You’ll be excused for thinking that the only red carpet being unfurled right now is the one for this year’s Oscars (happening Sunday, March 12). But, on March 13, the 2023 Juno awards kick off in Edmonton. This year, as Halifax preps for its turn to host Canada’s answer to The Grammys (it was announced this week that 2024’s awards will be held at Halifax’s Scotiabank Centre), our city is also providing a case study of two very different awards show races, through the nominations of Nova Scotia’s own Classified and Mama’s Broke.
Enfield MC Classified—up for Rap Album of The Year—is a veteran amongst a pack of buzzy up-and-comers that includes Toronto rapper TOBi, an indie-cool pandemic breakthrough artist who’s been Polaris Prize shortlisted. Simply put, Classified—who’s been nominated for a Juno 10 times before and won in 2013—feels like a safe bet, given his long standing, 22-albums-deep career and mainstream appeal (fans will regularly tell Classified he was their gateway into hip hop, he told me when we chatted last month).
“The fact that it's an acoustic hip hop album, with older songs: That was the big surprise for me that they would still recognize something that is older songs put together in this very unique project,” Classified told me in the same interview. I’m less slack-jawed at the thought: Acoustic re-workings of hip hop is not only still rare enough to strike as innovative, but it also gets votes from the “I like everything but rap” crowd.
Then there’s the outside shot Halifax has fired into the race.
Mama’s Broke, a Halifax-based but never-not-touring folk duo, landed a nomination for Traditional Roots Album of the Year for 2022’s excellent Narrow Line. If you’re asking “who?”, you’re not alone: Though the band’s been releasing albums since 2017, they have remained the definition of indie, signed to a small local label and building an audience on the Dan Mangan model (lots of house shows and fan word-of-mouth). When the band played a hometown album release show last year, it was at a smaller Dartmouth venue in mid-July, competing with Jazz Fest for a crowd. Too bad for those who chose the waterfront, since Narrow Line is the sort of ancient-yet-modern folk that is as quietly commanding—as dead serious—as the titular Mama is dead broke.
It seems I—and the Juno-deciding CARAS Academy—are not the only ones who think so: The indie label duo wound up on NPR’s Tiny Desk series this week, a fast track record to a level of niche fame that carries serious cred with music nerds. Where did the din of the sudden buzz around Mama’s Broke come from? It’s hard to tell as of yet—but no matter what happens Monday night, the hype is sure to keep going (and growing) from here.
Tune into the Junos at 9pm on Monday, March 13 on CBC.