Born in Seattle, singer-songwriter Claire Ridgely grew up between Lausanne, Switzerland, and McLean, Virginia, before settling down in Montréal. The city’s fertile musical soil is allowing her to really bloom, these days.

Claire Ridgely In her apartment in the 514, which she shares with Clément Langlois-Légaré and her lover Adel Kazi – known collectively as the Pops & Poolboy duo – Ridgely is the contemporary incarnation of Aznavour’s La Bohème. Every moment of her existence hinges around songwriting and recording.

Her voice is recognizably soft yet limpid, with an impish timbre anchored in soul, which will no doubt earn her some flattering comparisons to Alessia Cara. In phase with Clay and Friends’ funk and swaying rhythms – a band in which Langlois-Légaré and Kazi also play – the adoptive Québecer is rooted in jazz, and all the genres that flow from it.

Yet, she cut her teeth on lyrical singing before reaching adulthood. “I admit what I’m doing today has more swing,” says Ridgely. “Classical music is quite straight… I think it’s because I didn’t want to be a classical singer. It took a really long time and a ton of songs, that I’ve never released, before I found my voice.”

Now in full control of her instrument and of its colours, Claire even goes so far as to flirt with hip-hop on the verses of “It’s All Over Now,” one of the songs on her EP, which was released on Jan. 29, 2021. She’s still singing, but the her flow and phrasing are on the edge of rap. “It was definitely a challenge. I really went for it,” she says. “That song wasn’t intended for me, initially, but my friend and co-writer Oren Lefkowitz, aka Oscar Louis, convinced me to try it. I dared, I gave everything I had in the recording booth, and I’m really happy with the result!”

But Ridgely isn’t a one-musical-style kind of girl. On “Take The Pain,” the third song on her debut project, she goes for baby-pink and powder-blue pop. At the end of that breakup song, sprinkled with positive musings and a reggae-ish flavour, she cheekily quotes the Spice Girls, singing a snippet of their monster hit, “Say You’ll Be There.” “To me, that band embodies creativity, strong women, good music and sisterhood,” she says.

“Girl Power,” the Spice Girls’ leitmotif back in the day, also permeates Ridgely’s budding career. Her ever so slightly acidic music and her lyrics bear witness to that. “Can We Be Friends?,” a single released ahead of her EP, is based on a conversation with a sexual predator who had followed her home. It was a highly confusing experience for the 12- or 13-year-old girl she was at the time, and she kept the trauma bottled up until she was able to exorcize it on a contagious pop song. “I wanted to create a contrast between dark lyrics about a specific moment that really happened to me, and a bouncy and energetic production,” she says. “I think it’s a little weird, ultimately, but it feels good to dance to a dark song.”

Whether we like it or not, all women evolve in the music industry encountering the many traps set up for them, a rather sordid backstage game that the second wave of the #MeToo movement brought to light during the summer of 2020 in La Belle Province. So in order to avoid having to go forward with fingers crossed, in the hopes of not crossing paths with the wrong people, Ridgley has decided to place both hands firmly on the steering wheel. After completing SOCAN Foundation’s TD Incubator for Creative Entrepreneurship, she looked in the direction of the American market.

“It’s totally part of my game plan, and it would be awesome, but I think you just need to go with the flow,” she says. “I have dreams and goals, but I can never forget that I’m here to make good music, whatever happens.”

If you happen to sit in Erroll Layco’s barber chair and he asks, “What it’ll be today?” just say, “I’ll have a serving of your laid-back beats that make my head nod!”

The expression on the face of the Winnipeg-born rapper, who goes by E.GG (Elevation for the Greater Good), is sure to be priceless.

The pandemic has put a pause on his barbering, but luckily for those of us who love clever, introspective poetry riding soulful, jazzy music, it hasn’t railroaded his rhyming. On “Good Fortune,” his latest single, he emphasizes the importance of loyalty and urges us to “let go, live simply” and “ease up on the gas.”

“It was written to reflect the need to slow down and take a step back to appreciate the real good fortune in our lives, whether it’s family or friends,” says E.GG, who now lives in Toronto. He says he understands that “money is a tool that we need to fund our passions, but it shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all.”

The nocturnal-sounding track, featuring Infinit0, was produced by Matt Peters and Matt Schellenberg, two members of Winnipeg indie band Royal Canoe, who formed the production team deadmen last year. E.GG calls the collaboration “an awesome experience” and is convinced that artists shouldn’t be shy to work with musicians from other genres “just to catch a vibe. That allows us to create new sounds and cultivate fresh ideas.”

He says he was inspired to work with deadmen again after they produced “I Could Spend A Lifetime,” a song he cut with pop powerhouse Begonia last year. “I wanted to create an R&B-sounding tune, with a singing-rapping element for the hook and verses, so I pitched a few ideas to them,” he says, explaining the genesis of “Good Fortune.” E.GG says the instrumental deadmen sent him “hit the notes I envisioned. It was sombre whilst still carrying a hip-hop-R&B bop.”

“We started off by playing gigs with punk and hardcore bands”

According to the singer-songwriter, this spirit of cross-cultural collaboration is in full effect in his hometown. “There’s this willingness to go beyond what we know, because those of us who were born and raised in Winnipeg understand there is only so much to explore, but that in itself allows us to create these special memories,” says E.GG. “Winnipeg never fails to remind me how much I love everything about it. It’s a small city with a huge heart. You can’t replicate that type of energy.”

E.GG says he doesn’t feel that community vibe – what he calls “an interconnection within scenes” – in Toronto. “In Winnipeg, you’ll have folk artists collaborating with hip-hop artists or, in my case, when I was doing shows with our group 3Peat, we started off by playing gigs with punk and hardcore bands. It was refreshing being in environments that had nothing but love for any type of genre of music in that particular venue. The sense of community is strong.”

E.GG., who was born and raised in Winnipeg’s West end, says the first record he heard “that meant everything and still does” was Tupac’s “Dear Mama.” As a Filipino artist operating in a Black genre, E.GG has never felt excluded or been made to feel like a guest. “As someone growing up in the B-boy and the rap scenes, I saw hip-hop as something that promoted unity,” he tells us. “I felt, and still feel, a lot of love within this culture. In Winnipeg, it created a strong community and it’s forever growing.

“I’m still researching hip-hop’s history,” says EG.G excitedly. “I’m a student in this life. I want to understand more of the culture I fell in love with as a kid, so I can better represent it.”

At the beginning of December 2019, it was announced that, according to Spotify, Drake was the most streamed artist of the decade. Since 2010, it was estimated that the Toronto-born MC’s music had been streamed 28 billion times.

Whether you have reservations about streaming being an accurate barometer of listening tastes or not, the fact that this news was greeted with a collective shrug, conveying a lack of surprise, is actually quite telling. A decade ago, there were very few people that would have predicted that a Canadian hip-hop artist might be the most listened-to artist on the planet – even in the decade when hip-hop largely supplanted every other music genre in popularity. On one hand this is indicative of the uncharted territory in which hip-hop from Canada in 2019 finds itself, but it’s also only the tip of the iceberg, and offers a very small window into the breadth and potential of the hip-hop scene in this country.

While Drake’s influence straddles the decade, because his debut album Thank Me Later dropped in 2009, it was in 2011 that his influence arguably kicked Canadian hip-hop’s worldwide recognition into overdrive. His sophomore effort exerts a sonic influence so wide, its effects are still evident on hip-hop as a whole, let alone the newer crop of emerging Canadian hip-hop artists to this day. The album opened the door for a slew of Canadian hip-hop producers, like Boi-1da and T-Minus, to make their mark on hip-hop and pop music as a whole – through what became known in hip-hop circles as the Toronto Sound. The current Canadian hip-hop focus on Toronto is not an excuse to defer to the city, as the Canadian centre of the universe. Simply put, Toronto can now count itself as a city that exerts notable influence on hip-hop culture around the world, behind traditional spheres of influence such as Atlanta, Los Angeles, and the genre’s birthplace of New York.

Consequently, it’s now commonplace to see names like Murda Beatz, Frank Dukes, Wondagurl, and a slew of other producers who got their big break with Drake, presiding over some of the biggest pop, let alone hip-hop, hits of this past decade.

With this evidence, on the surface it’s easy for the casual observer to surmise that Drake’s hyper-visibility means that he’s the only hip-hop artist from Canada making music of any significance. But nothing could be further from the truth. It’s never been the case. Historically, hip-hop from Canada has always been high-quality, and could always go toe-to-toe with the American originators of the form, whether we’re talking about Maestro Fresh Wes (recently honoured by the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame), Michie Mee, or Vancouver’s Rascalz. However, these artists never benefited from, among many other things, the de-centralized digital distribution of mixtapes that emerged in the late 2000s, that ultimately helped Drake to get his music heard when he first started out.

Shad, the London, Ontario, rapper who actually beat Drake for the Best Rap Recording JUNO in 2011, with the outstanding TSOL, has established an enviable catalogue in the past decade, with a steady stream of witty and conceptually taut album releases, including Flying Colours and A Short Story About a War. These are important entries in the Canadian hip-hop canon that the Kenyan-born MC, of Rwandan heritage, uses to deliver a widescreen view, expounding on a number of relevant issues of diasporic identity that reflect crucial perspectives and voices. All told, Shad has had four albums  short-listed for the Polaris Music Prize, more than any other artist.

Indeed, Haviah Mighty, this year’s winner of Polaris – and the first hip-hop artist to actually win the award – is a good indicator of the future directions Canadian hip-hop could be headed in during the next decade. Her album 13th Floor unapologetically addresses the marginalization she’s experienced as a Black woman in Canadian society, delivering a potent tour de force that builds on, and broadens, the perspectives of whose voices are heard, and what they’re talking about, in the country’s hip-hop scene. Continuing in that vein, Mighty’s fellow 2019 Polaris Prize short-listers Snotty Nose Rez Kids are bringing hip-hop by Indigenous artists to the forefront. The Haisla Nation duo, currently based in Vancouver, continued their subversive critiques of colonization, and spiritual devotion to the environment, on their latest album Trapline.

Of course, there are countless other hip-hop artists across the country making compelling music. The list of artists who could be set to blow up on a larger scale is too numerous to mention (a very good problem to have), but there are some trends that seem primed to continue as we enter the 2020s.

Hip-hop culture’s influence is undeniable, and will continue to appear strongly across popular culture, and in genre-adjacent music such as electronica, through the work of acts like Kaytranada and A Tribe Called Red, and through the cadre of established Canadian hip-hop producers plying their wares. Hip-hop will continue to re-shape and evolve notions of what Canadian music sounds like. Additionally, staying true to its roots, Canadian hip-hop will continue to highlight voices and issues that aren’t favoured by the mainstream, to deliver cutting-edge, thought-provoking music. And finally, because of the increasing influence of hip-hop artists and producers from this country, a nurtured and supported infrastructure for those artists in successful programs or initiatives like the Remix Project could lead to an increased development of global superstars, furthering Canada’s growing effect on hip-hop culture

With established hit-makers like Tory Lanez, and exciting creatives like Clairmont the Second, Sydanie, and Sean Leon also in the mix, forging their own creative lanes, the drive, passion and ingenuity emanating from Canadian hip-hop artists ensures that their voices will be heard.