“Welcome back to the channel, thanks for stopping by,” says Joe (aka Canadian Dad Reacts) from his bedroom in snowy Barrie. Eight months ago, the spirited writer and graphic designer hadn’t heard any UK hip hop. Now, 180 reactions down, he’s fallen in love with the genre and has helped glue together a community over 3,500 miles away.
Joe’s passion for British underground cuisine is clear as soon as he presses play on a new tune. He’s a proactive supporter, always copping music, merch and shedding a light on the talent overlooked in our own shores. The guy gets heaps of love from the scene thanks to his sharp analysis of lyrics and obvious fascination.
“I’m honestly in love with the music.”
We sat down with Canadian Dad Reacts to meet the man behind the screen. We learnt his route into hip hop and why he’s particularly connected with the UK’s output. To find out the channel’s history and future, as well as what it takes to release real reactions, read the full convo below. Plus, peep our accompanying playlist to hear what it’s all about!
Outside of Canadian Dad Reacts, who is Joe?
“Well, I spent 12 years working in the newspaper industry, wanted to be a sports reporter and slowly went into entertainment. Through that I got to interview some pretty big Canadian hip hop artists. I interviewed Swollen Members a couple times. These hip hop artists have this persona that you see on the screen, right? I met Madchild who is all tatted up and looks like a little gremlin, but you meet him and he’s a nice guy, gave me a hug and it completely blew my mind. I’d grown up listening to hip hop, but at that point I realised a lot of these guys are just normal everyday guys.”
“So I did that for a little bit, taught myself graphic design, then I became an art director for the newspaper and just moved on from there. Ten years ago the newspaper industry in America went right into the shitter. Every day I saw more jobs being lost so I ended up applying to a local municipality here and got a job working as a public relations consultant. So I do graphic design, photography, writing, video work… stuff like that.”
What was life like growing up in Canada and when did hip hop come to play?
“We’re about an hour north of Toronto where I grew up. We didn’t have a lot of the inner-city type of problems but I grew up in a lower income area so there was a lot of crime and you couldn’t go out at night through the park. You just didn’t do that – you’d end up getting your ass kicked and your hat stolen. I was right into heavy metal music and I saw Kool Moe Dee‘s ‘Wild Wild West‘ on Rhapsody. From that point I cut my hair, got rid of all my concert t-shirts and became a hip hop head. It was all about hip hop after that. It’s funny, we’re all growing up listening to NWA and that kind of stuff, and as a young, white kid in Canada I had no connection to what they were talking about but I still connected with the music in terms of the way it made me feel.”
“The message was important to me and even as I progressed further into hip hop, I enjoyed the music that had a message more than what my friends got into. I got into Digital Underground who had that societal message as well, about being one community, one race, tryna bring people together rather than separate people. So that was always something that intrigued me even at a young age. I really wasn’t into the loud… basically what’s become hip hop in North America. I have no interest in that type of music at all.”
Is there a sense that your UKHH discovery feels similar to when you found hip hop in your early days?
“100%. I’ve told a few of the artists that have reached out to me: ‘What you’re doing has actually made me fall in love with the genre all over again and I’ve been listening to it 35 years.’ Over this past year, (well not quite, it was March I believe), it really does feel like I’ve fallen in love again. Every time I hear a new song it’s just amazing to me. I bought a whole bunch of MPCs, I started making beats again, it’s just reinvigorated my love for the genre.”
What made you film your first reaction video?
“I also write short stories and novels but Covid started and I had a hard time tapping into what I needed to write. I just wasn’t feeling creative. I’m generally a creative person anyway, I’m either drawing, writing or painting but I couldn’t do anything that I was used to doing. I wanted some kind of creative outlet, so as kind of a joke I said to my daughters, ‘Hey, should I start a YouTube channel?’, and they said ‘Yeah do it.’ My buddy Vinnie for years, (even when we were teenagers), was talking about Jehst and stuff but I had no interest – I was young and stupid. Even now he was telling me, ‘You’ve gotta hear these guys, you’ll love The Four Owls.’ But I was like ‘Nah nah I’m not interested.’ Maybe what it was, it got to the point where it seemed like the vast majority of stuff that would come out of North America I didn’t enjoy, so I kept going back to the ‘90s stuff and the 2000s. I guess I didn’t want to feel any more disappointed.”
“Anyways, my kids said ‘Yeah do it,’ so I asked my buddy where I should start and he told me ‘Go with The Four Owls.’ So I put on The Four Owls, thought ‘What the hell, I’ll tape it at the same time and see what happens.’ I’m surprised. I honestly thought that I’d do it, make a couple videos, nobody would care, nobody would watch them, some people would call me old and stupid, and it would just stop. But it’s been nothing but love. They’ve embraced it and it’s quite humbling really to be honest.”
Why do you think the UK scene has shown you so much love?
“It’s hard to say. There have been some people who have found me on social media and it blows my mind just how quickly… I mean, if Covid figures itself out, my plan is to be there for the High Focus birthday event, but these are people I haven’t met and they’re telling me that I can stay in their house. You have artists who say that when I’m in Bristol they’re gunna show me around the town. They’ve completely embraced me and I don’t know if that’s because what I’m doing comes from an authentic place, like I didn’t do this channel for any other reason other than a creative outlet.”
“I found something that I love and I’m not putting on an act. Maybe that’s what it is, people see that I’m honestly in love with the music, I’m not doing it to get a million subscribers or make a ton of money. Every time I listen to a track I buy it and put it in my playlist. That’s all I listen to in my car, it’s always UK hip hop. I buy the merch, I want to support and I think people have connected with me because of my authenticity and they can see that I do love it. I’ve had some people tell me they like the fact that they can tell that I’m not acting. I’m not getting up and throwing my hat or jumping around the room. I’m just an honest guy that likes hip hop and in my mind I’ve found the best hip hop.”
How do you balance your own listening and researching with giving fresh reactions?
“I do my best to make sure not to hear a song until I’ve reacted to it. In my new video there’s a new intro and there are some videos in there that I haven’t reacted to, so I make sure to turn the volume down because I don’t even want to hear the beginning of it. But a lot of artists reach out to me on Instagram telling me they’re gunna drop something. I actually had a conversation with Verbz and Mr Slipz the other day and they told me what songs they’re going to shoot videos for on the new album so I can actually listen through the album and enjoy it without then ruining it in the future. So yeah, I’m very careful that way. That goes back to being authentic as well. I don’t want to spend all this time listening to music and pretending I haven’t heard it.”
“I’ll tell you what happened: I did that Coops track ‘Crimes Against Creation‘, I filmed the reaction but the music video part didn’t tape, there was no sound to it. I had people telling me, ‘Just redo it.’ But why am I gunna redo a reaction? That’s not a reaction channel, that’s me reviewing a song and that’s not what people want. So I’m just very careful when someone asks me to do something, I’ll click on the song long enough for me to add it to a playlist then I close it. Sometimes that’s an issue because I’ll react to a video that I have no idea who a certain person is so I’m trying to figure it out, or I don’t know which one produced it. Sometimes I feel like I should know a little bit more but I also don’t want to ruin anything for myself.”
Who are your top five UK artists so far?
“Oh my goodness. It’s funny because one of the guys I met over there, (his name is Jake), I joke all the time that a lot of artists that I’ve reacted to have reached out to me, thanked me and stayed in contact. But Leaf Dog. Leaf Dog acts like I don’t exist, he’s killing me [Laughs]. When I heard that first Four Owls track I immediately connected with Leaf Dog. The fact that he’s an amazing producer as well as being very unique in his voice, his flow, everything about him I find to be so unlike everything I’ve ever heard before, so I fell instantly in love with the guy. He remains in my top five for sure. I find that his lyrics are much more conscious, all the artists have tracks where they’re flexing and having fun, but a lot of what Leaf and these guys talk about has a lot of depth to the lyrics. Res One is another guy that I absolutely love. And after the first time I heard Jack Jetson ‘Blue Moon‘ I’ve listened to it every day. There’s something about that track man, I really like Jack on that.”
“But again, how do you leave Jehst out? Chester P? I was introduced to Klashnekoff who’s another. Jam Baxter. I mean, the first time I heard Ed Scissor was on that ‘Future Posse Cut One Thousand‘ from Dirty Dike, so I heard this guy and thought ‘This guy’s not even rhyming, he’s off beat, this guy is horrible.’ But now I listen to Ed and he’s one of the most amazing artists I’ve ever heard in terms of his storytelling. I mentioned in my last reaction of his: he takes something about a seagull picking at the garbage and creates this visual in your head and uses these words in such a magical way. So I’d probably have to put Ed in there, but how do you pick only five? If I had to pick just five for a desert island… Res, Leaf, Ed, Jam and I’m gunna go with Dirty Dike. That’s a tough one man.”
How does British hip hop culture compare to the Canadian scene?
“One of the things I really like about these cats is that they’re real people. You can see that. I know there’s a underground scene over here but they still rhyme about the stuff that I had no connection with. I watch some underground Canadian hip hop and they’re still talking about guns and drugs, women and driving cars that they don’t own. It doesn’t make any sense to me. So in my mind there isn’t a connection between UK and Canadian hip hop. When I see these guys they’re rapping about what’s really important to them. They talk about mental health, meditation, trying to get rid of the demons in their head, trying to get away from drug addiction, tryna stay true to themselves and maintain a lifestyle that’s true.”
“A lot of them talk about having an opportunity to be something that they’re not to make more money, but that’s not what they’re willing to do. You see that too often. I’ve gotta tell ya, Drake is the biggest artist in the word – Canadian – and I can’t stand a single song. Maybe one song that he’s done I actually like and that has Eminem in it so that’s probably the only reason [Laughs]. But I don’t connect with Drake at all. So when I see these artists, guys who work in construction, they have day jobs, real lives, pay bills, I guess there’s a connection that way. They’re just normal guys who enjoy making music and are good at it. We’re lucky enough that they share that to the world.”
What’s next for Canadian Dad Reacts?
“I wanna keep doing this until you guys get tired of me doing it. Last week I added Throwback Thursdays which I’m gunna try to do going way back. Originally it was 1990 – 2011 but I’m gunna go even further back. I have so many people asking me to do Fire In The Booth and all that kind of stuff. I tried but I had a really hard time doing it. Charlie [Sloth] interrupting, dropping bombs and all that kind of stuff. But I’m gunna start doing some Freestyle Fridays where I’ll do Fire In The Booths and Fire In The Streets. I also did my first interview, interviewing Verbz and Mr Slipz so I’ll be adding that component to the channel. I had a few people say that they’ll do it. Going forward, I’ve got the We Got Next thing because I want to give back as well. Some young cats out here have tremendous amounts of talent but 125 subscribers on YouTube. They have 50 views on their video and when I put that video on it’s just fire so people need to hear it.”
“I’ve introduced some artists to people who have become fans. I dunno if you know this but it’s a cool thing: I did that Genesis Elijah track and Bxrbarian jumped on and hooked up with Genesis, now they’re doing a track together and they’d never met before. So it’s cool to know that I’m having that kind of effect on UK hip hop. I’ve been getting people together, fans are talking and it’s all nothing but love. There’s no hatred. I’ve had one negative comment since I started and that guy ended up erasing it. In my live stream I told the guys that I try so hard to spread the word here. I go on Twitter and someone’s talking shit about US hip hop being garbage. I say to them, ‘Hey man, check out the UK stuff it’s better than anything you’ll hear anywhere else.’ But just like me when I was younger, their minds are closed, they don’t want anything to do with it. So that’s basically my goal. As long as you guys embrace what I’m doing and allow me into your culture and know that it’s coming from a place in my heart that’s nothing but positivity and giving something back, as long as you guys are willing to do that, then I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and having fun, finding new music for sure.”
Stream our playlist of artists and tunes name-dropped in this chat:
Interviewed by: James Wijesinghe