For the seventh year in a row, we bring you a selection of up-and-coming Québec rap artists who have the potential to attract the attention of a wider audience in the coming months.
Released in December of 2023, his EP offers hints of baile funk, trap, and Afrobeat, and it’s one of last year’s most outstanding releases in Québec. The 23-year-old Montréaler reveals his artistic flair and great curiosity for the world’s most relevant musical trends.
Immersed since childhood in zouk and kompa on his mother’s side, and blues, jazz, and R&B on his father’s, the Haitian-born singer-songwriter first fell in love with hip-hop in his teens – initially with the American rap of Lil Wayne, Young Thug, and the whole Atlanta movement, and then with the French-language rap of Damso, Josman, and Hamza. “Right away, I noticed that French lyrics were more thoughtful,” he says. “We use more metaphors; we use much more evocative language. That’s what caught my attention.”
After writing his first lyrics at the age of 16, Malko assembled the PLAYDAYS collective at the start of the 2020s with, among others, his friends Apollo and Astro, who still collaborate with him today. PLAYDAYS’ first EP, Vie américaine, was released in 2021, the same year Malko released his first solo songs on streaming platforms.
Supported by Cult Nation, the Montréal label behind Charlotte Cardin’s success, Malko shows great sensitivity on Maelström, particularly on the touching “Lettre à maman.” “I try to express myself as sincerely as possible,” says Malko. “In real life, I’m not someone who talks a lot. What I find hard to put into words, I manage to sing.”
In 2024, Malko intends to introduce himself further to Québéc’ audiences with more live shows. And while he won’t be delivering a new album just yet, he will be releasing several new songs.
Érika Zarya began singing before she could speak. “I’d get up and sing!” she says. “Then I started reading and writing at a really young age. By the age of seven, I was writing my first songs.”
As a teenager, the Québec-born artist, with Belgian roots, was introduced to rap by her aunt, who is 10 years older than her, and who used to burn CDs in a wide variety of genres. “What I loved most were rap songs,” says Zarya. “I liked the way the lyrics were written. I started trying very early [to rap], but I didn’t have the flow.”
Zarya took to R&B to channel her passion for creating music, yet her first two EPs, Petite and L’amour du risque, released in 2021 and 2022 respectively, were both clearly influenced, sonically and lyrically, by hip-hop. All that remained was to commit herself even more. “I took part in a podcast hosted by Justice Rutikara (Limoilou Hood, produced by OhDio, in 2022), in which he described me as a rapper. That was a turning point for me.”
The rapper turned to artists from the Québec city rap scene, like Vincent Biliwald, Pro. Douceur, and Sairom, with whom she developed a personal and artistic affinity. In 2023, her song “Brasse-Ville” marked this shift in style. The title is a reference to Québec’s lower city, historically more working-class than the upper part. “My desire with the song was to tell my story and that of a woman, a friend who was very dear to me, who grew up in family poverty,” says Zarya. “I wanted to tell her that her story is important.”
The 24-year-old artist, who draws her influences mainly from Europe (Chilla, Lolo Zouaï, Josman, Swing), is about to emphasize her musical shift with the release of two albums: Érika and Zarya. “It’s a project where I explore my identity,” she says. “The concept is the duality within me, as much about the relationship between the influence of American and European culture, as it is about the relationship between my love of rap and singing.”
Nothing could have prepared King Fali for the tsunami that awaited him in 2020 when he released his very first song, “Champion.” With more than 130,000 views to date, the clip introduces us to a 13-year-old rapper with an over-excited flow and a fired-up attitude.
“I’ve always been a sporty, hyperactive person. For me, rap is like sport. I always must outdo myself,” says the now 17-year-old, Congolese-born Sherbrooke native.
However, the confidence he exudes in the video for this very first song, which took him a year to write, has been sorely tested. Adolescence being a tough time to go through, imagine for a moment going through it when you’re one of the hottest names on the Québec rap scene. “When ‘Champion’ came out, I lost some of my closest friends,” says Fali. “It turned my life upside down… I was less focused at school. Everything upset me.”
King Fali kept a cool head, but it wasn’t easy. His entourage helped him not to give up. “My family is what saved me,” he says. “They gave me advice and told me to not let myself be pushed around. I ignored the others and carried on doing what I love.”
Since then, King Fali has given countless interviews and performed in numerous shows, most notably alongside FouKi and Souldia. He’s perfected his rap and toned down his passionate flow. “I’ve evolved,” he says. “I used to just shout into the mike, but now I’m able to be more melodic. I can sing and rap. My voice has changed a lot.”
His first EP will be released in 2024. “Now that I’m in my last year of high school, I feel ready for the next step,” he says. “Times have changed. The next generation is just around the corner.”
It’s been a long road for S’tano, but a rewarding one, full of twists and turns.
Born in Algiers in the 1980s, the artist immigrated to Canada in his early teens, where he began writing short rap lyrics, without really spreading the word. “Then one day, I was with a buddy of mine waiting for the bus,” he says. “I told him I was writing some stuff… and I performed a little freestyle for him. He told me it was really good and it made me want to write more. I did a talent show at my school, but then I stopped. I didn’t have access to any studios.”
Seven years after arriving in Montréal, S’tano moved to Paris, where he still lives. Over there, he met more “rap-oriented” people, but for many reasons beyond his control, his musical projects never came to fruition. For a decade or so, he spent his time lending his voice to other people’s songs, without embarking on a proper solo career.
Then came 2019, the year when his first two songs were finally released on streaming platforms: “Mon époque” and “Black Helmet.” “I’ve always wanted to make rap music,” he says, “but I spread myself too thin. Now I can focus.”
And he can surround himself with better musical comrades, too. Backed by some of the most talented producers in the Québec music ecosystem (Benny Adam, Neo Maestro, Gary Wide), S’tano released his first EPs in 2021 (the two installments of Flashé), and came back in 2023 with “Ghorba,” accumulating hundreds of thousands of cumulative streams since then.
Despite his long track record, he still considers himself an emerging artist. “It’s true that I’m a newcomer,” says S’tano. “Maybe you’ve been rapping since you were super-young, but if you haven’t released anything serious, it makes no difference. I know plenty of people in my neighborhood who rap for fun, without having released an official project… That’s really where it starts. Before that, you learn to build yourself up, and become a professional.”
S’tano frequently travels to Québec, where most of his family and team live, and to Algeria, where he’s just completed a promotional tour of radio stations and television studios. The Paris-based rapper, nicknamed “Canadien” by everyone in his neighborhood, is gearing up to release two more EPs and his first full-length album this year. “I brought back the Algerian sound,” he says. “It’s not raï, it’s still rap, but you can hear my roots in the music.”
GreenWoodz was one of the pleasant surprises of 2023. His debut album TPL, released in September of 2023, has become the new staple of local emo rap, a sort of re-interpretation of the genre embodied by XXXTentacion, Lil Peep, $uicideboy$, and other rap artists with dark lyrics and rock influences. “When I discovered this whole scene, around 2016 or 2017, I really fell in love with rap,” he says. A few years earlier, he’d discovered hip-hop culture, thanks to Tupac, Biggie, Muzion, and Sans Pression. “I started writing to express my demons, to express the stuff I had in my heart,” he says.
The 24-year-old rapper, from Saint-Gabriel-de-Brandon, was drawn to the heartfelt, soulful side of emo rap when he started rapping as a teenager, to escape boredom by deploying something other than substance use. “There’s nothing to do when you’re far from the city,” he says. “There aren’t many activities for young people, especially if, like me, you’re not very athletic. I quickly found myself identifying with people who partied. I started using at a very young age… I started writing to get away from it all. It brought a thrill in me that I’d normally get from bad substance use habits. It also allowed me to take a step back from that aspect of my life.”
In 2020, heartbreak inspired him to write the songs for his first EP, Are You OK? That garnered buzz even before its release. “I’d go to parties and airdrop the songs,” says GreenWoodz. “I’d tell people, ‘You can play the tunes, but you’re not allowed to send them.’ Word of mouth helped a lot.”
In 2021, alongside his producer Cook Da Beatz, he favors another effective word-of-mouth technique to promote his mixtape Late Night & Heartbreaks. This time, he used the Omegle platform, a now-defunct website that allowed two strangers to meet randomly and completely anonymously. “We would hit refresh on the page to get new people constantly,” he says. “We’d tell them about our project and play them songs, while I rapped in the studio. It encouraged people to follow me on social media.”
Now with the support of Disques 7ième Ciel, GreenWoodz is racking up hundreds of thousands of streams on digital platforms. And his success isn’t only online: in 2024, he’ll continue touring across the province of Québec alongside Aswell (one of our 2021 picks). He’s currently working on new material, some of which will be released in the coming months. “I’m happy that my music touches so many people,” he says. “Over the years, I’ve aged and grown. My values are changing as a human being, so what I’ll have to say on future albums will probably be different.”