Photo via Mo-G on Instagram
While Drake and the OVO Sound roster were busy over the weekend with a surprise showcase at SXSW, Toronto rapper Mo-G, creator of the “Ginobili Dance” popularized by Drake, decided to air out the camp—particularly OVO founder and Drake’s co-manager Oliver El-Khatib—for not giving payment over undisclosed work. Over Instagram, Mo-G says, “Have you ever heard in the history of hip-hop a man who helps gives away his creativity and helps make billboard hits but doesn't get paid a dollar for it or one credit for it. Heere stuck in the hood, that doesn't make sense. but exposing these niggas will…Fuck you bitch ass niggas, it’s on.” He added that El-Khatib said "that [Drake] didn’t like him and didn’t want him at the “Work” video.
El-Khatib is one of Toronto’s most important tastemakers, and he has played a major part in shining a spotlight on local upcoming talent in the city. Utilizing the large reach of Apple Beats 1 show, OVO Radio, and Drake himself, he’s become an integral part of moving the local scene music beyond our borders. However, Mo-G’s rant seems to be part of a larger conflict as to whether the OVO cosign truly benefits Toronto artists.
In a recent interview, Toronto rapper Robin Banks, who created the Drake-popularized phrase “TT right now” told MTV that although he finds the rappers cosign “flattering, but he’d prefer a credit," while the accompanying article outlines how "Drake never tags or mentions him by name; that kind of soft recognition doesn’t equal followers or music streams and downloads, and Banks can’t eat off recognition.” And in a pair of follow-up videos Mo-G shares a similar, albeit more extreme, sentiment outlining how El-Khatib is, among many other things, a “culture vulture” and how “the whole OVO team thinks I deserve compensation for everything Drake took from me and all the man just offered me is 500 dollars. 500 dollars? Can't even pay my mom’s rent.“ Although it’s unclear what he means specifically as to what Drake and El-Khatib took from him, his influence is evident: The “Ginobili Dance” he created appears in Instagram drops and the videos for “Hotline Bling” and “Energy,” while Drake gives him a shout out (Mo-G with the dance moves / Ave Boy with the dance moves) on “Summer Sixteen.” But Mo-G's complaints over what he apparently feels is a paltry offer of $500 only fuels the argument that Drake's seemingly well-intentioned co-opting of local talent and slang benefits only him.
By no means are Drake or El-Khatib responsible for the career of other rappers. It lies directly on the artist themselves to use any platform or co-sign given and flip it into better exposure for themselves. Nevertheless, there’s a schism in terms of the belief that Toronto hip-hop is on the rise, as Drake has gone on record to say in a Sprite commercial, when in reality very few acts outside of the likes of Tory Lanez and Jazz Cartier have reached national attention without an OVO co-sign. El-Khatib is aware of this fact and OVO's role in establishing Toronto as an important and widely recognized music hub. As he mentions in a 2015 Fader interview: “We’re from a city where I’m not sure if we’ve fully embraced our identity as creative people yet. If there’s anything that we want to put forth, it’s just to have some patriotism for what we’re doing here and to look within for talent and for inspiration.” To his credit, OVO Radio, which dedicates an hour to the OVO founders personal mix which features a regular rotation of Toronto acts, is an important step forward in giving little-known influencers and musicians a larger platform, although it's yet to be seen how much it benefits artists. Nevertheless as a gatekeeper of sorts, especially in light of the nearly non-existent infrastructure for Toronto music, it's important that OVO gives the talent in the city their fair due whether that’s through proper credit or payment.
In light of Drake's "Summer Sixteen" barb “everyone in the New Toronto wants to be me a little” that serves as an aggressive reminder of his influence and as Toronto's reigning king "6 God," it seems that he and the OVO camp are aware the conversation is moving in a negative direction. And like any ruler, in the face of growing dissent, it's important to remind your subjects who holds power. But if Mo-G’s outburst are any indication, the “new Toronto” has no intention of being a mere tribute to the success of an old kingdom anymore.
Jabbari Weekes is a Noisey Canada staff writer. Follow him on Twitter.