Thirty years on from releasing their debut, Dream Warriors’s legacy still resonates.
Long before Mike Myers made Quincy Jones’s “Soul Bossa Nova” the internationally recognized calling card for Austin Powers, Canadians of a certain vintage knew the instrumental as the theme song to Definition, Canada’s longest running game show. For those unfamiliar with the quiz show, imagine Wheel of Fortune puzzles introduced by host Jim Perry with a punny clue, cash prizes in whopping ten dollar increments and all the 70s cheesy schmaltz you can fit into thirty minutes of television. Sampling “Soul Bossa Nova” was a brilliant way for Toronto-based rap duo Dream Warriors to introduce their eclectic style and jazz influenced hip-hop to the burgeoning homegrown rap community. Using Jones’s track as the bedrock for the song “My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style”, King Lou and Capital Q positioned themselves as sharply creative musicians and rappers who were bringing a decidedly northern influence to the jazz-rap movement already underway south of the border. It was a kitschy pop culture reference aimed squarely at the nostalgia sensors of fellow Canadians, and it worked.
Conversely, for many casual music fans, that instantly recognizable sample also unfairly defined Dream Warriors and their debut album, And Now The Legacy Begins, as fun-loving and less serious than their contemporaries. “My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style” and its fellow hit singles “Ludi” and “Wash Your Face In My Sink” all have playful, casual dispositions that, as Ned Raggett identifies in his AllMusic review of And Now The Legacy Begins, brings smiles to faces and sets feet a-dancing. But those who ventured deeper into And Now The Legacy Begins discovered Dream Warriors’s well-crafted and intricate musical world, one that balanced light-hearted celebrations of the duo’s culture and heritage with the lived reality of being men of colour living in Toronto’s Jane and Finch and Willowdale neighbourhoods.
The most obvious and enduring example comes by way of “U Could Get Arrested”, an indictment of police racial profiling and the unwarranted harassment and incarceration of young black men. A menacing opening sample underscores the cautionary tale of “Follow Me Not”, whose mantra “Who is more fool: The fool or the fool who follows the fool?” recommends blazing your own path rather than following the pack, in much the same way King Lou and Capital Q artfully blend unconventional samples and intelligent lyrical wordplay with hip-hop beats. Nowhere on And Now The Legacy Begins is this better articulated than on “Tune From A Missing Channel”, featuring the most stripped-back and unadorned beats on the record. While lyrically opaque and dense, the tone of their flow is clearly defiant and serious: “Whispered secrets of a shattered age / I summon you, to renew this sage and age / Before a riot starts / Before the record charts / Rearrange the dumb from the humdrum.”
During my research for this post, I’ve read countless reviews of And Now The Legacy Begins where I’ve wondered if the reviewer and I were even listening to the same record; I realized we hadn’t. Their copy abounds with references to those three big singles, belying the fact that they haven’t delved any deeper into the record. I fear that history will unjustly give short shrift to And Now The Legacy Begins. It would be a crying shame if Dream Warriors are only remembered as brightly coloured purveyors of earworms like “Ludi”, and not as the profoundly articulate and musically astute artists that produced one of the finest Canadian records of any genre of all time, even if the CBC doesn’t have the wherewithal to acknowledge it as such.
Dream Warriors are as foundational in establishing a new branch of Canadian popular music as Cohen, Mitchell, and Lightfoot were in the 60s and 70s. But whereas the Cohen, Mitchell, Lightfoot and their ilk have been celebrated as trailblazers and legends, thirty years on from their debut record, King Lou, Capital Q and their contemporaries (like Michie Mee, Maestro Fresh-Wes, and Devon) are treated like an anecdotal footnote to our homegrown rap and urban music scene. Even with internationally recognized superstars in the limelight, Canadian-made hip-hop is still marginalized and segregated from the greater Canadian music conversation.
Right from the very start, Dream Warriors were laying down a definition that still resonates through the work of contemporary Canadian rap and urban artists: dismantling the stereotype of being a young, uneducated, poor person of colour starts by accepting and embracing your own story, acknowledging your reality, and not denying your own truth. Being spiritual and thoughtful, emotional and compassionate are not signs of weakness, they’re virtues of strength. It’s truly how a legacy begins.