Now firmly entrenched as an annual tradition, here are the Québec rap artists who’ll surely reach a greater audience this year.
As the years go by, a burning question remains: who’ll be the first Anglophone rapper from Québec to break big on the international scene? There have been plenty of dead-in-the-water predictions, but we may have found the most promising prospect to this day: Skiifall.
Born on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent in the early 2000s, the young rapper has the talent and chops to break into the U.S. market, but so far he’s mostly been making waves in London, U.K. The electronic music hub is now also known for its huge rap talent pool, thanks to the emergence and popularity of grime and U.K. drill. Skiifall fits in perfectly with this British trend. “I lived in St. Vincent for eight years and I never lost my accent [Editor’s note: the independent state is a former British colony],” he says. “Without realizing it, the flow I developed has influences [of what’s being done in London],” explains the rapper, who met the producer Sampha during a recent stay in the capital.
Long before landing there, Skiifall took his first steps in a community studio of Montréal’s West Island – the Jeunesse 2000 youth centre, right next to the Décarie highway – when he was in his early teens. “That’s where I really developed,” he says. “I’d be there every day from 2:00 to 8:00 p.m. I learned how to develop my voice and tinker with effects. I grabbed every opportunity I got to record.”
His determination paid off. The rapper’s first songs were released in 2020 on the usual platforms, revealing an artist in full control of his talent, who manages to avoid the clichés of trap and its usual jerky flows. It wasn’t long before the Montrealer was tapped by established artists such as British rapper Knucks, and Toronto avant-jazz/rap trio BadBadNotGood, with whom he collaborated on “Ting Tun Up Part II” and “Break of Dawn,” respectively. He also caught the attention of Virgil Abloh, the late founder of the Off-White brand, and artistic director at Louis Vuitton. The designer picked a Skiifall song to support the ad campaign for his NBA collaboration collection.
His affection for 1970s and 1980s Jamaican music—especially that of Lee “Scratch” Perry and Billy Boyo – gives him an original sound, especially as compared to his contemporaries, who seem only influenced by the latest trends. Another thing that sets him apart from the pack is the pace at which he releases; he only has seven songs out in total. “I want people to understand what I do is art,” says Skiifall. “I don’t want to release as much music as some American rappers. Ten or 15 years from now, no one is going to remember everything they released.”
Skiifall says he plans to release a single in January of 2022, but won’t go into further detail about his plans. “I don’t have a precise plan for the coming months,” he says. “In any case, everything can change at any moment.”
Contrary to most of his rap scene peers who often rush to release their first records, Lova waited for the right moment to do so.
The Québec City-based artist got his start playing in punk, hardcore, and death metal bands, and started rapping more than 10 years ago. Yet it was only in 2020 that he released his first songs. “I started with short English raps shortly after discovering [The] Wu-Tang [Clan]. I was in no hurry to release tracks,” says Lova. “What motivated me was rapping with a gang in parties. I had solid verses that got great reactions from the crowd, but I’ve always been very lucid about the quality of my product. And then, at some point, I felt ready to move forward. A new decade was about to start, and I decided I would release one song a month [to mark the occasion].”
“Vague,” his first single, was released on Jan. 1, 2020. “Cohen” and “Distance” followed in February and March. That was enough to attract the attention of one Carlos Munoz, the co-founder of Joy Ride Records, the label behind the success of Loud, Rymz, and Connaisseur Ticaso. “He’s the one that reached out to me,” says Lova. “My producer, Pierre-Olivier Couturier, had previously worked with a Joy Ride artist [William Hennessey], so the contact was made [very naturally].”
His hip-hop stylings are ethereal, with melodic R&B splashes reminiscent as much of Post Malone as of Lomepal. The 27-year-old rapper has shone brightly over the past 18 months, with the release of three EPs by the major Montréal-based rap label: Cool LOL, Gluant mais hot, and more recently, EP3. His originality on the EPs is anchored in the richness of the sounds and textures, developed in close collaboration with the aforementioned Couturier, Tommy Banksta, and David Saysum, all three being long-time friends of his.
An album, In Theory, should be released this year.
Le Ice is adamant about one thing right off the bat: he doesn’t want to be a star. “Even when my career peaks, I won’t change,” promises the man, who says he’s more interested in “the art side of this rather than the money side of it.”
Such authenticity is refreshing in this scene (and era), where celebrity has mostly become an obsession. As a matter of fact, it’s precisely to preserve that authenticity that the 27-year-old rapper from Laval waited so long to get seriously involved in rap. “I started rapping when I was quite young, around 12,” he says. “I would rap about stuff I had no idea about, just cuz they sounded cool. The lyrics were drivel, but my flow was already very tight,” he explains. “Then, at some point, I just decided to stop. I couldn’t give a damn anymore. I felt the spotlight that came with making music was too much for me. I liked being in the shadows, I could picture myself being a manager more than an artist.”
Le Ice finally re-emerged somewhere in 2019. Inspired by the ambition and success of his friends from Canicule Records – a collective and label whose roster includes Tizzo and Shreez – Le Ice carved out his own space, with songs full of raw energy, such as “Moto, 412” and the aptly-titled “J’pas une star” (in English, “I’m Not a Star”). Many considered him to be the next big thing to come out on Canicule, but a misunderstanding meant that the release of his first album was postponed.
Thus, in early 2021, Le Ice took the bull by the horns and established his own label, Sal Ent, which is short for “Solide à l’os Entreprise,” freely translated as “Solid to the Core Entreprise,” a colloquialism he uses constantly. That’s the channel through which his album JTA L’EAU POUR UN BOUTTE was released in July of 2021. “I wouldn’t go as far as saying I’m starting from scratch with Sal Ent – that would be ungrateful to Canicule, who still did a good job – but I do see it as building something new,” he says. “I’m spreading my wings under a new identity.”
On its own, “J’partie de loin” [sic] is a portrait of this new identity: we get acquainted with a rapper who’s more conscious and vulnerable, while looking back honestly on his hectic journey. “That song means everything to me. It’s my story,” he confides. “I’m going to get more personal in my future songs because that one was received so well. People will get to know me a little better.”
Le Ice’s second project, titled Le mouton noir (in English, Black Sheep), is coming “sometime between February and April of 2022.”
SLM spent her entire youth surrounded by music. Raised to the sounds of the best R&B of the last half-century – from The Temptations to Mary J. Blige – the Guyana-born rapper also has roots in reggae and Gospel. “My mom sang in the church choir, so as far as I can remember, music had an important place in our home,” she says.
Hip-hop became central to her life when she was a teen. Early 2010s major rappers Childish Gambino, Tyler the Creator, Chance the Rapper, and above all Nicki Minaj, had a deep impact on her, but it took quite a while for her to build the confidence to rap. “One of the strengths I have is the capacity to learn a song’s lyrics very quickly,” says SLM. “I learned a lot by practising with songs by other people. Slowly but surely, I started freestyling for myself, or very close friends, over the phone, or in a car. Then I would keep the best of those rhymes, go home, and write around them.”
Two years ago, the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce rapper (a popular neighbourhood of Montréal’s West End) decided to create something concrete with all those rhymes. Over modern trap productions, her agile flow and tongue-in-cheek attitude feature on her first mixtape; SLM: The Complete Flex Season (2020) is the accomplishment, at least in part, of all those years of writing.
“Before that I was simply too young to even consider a career in music,” says SLM. “My parents wanted me to pursue my education and achieve my goal of becoming a veterinarian. But as I grew older, I devoted the energy required for music to become a viable option in my life. My mom was definitely not convinced by my choice, but in my mind, from that moment on, there was no reason for me to not give myself a chance of pushing on.”
While her second project – an EP, Real Talk Radio – was released in late 2021, the 23-year-old artist wants her next, slated for 2022, to dig deeper into her tribulations, doubts, and aspirations. Sonically, she promises a renewed musical signature that will tend towards lo-fi R&B rather than trap.
It’s impossible to introduce Jessy Benjamin without first addressing the elephant in the room, namely his farcical stage name: SeinsSucrer (literally: SweetTits). “It literally was just to troll Instagram and make people laugh. Except that after a while, people started calling me that offline,” he says.
Against all odds, the rapper and producer from the Saint-Michel neighbourhood (a highly ethnic district in North-Central Montréal) ended up perfectly adopting the nickname. “It does define the character,” he says. “It illustrates my unpredictable nature just as well as my out-of-control side – inasmuch as you understand that the sugar on the tits is actually blow [cocaine]. But then, sugar also reminds you of candy, and kids love candy. We all need sugar. My sugar is my juice, my energy. Look, it’s what makes me rap.”
One thing is undeniable: SeinsSucrer’s “juice” is highly concentrated. In a mere three years on the scene, the 26-year-old rapper has released about a dozen projects, be them as a solo artist, or as a duo with rapper Don Bruce, or producer Dr. Stein. In 2021 alone, he released four albums and an EP.
These last five releases are perfect examples of his evolution as an artist. First known for his excessively auto-tuned mumble-rap, SeinsSucrer recently came out with a more incisive flow more typical of the East Coast boom-bap that he cherishes.
“I’m much more in control of my voice, of my rhythm and of my cadences,” he explains. “RZA said becoming a master lyricist takes 10 years. I’ve been rapping for 11 years now, and I believe I’m at my peak, writing-wise, and I understand [rhyme and song] structures better than ever. I started with a very pointy trap vibe and slowly gravitated towards a style that’s more about the lyrics. It’s become therapeutic to rap that way. It’s a workout for my creativity.”
Through his texts, essentially urban chronicles of comical situations and drug abuse, SeinsSucrer reveals himself as a rapper who’s as absurd as he is intelligent. As for his hyper-productivity, it turned out to be a strength that allowed him to find and develop his unique style at lightning speed.
This pace will continue into 2022, with several more projects upcoming, including one produced entirely by Jam (of the Brown Family) and another by Mike Shabb.