Ottawa Art Gallery and Shifter Team up to Present Hip-Hop Retrospective

Our city has produced many international superstars over the generations ranging from artists like Paul Anka to Alanis Morissette, but when one thinks of the history of the Ottawa music scene, hip-hop might not come to mind.

You would be wrong to think so; our city has contributed to developing the music genre that is now celebrating 50 years and has become dominant in the 21st century.

The Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) has teamed up with Shifter, an Ottawa-based Canadian Black and urban culture magazine, to tell the stories of Ottawa’s hip-hop scene from its emergence in the city 40 years ago until today. The story begins with the collective Canadian Floor Masters, Canada’s original break-dancing crew. It progresses until today, when the city is home to some big names in hip-hop like CityFidelia, BLAKDENIM, Night Lovell, and SVLM.

83 ’til infinity: 40 years of hip-hop in the Ottawa-Gatineau region is full of artifacts from hip-hop’s emergence provided by residents across the Ottawa region. It explores the themes of Ottawa hip-hop, including its ongoing dynamic role in culture, community, activism, and justice. These themes are explored while also focusing on the five pillars of hip-hop music; breaking, emceeing, DJ-ing, graffiti, and knowledge.

Shifter’s Kevin Bourne is a co-curator for the exhibit and spoke about Ottawa’s hip-hop history and its impact on different communities in the area. Bourne notes that Ottawa has never really been considered a hip-hop city because it’s primarily a government town and a tourist attraction that ignores hip-hop in its arts and culture scene.

Bourne says, “At its core, hip-hop is really about community, self-expression, and love, that brings together the voices of Black, Francophone, Indigenous creatives, as well as a new wave of immigrant voices from all over the world who now call Ottawa and Gatineau home.” Bourne says that a significant goal of the exhibit is to elevate the history of Ottawa’s “forgotten and overlooked” hip hop culture.

OAG Director Alexandra Baldzak spoke about the significant cultural role of hip-hop in Ottawa, saying, “With this exhibition, we are capturing the region’s contribution to hip-hop as a global phenomenon and its innovation in music, language, dance and visual arts. Although it rose from the streets of the Bronx, hip-hop’s impact on our region was and is unique.”

OAG Co-Curator Rachelle Dickenson stated that the exhibit is significant, saying, “The exhibition is a celebration of innovations, power, and processes carried by artists, producers, and other creatives from all over the world, ” and went on to say that the gallery is honoured to be working with Shifter to highlight the dynamism and vibrancy of hip-hop in the exhibition.

The exhibit marks some major milestones: it’s the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, 40 years since the Canadian Floor Masters kicked off Ottawa’s hip-hop scene, and it’s the 10th anniversary of Shifter magazine.

Throughout the duration of the exhibition, several artist mentorship programs will take place with the support of RBC. These programs are part of the OAG’s Connect: Artist Mentorship program and the Ontario Arts Council’s Artist-Presenter Collaboration Grant.

Make sure to visit the OAG to learn about the history of Ottawa’s hip-hop scene and how it gave a voice to people from diverse communities in the nation’s capital, and remember, admission to the AOG is always free.

83 ’til infinity: 40 years of hip-hop in the Ottawa-Gatineau region runs until February 18, 2024.

Find the Ottawa Art Gallery at 2 Daly Ave or visit it online at