This summer, as fans celebrated the Toronto Raptors’ historic win, many were celebrating to the music of Just John x Dom Dias, the dynamic Toronto duo whose “Pull Up” track made it onto the official Raptors playlist, alongside heavy hitters like Drake’s “Nonstop” and Cardi B’s “Press.”
“It was really cool,” says Just John (John Samuels) from his home in Toronto. “A lot of Raptors fans really connected with that record and started following us. And after some of the winning games, they would play our track.”
“We’re fortunate and grateful to be a part of this history, this legacy,” adds Dom Dias.
While some call their inclusion on the playlist “talent meets perfect timing,” the duo call it “energy,” something they credit for everything – including their collaboration.
In early 2018, producer Dom Dias came across a sponsored Instagram post featuring Just John. Dias was intrigued, immediately reaching out with a beat. “John really liked the beat and we got in the studio next day,” explains Dias. “That record he recorded is ‘Pull Up,’ the one the Raptors chose.” Instantly, the pair found something in each other that they were looking for. “I saw his style, his persona and his lyricism, and that caught me off-guard. The moment we got into the studio, it was super-easy to work with him.”
And for Just John, founder of the award-winning art collective Blank Canvas, Dom got the multi-faceted vision for which he was striving. “I felt like my prayers [were] answered, because I was struggling, trying to find [producers] that understood the kind of energy I wanted to record. And, also, someone who challenges me to be a better artist. Dom was, and has been, that person.”
“We make things that we like. We’re making vibrations.” – Just John
Dom gave John a space where the threads found in his collective could be laced just as powerfully in his sound. “I sharpened my teeth [in] the DIY art scene,” says John. “A lot of my ideologies are about taking up space unapologetically. Staying true to yourself. Living in love, not fear. I voice a lot about my own experiences, about police brutality. And sometimes it’s just the energy I’m rebelling against, the energy itself in the record. When people come see us, they’re connecting with that energy. They want to let loose, turn-up, [and] get free themselves. I think that’s another piece we contribute to music.”
The pair often make music every day. Dom will create beats and present them to John in person. “I’ve known John long enough to know when he really likes a beat, and when he really doesn’t,” says Dom. When they agree on a beat, John lives with it for a few days.
“It’s a very independent, autonomous process,” says John. “Dom makes a beat; I trust him in that, and he trusts me in the performance and the lyrics. And then we are open to the collaborative synergy that can be created in the negative space. We’re always editing. ‘How can we make this better? How can we make this cooler? Ooooh, that was a mistake. Ooooh, that mistake is fire! We can use that in the record.’”
Drawing from various genres, including hip-hop and punk, while channeling manic, raucous energy to create cathartic release, the pair recently released their EP, Don III, and a video for “Pull Up.” They’re also working on new music that they describe as combining their “manic, mosh-pit energy with a beautiful, lucid dream.” And they continue to shrug off any aspirations of fitting into a mainstream “Toronto sound.”
“It’s never, “Let’s try to make it sound like this,’” says Dom, who uses everything from crazy snares to elephant trumpeting, to take listeners into adventurous sonic spaces. (The elephants don’t receive royalties for the recordings, they confess with laughter.) “It’s, ‘Let’s try and make a feeling.’”
John agrees. “We make things that we like,” he says. “We’re making vibrations. There has to be innovation, you have to be a visionary. You have to be OK with some people not getting it right away, and really champion what you’re doing. If we were looking to our contemporaries [for inspiration], we’d already be too late.”