. In it, he plays the violent and unpredictable drug supplier Andre, a menacing figure battling for control of the streets amidst morally ambiguous cops, a rival Vietnamese gang and bumbling low-level dealers.
The series is shot in east-end Toronto, but the story could take place anywhere, said Williams, crediting co-creators George Walker and Dani Romain with carving out rich multi-dimensional personalities.