Before he became one of Canada’s most renowned DJs, Charlie B was a kindergarten teacher. In the wee hours, he would be in the club on the 1s and 2s, or in the studio working with then-emerging GTA exports like Tory Lanez or Preme (formerly known as P Reign). By day, he was helping 30 schoolkids learn how to write their names.
“It’s crazy, because during that time, P Reign had a song coming out with Drake,” says Charlie B. “We waited so long to try to get this song; countless hours in the studio, working so hard. And finally, P Reign gets the song with Drake, and it’s Labour Day Weekend, and I’ve got work on Tuesday. I’m over here teaching kids how to walk in a straight line, all while this song was out.” Though Charlie, born Ajay Saxena, juggled teaching and music for three years, in 2016, he decided to make a leap and pursue music full-time.
Since then, he’s toured the world and worked with hip-hop standouts like Cardi B, Rick Ross, and DJ Khaled, the latter of whom he cites as a mentor. Most recently, Charlie released his first full-length album, Across the Board, which features hand-picked talent from all over Toronto. “I’ve been working on [the album] for the last two years,” he says. “It’s my view on talent in this city. I’ve been able to be in the studio and create with these artists. We’ve built these records together, collectively. And I’m super-proud of how it came out.”
For Charlie, in-person recording sessions were crucial to creating the album. “I was really adamant [about] having the artists coming to the studio and us building the song together,” he says. “Saying, ‘Hey, listen, this the concept I’m thinking about, this is the vibe.’ I’d play them some beats from my producers and essentially executive-produce these songs.”
Patience was another key ingredient in his creative process. If a song didn’t quite have the flavour he was looking for, he didn’t try to force things. This approach helped him and Driftwood rapper Pressa come up with the infectious single “Glitch.”
“Me and Pressa were in L.A., and we were working on music, and I just felt like we hadn’t gotten what we could have,” says Mr. B. “I didn’t want to rush it. Just because you lock in a studio with an artist, doesn’t mean that you’re gonna get the record you want the same day. It doesn’t work like that.”
The creative spark they needed would be ignited weeks later on Charlie’s birthday weekend. He and Pressa were at Quad Studios, the legendary Times Square recording space that’s been used by everyone from Mariah Carey to Jay-Z. A change of location made everything click. “We were in New York, it’s Quad, and I’m working on my birthday,” says Charlie. “[I said] ‘Let’s try’. And we got one out, and we were really happy with the final product. It was in a memorable studio too, so that was even better”.
Known as “Mr. Canada,” Charlie aimed, with Across the Board, not just to put a spotlight on Toronto, but to help illuminate the possibilities for local artists. “I want to give these kids experiences,” he says. “If we can do something to make these kids believe that they can get out of the streets, that’s the most important thing to me. I love seeing the kids in Toronto live their passion; live their dreams. There’s nothing happier for me than to see these kids on the stage doing their thing.”