It’s hip hop’s 50th anniversary — and Windsor’s scene is finally on the map

It’s the 50th anniversary of hip hop. 

The genre was born in the Bronx in New York City, but the genre — and its impact — can be felt worldwide today. Detroit and Windsor are no exception.   

Joe Merheje is the manager of Blanche Lounge and a former radio host on CJAM with a show called Real Talk Hip Hop and a champion of Windsor’s growing hip hop scene. 

He spoke with Windsor Morning’s Nav Nanwa — a fellow hip hop fan — about the genre, Windsor’s scene and artists to keep on the radar. 

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Windsor Morning9:53Detroit/Windsor Hip-Hop

Joe Merheje, former host of “Real Talk Hip Hop”, speaks with CBC Windsor Morning host Nav Nanwa about local hip hop music.

It’s hip hop’s 50th anniversary, a platform that I know certainly has made an impact on your life. So first and foremost, you’ve been a local champion for the local scene for years. So how would you describe the hip hop scene that exists here in Windsor?

You know what it’s pretty lively. We have some really talented artists here. It’s booming. It’s still young, a lot of hunger, a lot of versatility. I think it’s in good shape, you know, and we have Detroit right next to us. We have Toronto about three, four hours away, so you see more artists traveling in, networking with each other. 

But we’ve got some really, really raw talent. I think it’s getting better and better each year. And like I said, with technology now it’s easier for artists to kind of access another bigger artist, whether it’s from here, Europe, Detroit, LA.

Yeah, it certainly feels like it. And you started Real Talk Hip Hop on CJAM — How many years back?

It’s been a while. I want to say like maybe seven or eight years ago. I started it with a college buddy of mine and then we ended up doing CJAM, which was really awesome. Shout out to CJAM.

It was more so local, I was thinking like, man, I want to interview the biggest artists in the world. But you know, you gotta start somewhere. So I started interviewing some of the local artists at that time.

Once I got a few under my belt, I had the chance to interview bigger artists, Future, T.I., some some guys like that, which kind of helped me with the artists in my city because then they started getting a little bit more respect for me, you know.

I think that goes to what we were talking about a little earlier to where technology really helped it out, right. So it takes some people in the past to kind of break down barriers to kind of show the younger artists like, OK, like just because I’m in Windsor doesn’t mean I can’t …  get my music heard. 

Well, it’s interesting because coming to Windsor, I was very familiar with the Detroit hip hop scene. Obviously Eminem is the biggest artist to come out of the Detroit hip hop scene. Then you have Jay Dilla … more recent artists like Big Sean. What kind of influence do you feel like Detroit has had on the Windsor hip hop scene?

I think it goes hand in hand. I feel like a lot of these guys, just because it’s so close like you just look and… it’s right there. You go through the tunnel, the border. I think it has a major influence. 

Inductee Eminem performs during the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello) (Chris Pizzello/The Associated Press)

Even now I see it just because me and my brothers own a nightclub, right? So what I see when some of the tracks come on like even Big Sean, even Skilla Baby, some of these artists in the nightlife, it’s like the younger guys especially in Windsor know it word for word like you would think sometimes they were from Detroit. 

Not saying Toronto hasn’t influenced because obviously you know shout out to Drake and we kind of feel like ‘OK that’s our guy because we’re Canadian.’ But I feel like we’re tucked down here next to Detroit. So a lot of the younger artists they want to collaborate with some of these younger guys like Tee Grizzley and all these guys and they feel like there’s a connection between the border [cities].

It’s so interesting because hip-hop, it’s celebrating 50 years today, started in the Bronx, New York but it’s very much  — despite the heights that it’s been able to reach over the last 50 years — it’s still very much community-driven. Do you get that sense too?  Especially coming from the campus radio side now, being in the nightlife world and interacting with artists quite frequently, whether it’s to perform or even work behind the scenes, do you get a sense that community is the driving force behind the genre?

Yeah, I think so. I think with hip hop it started over there, but I think it kind of traveled to each community. And it’s kind of a genre that ‘s like news, it’s like ‘OK, what’s happening in our community?’ 

Even for Windsor, some of these young guys that use hip hop, they’re letting people know what’s happening in their surrounding communities and their lives. 

Man standing in Detroit Pistons shirt.
Rapper Big Sean is from Detroit and has been nominated for six Grammy awards. (Universal Music)

I totally agree with you. I think it’s just more so community based and that the community kind of drives the sound and what’s happening. Because I’m sure from Toronto to Detroit to even Windsor, there’s a difference. It might be in tempo, slang, beats, but it’s definitely community driven I think. 

It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been such a fan of Canadian hip hop. Because, you know, growing up in the GTA and just being in some of these smaller towns or smaller cities, when you have an artist from that city that’s either a rapper or even someone that’s affiliated with the hip hop genre, whether they’re a singer or producer, you do get a sense that there’s that local feel to what they’re doing.

Yes, yes. I’m sure you grew up around there, right. So you saw it with Drake and Canadian hip hop…  I have some American guys that come to the club and they’re so excited. They’re like ‘could I get a show here?’ I think with the whole Drake situation, I think it really helped Canadian hip hop 

Rapper Drake performs on a blue lit stage wearing all black with a microphone in his hand
Drake performs during Lil Baby’s Birthday Party at State Farm Arena on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2022, in Atlanta. Even though the Toronto rapper didn’t submit his own 2022 album ‘Honestly, Nevermind’ in line with his Grammys boycott in recent years, his other collaborations have landed him several nominations. (Paul R. Giunta/Invision/The Associated Press)

It was down here for a little bit, just because it didn’t have that big time light on it. Yeah. And when he kind of shined it and then you have a lot of artists, you know, and even with Windsor artists, I see them collaborating more and more with Toronto artists and there’s a lot of dope artists over there, you know. So I think, I think as a whole Canadian hip hop is in a good situation and in a good place.

How has hip hop changed your life?

It just gave me opportunities… Even the first love was hip hop. It kind of guided me into, you know, a different industry, kept me out of trouble. You know, it gave me focus, but for the most part, I feel like it just gave me opportunities that other things I don’t think would have [given me]. It introduced me to people, introduced me to different types of businesses that, if I wasn’t into the whole hip hop scene, I don’t think I would be doing that.

So definitely could impact your life. I think you just got to stick with it, especially if you’re an artist in Windsor or a smaller town. I feel like if you’re thinking like, oh, I can’t do it just because I’m here, I think that’s the wrong mentality to [have]. I think you just gotta put some consistency in it and just keep at it and keep at it and keep at it and keep at it.

Just to close out this conversation, Joe, are there any past or present Windsor hip hop artists that you think need to get more recognition or you think that we should maybe put on our radar moving forward?

There, there’s a couple of them. I wouldn’t be able to name a bunch of them, but Peso, TY, LUM he’s another guy. 

LUM just got a billboard in Toronto. 

Yeah. So it’s it’s these young guys are doing it, man. Yeah, these young guys … it takes some of the older guys to break down certain barriers. Like I said Gamrini was another big artist. He was able to even with Trick Trick right across, who’s a big big Detroit figure hip-hop figure, even these young guys, I see them doing it now.

Even with Peso creating a little, own Windsor anthem. And it’s just, they’re creating slowly. I feel like they’re creating identity until Windsor gets, you know, up there. 

But those are a couple off the top that I can name. But there’s a bunch, you know, and they’re all versatile and they’re all super talented.

Leave a Comment