Maestro Fresh Wes, Skinny Puppy Win 2023 Polaris Heritage Prize For Classic Canadian Albums
Maestro Fresh Wes's breakthrough hip-hop album Symphony in Effect receives the jury prize while Skinny Puppy's industrial classic Bites wins the public vote.
Two influential '80s albums have won this year’s Slaight Family Polaris Heritage Prizes. Skinny Puppy’s Bites and Maestro Fresh Wes’ Symphony in Effect both helped bring their respective genres — industrial-electronic and hip-hop — to broader attention in Canada. The Heritage Prize designation honours their contributions to Canadian music culture.
While the Polaris Music Prize awards the best Canadian album of the year (this year's went to Debby Friday), the Polaris Heritage Prizes serve as a kind of critic’s hall-of-fame for albums released before the Polaris Prize was created in 2006. It's awarded annually to two classic Canadian albums.
Each year, a jury of experts selects one album for the Heritage award, while the second honouree is decided by a public vote. Like the annual Polaris Prize, the albums are selected with regard for their artistic merit, not their commercial success. Previous winners include Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette, And Now The Legacy Begins by Dream Warriors, and Feist’s Let It Die.
Maestro Fresh Wes' Hip-Hop Breakthrough Symphony in Effect
Symphony in Effect, the 1989 debut by Scarborough’s Maestro Fresh Wes, is this year’s jury selection. Released on Attic/LMR Records, the album went platinum in Canada, and helped Toronto’s rising hip-hop scene get international attention. The album’s high-energy lead single, “Let Your Backbone Slide,” was the first Canadian Top 4 hip-hop hit and won the first Juno Award for Best Rap Recording. It was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2019.
Maestro Fresh Wes - "Let Your Backbone Slide" (Official Video)
“I am thrilled to receive this prize,” says Maestro Fresh Wes in a statement. “Symphony In Effect is the backbone, not only for Canadian Hip-Hop, but for Black music in Canada. It is the first album from a Black Canadian artist to reach gold and platinum status in this country, so it's a must that I thank all my fans and DJs who supported me.”
He expresses gratitude to artists like Farley Flex and Ebony MC, producers First Offence, as well as MuchMusic and Electric Circus for supporting the album early on.
“The album is a major part of our legacy here and it's an absolute honour to be acknowledged,” he continues.
Skinny Puppy's Industrial Cult Classic Bites
Vancouver’s Skinny Puppy won this year’s Heritage Prize public vote for their debut full-length Bites, released on Nettwerk in 1985. The album, which was certified gold in Canada, followed 1984’s Remission EP and brought together elements of new wave, electronica, and goth into a jarring industrial sound, helping the band build a dedicated cult following. Their experimentations in sound and style have inspired acts from Nine Inch Nails to Grimes.
“It’s true that the album was made without considering commercial acceptability. It was a vibrant time in Downtown Vancouver in 1985,” says Skinny Puppy’s CEvin Key. “It’s also not common for Skinny Puppy to be noted within the industry through history, except through the support of our devoted fanbase. Thank you for the 40 years to our fans and for your Polaris Heritage Prize.”
Other albums nominated for this year’s Heritage Prizes include Sarah McLachlan’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, k.d. lang’s Absolute Torch and Twang, and the late Robbie Robertson’s self-titled album.