Among the plethora –and that’s putting it mildly – of albums coming out in the fall of 2017, one clearly stands out because of its artistic direction, and that’s Hugo Mudie’s very surprising Cordoba. Well-known in music circles as the frontman of The Sainte Catherines and Yesterday’s Ring, Mudie has launched his first solo album, and it’s a big departure from what are considered his musical roots, while retaining the sarcastic and off-beat tone that he’s owned since the start of his career.

“It’s probably the most representative album I’ve made, because there were no compromises,” says Mudie. “It’s the first time I can really be who I’ve always wanted to be. My closest friends do recognize me in it… I was always a little more fucked-up and open to all styles of music than most.”

Pop Goes La Vie

Hugo MudieLet’s tell it like it is: Mudie ventures into pop territory that few would have expected him to approach to this point. “I don’t know if we can call it a pop statement,” he says. “As far as I’m concerned, it came very naturally. I’ve always listened to a lot of pop music and I’ve always based my compositions on melodies, even in my bands. The difference is that it was executed in an aggro or country way, depending on the band I was writing for.

Add to that the fact that the songwriter was saturating his ears and mind with rap during the writing and recording of the album – from Kanye West to Chance the Rapper to Young Thug. “I love the way they try things, sonically,” Mudie says. “There truly is a lot of research that goes into it. I get a feeling the genre re-invents itself every six months. It’s crazy.”

Yet, despite all that, his “natural” side re-appears every now and then, on tracks like “Ferme ta radio” or “Tofu Dogs,” where Mudie lets loose the punk/hardcore energy that drew the spotlight to him early in his career. “I wanted to do pure, bona fide Minor Threat or Dead Fucking Last, and I like the idea of having a couple of tracks on the album that are pure punk, like the Beastie Boys did back in the day,” he says.

Add to the mix a large pinch of Wavves and Beach House, and you’ll start having an idea of the multi-genre affair that you can expect. “In the end, I guess it’s my attempt at making Beach House tracks,” says  Mudie. There. Case closed.

We Are Wolves’ Alex Ortiz is credited with his first official production duty. “I didn’t know him and he had never done this,” says Mudie. “I liked what he did with WAW and, musically, his personality seemed as all-over-the-place as mine. We clicked immediately when we first met, and it was an awesome collaboration.”

Dyed-in-the-Wool Punk


And not only has the release enjoyed great visibility – “Livre d’or” has earned rotation on a few commercial outlets – the man behind the project is also the object of media attention, being a guest columnist of the ICI Première, Urbania and Vice platforms, to name a few. More often than not invited as an “industry” columnist, Mudie recently penned an op-ed piece on the role of music critics that was considered incendiary by some.

At a time where social media occupy most of our collective imagination, critics have a hard time finding their rightful place. The reactions to the op-ed were just as colourful as the piece itself: “I wasn’t expecting people to react with such intensity!” says Mudie. “Some even flat-out refused to talk about my album. But to be honest, I prefer that to pure disinterest. I’ve always loved stuff that shakes things up.”

Again, let’s be clear. “Even good critics piss me off,” says Mudie. “When I read it, all I can think of is that the writer has never made music. I truly believe that, and it drives me mad. And Québec is so small, everyone knows everyone. That drives me nuts too, when I think about it too much. All of that is who I am, I don’t over-think it before I commit. People who know me know I’ve always been that way. In school, people said I was a negative leader. When I was in a sports-study program, my teacher once told me: ‘You’re not a hockey player, you’re a rock star.’ Apparently, she had great vision. There comes a point in life where you either embrace your larger-than-life personality, or you are ashamed of it. And if you try to dumb it down, you’ll feel bad. In the end, it’s simple: if you like me, you’re welcome, if you don’t, oh well.” Another case closed.

“I’m only at the beginning of my career,” says Mudie, “and I already have songs ready to go. I’ve hung up my multi-band singer role for now, and I’ll no longer try to justify the style I choose. If I want to do balls-to-the-wall music, country, or pop, then that’s what I’ll do.” Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Hip-hop may have started out in the parks of New York, as everyone from MC Shan to Jay Z has reminded us, but Toronto’s world-conquering battle-rap scene started out in a back alley behind the Eaton Centre.

King of the Dot, Mad Child

Mad Child at King of the Dot

“We couldn’t get a venue. We were 21 years old, and no venue wanted to associate themselves with battle rap,” says Travis “Organik” Fleetwood, recalling the pauper origins of his King of the Dot empire, nearly a decade ago, in 2008. “So we just did it any way we could. Originally we were planning to do it at Yonge-Dundas Square, and then they kicked us out so we had to move to the closest alleyway.”

Understandably, Toronto police thought the circle of 40 or so kids cheering and jeering as two alpha males squared off was building toward a fight. But once they realized that the blows would be only verbal, the cops let it slide.

“They never once shut us down,” says Fleetwood. “They would always ride their bikes by the alleyway and they looked at it like, ‘at least they’re doing something productive and not out causing trouble.’”

After a few more outdoor events that kept doubling in attendance, Fleetwood eventually found a basement venue belonging to a friend’s dad, and sold it out before the doors opened. His fledgling battle-rap league King of the Dot would soon grow into a WWE-like phenomenon, boasting a YouTube page of their fiercest live face-offs with nearly 600,000 subscribers and more than 170 million views.

“We literally built his from the ground up,” says Fleetwood, who quit his steelworker job to run KOTD full-time in 2014. “Everything we’ve done has been trial and error. There was never no blueprint to run a battle-rap league.”

“We literally built his from the ground up. Everything we’ve done has been trial and error.” – Travis “Organik” Fleetwood, of King of the Dot

Battle rap began as a natural outgrowth of hip-hop culture’s inherent braggadocio and competitiveness. It’s a feature also found in the breakdancing, DJ, and graffiti pillars, but came to define this rap offshoot. Battle rap evolved from freestyle sidewalk “cyphers,” where early MCs showed off their rhyme skills to brutally personal lyrical beat-downs, as battlers competed to land the cleverest, cruelest insults. It remained an underground proving ground until an Eminem movie delivered the scene into the mainstream in 2002.

“I was battling when I was super-young, in the ‘90s, I was just going neighborhood to neighborhood. That was the raw feel of it,” recalls veteran Bishop Brigante, King of the Dot Vice-President and the first Canadian battle rapper to appear on BET’s 106 and Park. “By the time 8 Mile dropped, I was like, ‘I did that. I already been through those trenches.’”

“[Back then] it was on beats, it was freestyle off-the-top,” Brigante explains. “It was the purest form of battle rap, because you had to be super-skilled on the spot, with no preparation.” But King of the Dot helped the musical sport evolve into its current form, by having competitors rap a capella with pre-written punchlines, allowing the insults to cut deeper, and the rounds to last longer. “The entertainment value went up when you had a couple months to prepare, and you really wrote it out,” Brigante says. “It became a performance.”

But like Bob Dylan going electric, longtime fans needed convincing, and Drake stepped in to help add credibility by co-hosting a 2011 event, and helping run another in 2015.

King of the Dot, Drake, 40

Drake and Noah “40” Shebib attending King of the Dot

.“A lot of people were still on the fence because the battles were now written, and [Drake] made the city get behind us a lot more,” says Fleetwood. “Toronto was thriving at that time, so it was more than just supporting the league, it was showing unity between the hip-hop scenes from the industry level to the underground level. It showed that the whole community was standing together. A lot of cities don’t got that. You’re not seeing the big names over there going to these underground functions to support these kids on the come-up. Drake was doing that. And it helped us push our brand into America.”

Maybe it wasn’t hard to become the biggest battle-rap league in Canada, since there wasn’t much competition. But King of the Dot has successfully expanded southward, throwing throw-downs in Massachusetts, Arizona and California, while attracting international competitors to their World Domination events. Legendary MCs like Too $hort, E-40 and Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon and Method Man have co-hosted events.

Even the new Eminem-produced battle-rap movie Bodied, which debuted at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, was scripted by Toronto battle-rapper Kid Twist, the first King of the Dot champion.  “It’s a good dive into the culture and people are gonna be wowed, and when they’re done they can go on YouTube and check out King of the Dot and see a lot of people who were in the movie,” says Brigante.

“We were actually one of the more prominent battle scenes in the world but I don’t think the rest of the world knew that yet,” adds Fleetwood about the old days. “We knew up here because we could see what the rest of the world was delivering, but not many people had their eyes on Toronto. Back then it was a tough struggle.”

Back then. But nowadays they’re the kings – and not just of the dot.

With a global footprint, a focus on the international recorded music market, and synchronizations from Korea to South Africa to Sweden to Spain, CYMBA Music Publishing is placing songs, one artist at a time.

CYMBA (a division of Chapter 2 Productions Inc.) formed originally as a production and publishing house; it’s now become a creative, collaborative, and extremely active Canadian music publishing company. CYMBA stands for Crushing Your Music Business Apathy. This philosophy is apropos, since it has long served as a guide for founder Vince Degiorgio. As President and Chair of the Board of the Canadian Music Publishers Association (CMPA), the industry veteran has his pulse on the world of music publishing.

“It’s the most exciting business in the world,” says Degiorgio. “The reason I feel that way is because you never know who’s going to knock on your door with a great song.

As a music publisher these days, there are no easy wins. As just one example, Degiorgio cites the co-published Serena Ryder hit and 2015 Pan Am Games theme song, “Together We Are One,” which earned a SOCAN No. 1 Song Award for scaling the peak of the CBC Radio 2 Top 20 on July 10, 2015. “It was almost like an industrial synch, a song with Scotiabank,” he explains. “At the end of the day, I don’t care where the opportunity comes from, I just need to make sure that we don’t miss anything.” These days, there’s little the 2017 SOCAN Publisher of the Year Award nominee misses.

“You never know who’s going to knock on your door with a great song.” – CYMBA founder Vince Degiorgio

In 2016, after more than two decades in operation, CYMBA went through a dramatic re-branding, growing the roles of its staff and opening its doors to new writers, adding to a globally established presence. “CYMBA is a celebration of not giving a shit,” Degiorgio explains. “A lot of people I thought would help me along the way, didn’t… I had to do it by myself a bit. That’s where the name comes from. We just want to be a part of the business; we are not asking for preferential treatment.”

Beyond placing songs for its artists, CYMBA has long supported its roster of songwriters with an on-site writing room, international song camps, creative development opportunities, a company conference, mentorship, and much more.

 CYMBA is also, increasingly, placing songs into films and television programs. Recent examples include landing more than 150 synch licenses for such properties as Disney’s Chimpanzee, ABC-TV’s Agent Carter, the CW’s about-to-wrap The Vampire Diaries, ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars, Netflix’s Degrassi: The Next Class, and CBC’s Mr. D, Pure, and Crash Gallery. CYMBA has also landed in theatrical trailers for The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Bad Moms.

How CYMBA finds new songwriters
One wonders where these new signings are found? “Word of mouth, and sometimes it’s somebody that comes into one of the events we do,” says Degiorgio. “We’re known as a publisher that’s willing to start at the bottom, and not just go after someone that’s uber-established. It all starts with a connection we feel on the human side with the people we meet and write with; that’s been a big part of how we do things. We want to find people that are going to fit with the people culture among our other writers.”

Recent additions to CYMBA’s roster include Halifax East Coast Music Award (ECMA) nominee Reeny Smith (who Degiorgio dubs “the future”) and urban pop/TV personality Keshia Chanté. Along the way, they’ve continued to nurture and solidify the careers of producer Ari Rhodes and Davor Vulama. “We’ve signed more artists in the last three years than we did in the previous 20,” says Degiorgio. “That’s a huge shift in our game plan!”

And, while they’ve grown their placements – and their roster of writers – domestically, the global market is still the key for CYMBA.

“The domestic market is always a challenge because it’s harder to have a hit in your own backyard, so much of what we do is outside the country,” says Degiorgio. “Export is a sexy buzzword, but we started exporting songs in the late 1980s. CYMBA was invented to explore the musical universe that Canada wasn’t ready to offer yet… We’ve been ‘export-ready’ for more than 20 years.”

Looking ahead to 2018 and beyond, CYMBA plans to continue its evolution. Part of that includes signing its first Francophone writer, which Degiorgio admits has been “a dream of mine for a long time.” That, and – of course – to continue reaching the top in his home and native land.

“Now that we’ve got a No. 1 hit,” he says, “we want to fill a wall with No.1s for all of our writers!”