New talent is constantly emerging on Québec’s rap scene. Here are five of them who’ll undoubtedly attract the attention of audiences and media alike this year.
Born in Montréal’s Pierrefonds neighbourhood, Maky Lavender caught the hip-hop bug a few years ago, after watching the evolution of Québec’s prolific beat-making scene. Inspired by the music of High Klassified, Kaytranada, and Tommy Kruise, the young rapper was filled with a burning desire to be part of a world seemingly so distant and out of reach. “I was from the West Island,” he says. “In my mind, it was impossible to be on par with those guys. But I didn’t give up. I started by gaining the respect of people in my neighbourhood, and I enrolled in a school for sound professionals. Shortly after, I heard that [rapper and member of The Posterz] Nate Husser was looking for a sound engineer, and I began working with him. That was a big boost to my confidence. I owe him a lot.”
After a few embryonic projects, Lavender stepped into the light in September of 2017 with an EP, Blowfoam 2, that attracted the attention of up-and-coming label, Ghost Club Records. Since then, this Jack-of-all-trades – as confident on the mic as he is a beatmaker and sound engineer – has asserted himself as one of the most well-rounded players of the Québec rap scene. His charisma is highly contagious, and he’s a peerless master of self-deprecation. His humility is like a breath of fresh air in an environment where overblown egos are all too common.
Already well under way, his next EP will offer a mix of festive and darker songs, a reflection of the 23-year-old artist, who’s wildly optimistic, but also battles bouts of sometimes very intense anxiety. “There will be lively songs that could be used to introduce events during the Olympic games,” he says, “as well as dirtier stuff à la DMX. Most of the songs have been recorded, but it’s not quite complete in my mind. I’m taking my time to make sure I release exactly what I intended to.”
Despite being incredibly talented, Naya Ali’s journey in Montréal’s rap microcosm was a torturous one. Born in Ethiopia, she started wielding the mic in her late teens, and played a few shows around the city, but she gave it all up in her twenties to concentrate on her studies at Concordia University. Underwhelmed by her arrival on the job market, the artist, now 30, returned to music to re-energize herself, and re-build her confidence.
The wait was worth it. Her first EP, Higher Self, released last fall, carries a potent message of autonomy and perseverance, in synch with the ideology of this astute creator, who rejects social conventions. “We’re born into a pre-determined narrative that forces us to follow the rules, own a beautiful house, build a family, save for our retirement,” she says. But in reality, we’re born to create, evolve and influence each other. We have the power to change and create our own reality.”
Equally inspired by the current trap trend as she is by artists with a more organic groove, like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, Ali is working on her debut album, due before year’s end. “Right now, I’m growing, creating, learning and getting ready for the coming months,” she says. “I’m slowly revealing various aspects of who I am, sound-wise as well as poetically. The hard-hitting sound people got used to on my first EP will still be there, but I also want to work on sounds that have an emotional impact on people.”
Kirouac isn’t your average rapper. Growing up in the Town of Mount-Royal, an affluent district on the Island of Montréal, he was introduced to slam poetry in high school, and gradually grew more and more interested in rap. He took his first steps onto the scene in 2015 as one half of the duo PEM, alongside his partner-in-crime Nomad, and acquired enough confidence to create his first solo EP, the promising Je m’en rappelle plus, mais c’est vraiment bon (I don’t remember, but it’s really good). Shortly afterward, while beginning his studies in cinema at the Unuiversité du Québec à Montréal, there was a decisive encounter with producer Kodakludo. “He heard one of my tracks at a party and came to see me,” says Kirouac. “As soon as he played his beats for me, there was a big lightbulb moment. Our chemistry had huge potential.”
Wesh, the duo’s first project, was released in June of 2018 and enjoyed enviable airplay on a few radio stations, including CISM and ICI Première. The mini-album is a likeable and unabashed portrait of a young adult discovering the metropolis where he lives, and fits squarely in the “nice guy rap” trend. It’s a sub-genre originating from another Montréal neighbourhood, the Plateau Mont-Royal, and popularized mainly by FouKi over the last couple of years. “It’s a label I’m fully comfortable with, because I’m a soft person in everyday life, not a highway robber,” he says. “It’s pointless to pretend to be somebody else if you want to rap.”
Still guided by this quest for authenticity, the 22-year-old rapper will explore a large swath of his childhood on the upcoming EP, due Feb. 1. Titled Amos, an homage to the series of fantasy novels Amos Daragon by Québec writer Bryan Perro, the recording will include four songs that evoke each of the four elements. Riding high on the hype, he’s enjoying in the local scene. Next upo, he’ll be participating in the Cabaret Festif! de la relève as well as another showcase-contest in Montréal.
Tizzo didn’t choose rap; quite the contrary. After taking more or less serious first steps in English in the mid-oughts, the young rapper fine-tuned his flow after moving to the North Shore – where he recorded an untold number of songs, the vast majority of which were never released. After some trouble with the law, and a brief stint in prison kept him away from music, he found his productivity again in 2016, a pivotal year that saw the release of Comment faire. “It’s a song that, like all the others, was only destined to be heard by my friends,” he says. “But it travelled from e-mail account to e-mail account and, a few months later, a friend invited me to perform it in a downtown club. I was stunned when everyone started singing along.”
Astonished by this unexpected word of mouth, Tizzo redoubled his efforts as never before. As a result, 2018 saw him release four mixtapes in less than a year, two of which he did with his partner Shreez. Seemingly coming out of nowhere in many people’s eyes, the 26-year-old artist became the biggest sensation of Montréal’s still underestimated street rap scene. His songs “On fouetté” and “Ça pue,” both trap earworms with incredible energy, are on the verge of becoming bona fide anthems of Québec hip-hop.
This success has put things back into perspective for Tizzo. Less than a year after the release of his first project Tu sais vol. 1, rap became his true calling, and he now needs to keep up the pace, a challenge about which he’s more than optimistic. “It’s going to be crazier than last year,” he says. “Each time I come out of the studio, the beats are sicker and sicker! The kids want to jump around and move, and that’s exactly what I give them.”
White-B owes a debt to rap, which entered his life when he was in his mid-teens, at a time when things could have taken a wrong turn. Troubled by family problems, the Montréaler’s destiny looked brighter once he moved to the North end of the city, where he met his partners in the 5sang14 collective, Lost, MB, and Gaza. “I heard them rap and they were incredibly talented,” says White-B. “They inspired me, and I started scribbling some lyrics. One thing led to another, and we started freestyling together, sometimes for whole days or evenings.”
His first EP, En noir et blanc, released in 2016 alongside Lost, created a big sensation on Montréal’s rap scene. A year later, the success of Confession risquée, his first solo mixtape, confirmed what a lot of people suspected: That rap was no longer going to be a hobby for White-B, and would become central to his life.
The 23-year-old bridges the gap between socially conscious purist French rap, and an American influenced pop ego trip to reach a wider audience. Having generated a small amount of hype on the other side of the Atlantic, he’s accumulated millions of views and streams, and will release a second mixtape next spring. “It’s the project that will best represent my current vibe, something that’s hard-hitting yet very melodic,” he says. “I do feel some pressure, I can’t deny it, but I don’t want to rush things. I want to make sure I don’t come out with Confession risquée 2, because what matters most to me is to come up with something different.”