KTOE is a young veteran in Toronto’s hip-hop scene. While he’s only 21 years old, KTOE (pronounced KAY-toe)  has been making beats from the age of 12, collaborating with artists from around the city in addition to dropping attention-grabbing solo singles like “Holy Ghost.”

But it was working with JUNO-winning rap artist Jazz Cartier that proved to be the turning point for the producer and MC. The woozy banger “Right Now,” underscored by heavy drops, was one of the standout tracks on Cartier’s 2018 album Fleurever.

“When ‘Right Now’ came out, I was collaborating with people in the city, so it was like, ‘OK, now it’s time to respect his name and take his sound a little bit more serious,’” says KTOE. “Then a lot more people started taking me serious, so it was like a tumbler effect. So [‘Right Now’] definitely kick-started a bunch of different things.”

One of those things has been the release of KTOE’s debut EP, I’m Mad, which also features KTOE on the mic as an MC. The beats on the six-track EP showcase the range of KTOE’s sounds as a producer, despite the fact it’s only 12 minutes long.

“The main thing with my EP, it’s like an experimental project,” he says. “So I just wanted to give people, like – even people who’ve been down with me from day one, and people who are hearing me for the first time – a wide range of what I can do. So you can’t put me in a box and say, ‘KTOE just makes trap music,’ or ‘KTOE just makes something for one set of people.’”

Accordingly, on the energetic first three tracks, KTOE fuses an array of unlikely and unorthodox sounds into a minimalist, yet addictive, brew, alongside his self-described “ignorant rap.” The cascading keyboards of “Goldie Rock” provide a good example of this approach. Yet songs like “Tap Phones,” and the reflective and introspective “Yellow Bandana,” showcase a less smooth, more toned-down side to KTOE’s production, and a less manic style on his approach to the mic.

“When I come up on a flow I like, I go with that.”

“Sometimes when I’m making a beat, in the first few minutes when I’m getting into the process of laying down the kicks and the drums, or laying down the melody and the beat, I know exactly what to say,” says KTOE. “All my songs are like 3 o’ clock in the morning, like lights-off in my room. I’m just experimenting, to be honest. So it’s not like I really have a writing style where I have a beat and I’m, like, ‘Do this, do that, and correct it.’ It’s like I just experiment with the music, and when I come up on a flow I like, I go with that. It’s basically about being comfortable on the beat.”

  • In Good Company
    KTOE has worked alongside other talented producers and/or artists. Among them:
    * CMDWN
    * Rockie Fresh
    Smiley
    Tripsixx
    Ty Senoj
    * Uno The Activist
    Valee
    WondaGurl
    Yung Tory

Uniting the styles across the EP is the distinctive, high-pitched, “This Is A KTOE beat!” voice tag, uttered in the opening bars of every track – similar to the way Rick Ross tracks flaunt the Maybach Music phrase, and producers like Metro Boomin and Just Blaze sonically stamp their tracks. “I have people coming up to me saying, ‘This is a KTOE beat,’ like, people are walking up to me saying my tag,” says KTOE, who also uses the phrase on his social media handles to further the brand affinity. “People enjoy my tag. I enjoy putting my tag in my beats, and it’s like it all works together.”

Clearly the strategy is working, because in addition to his own music, KTOE has been busy making connections with hip-hop artists such as Big Sean and Toronto’s own Roy Woods, among others. In fact, we’re catching up with the man after a Miami trip where he fielded a bunch of his productions to be considered for Cardi B’s upcoming album. Consequently, it’s not surprising to hear KTOE say, “Honestly, I’m in my producer bag right now.”

Clearly on the path to gaining the notoriety and clout that other Canadian hip-hop producers like Murda Beatz, Frank Dukes, WondaGurl, and others have cultivated, he’s sincerely grateful for the opportunities coming his way.

“Whenever I do go out and whenever I do go to [the U.S.], and I’m that kid from Toronto, it’s the weight on my shoulders that I carry for the city and it’s a really great feeling,” says KTOE. “Not a lot of people are able to be in the rooms that I’m in, and it’s, like, to be that kid from Toronto, to represent my city, it makes it a lot better for me.”



This is the third annual instalment of our series on Québec’s rap artists who will surely reach a greater audience this year.

Shreez

Born in Laval, Shreez started rapping at the age of 16 in his friend Young Mic’s studio. At the time, rap was a hobby like any other, and the teen had no clear ambition in the field. “It really was just for fun,” he says. “We only shared our songs with our friends, we didn’t share them on the internet. But the more I made them, the more I could sense an interest from the people around me. Then, one day, there was a leak. Some of my songs ended up playing in parties and clubs. I was really surprised.”

With the support of his good friend Tizzo, who he met in 2014, the young rapper started taking his hobby more seriously in 2018 – after the success of his colleague’s mixtape, Tu sais vol. 1. Since then, he’s dropped four mixtapes with the help of Tizzo, including the future classic 51tr4p Fr4p50 where his SOCAN Songwriting Prize-winning song On fouette can be heard. “Tizzo is my mentor,” says Shreez. “If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if I’d still be rapping. He literally came to my house to pick me up at a moment where I’d almost given everything up!”

Released a year ago, his first solo project, La vie gratuite (The Free Life) is aptly titled, since it touches on topics such as illicit commerce and shady transactions. The now 25-year-old rapper still stands by those topics, but they’re further and further away from his actual agenda, and that explains why he’ll explore other lyrical avenues on his next mixtape, slated to drop in March or April of 2020. “My songs talk about that transition, how my life is changing and music is now part of my plans,” he says. “I try to filter what I say more, while retaining my style.”

Franky Fade

Born in Gaspésie, Franky Fade moved to Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville (a suburb on the South Shore of Montréal) when he was two, and he worked his way into the metropolis at the tail end of his teens, in 2014. At the time, the young pianist was studying jazz interpretation at cégep Saint-Laurent.

That’s where he met six of his closest friends, with whom he would start the jazzy rap combo O.G.B shortly afterward. “It started as an instrumental project,” he says. “We were actively looking for a rapper, but we didn’t know any. Let’s just say they weren’t exactly a dime a dozen in our suburban and rural environments. So I decided to write something, just for fun, and the guys really liked it. That’s when I realized that I’d always had the ambition of being a frontman.”

Now with three projects under their belts (including the excellent Volume Un), the septet managed to win the final of the most recent edition of Francouvertes. Since then, they’ve been actively working on their first official album, to be released in the first half of 2020. “We compose everything together, all seven heads,” says Fade. “The result is quite special, halfway between acoustic and synthetic.”

But as far as lyrics go, he’s the man in charge. Using his relentless {“Frenglish” panache, he touches on topics that matter to all the band members, like their desire to remain independent in the music business, and their appetite for success. “They’re reflections on success,” he says. “You know, like, is the goal to reach a certain status, or is it to take the right road to achieve success?” says the rapper, who’ll also release a second solo project this year.

Backxwash

Backxwash discovered hip-hop in her native land of Zambia, where she spent the first 17 years of her life. “My first contact with this music was the video ‘Mo Money, Mo Problems,’ by Notorious B.I.G. featuring Puff Daddy and Mase,” she says. “I immediately fell in love with everything about that culture.”

Not having the financial resources to buy beats, the young artist took things into her own hands and taught herself the ropes of FL Studio 3 software. Once settled in Montréal, the trans rapper and producer developed her unique artistic universe, which is to say an abrasive brand of hip-hop with industrial-rock and nu-metal influences. On Deviancy, her second project, released last summer, this rather virulent alloy is masterfully combined with a scathing flow that touches on original social comment about witchcraft, gender identity, and the abuses of patriarchy and religion.

Brimming with inspiration, Backxwash is currently working on two very different projects: a dungeon synth opus (a musical style that combines black metal and RPG videogame soundtracks) and another one where she’ll provide a detailed account of her experiences with religious institutions. “There will likely be more songs about gender identity, because I believe it’s essential to maintain the intersectionality of my artistic practice,” she says.

Composed using old choir recordings, this hip-hop-noise album will be released next summer.

DawaMafia

DawaMafia is a pair of Morrocan-born, Brossard-based brothers whose reputation was known well before they started a rap career. “In our culture, ‘dawa’ means mayhem. People called us the Dawani brothers because we were disruptive, and we loved fucking things up,” says Tali B, 24, the youngest of the two.

He started rapping alongside Zacka, six years his elder, and DawaMafia took off in 2016. Signed with Disques RER, the label of Québec City promoter Rico Rich, the duo has since dropped three mixtapes: D’où je viens, MDV and Mafia. In the purest gangsta canon, the brothers rap unabashedly about some of the more violent episodes in their lives. “We live for the truth,” they say. “We rap about stuff that people don’t dare to talk about. What we experience in the streets, people think that shit only happens in the movies. That’s what I thought too, in the beginning… But it’s very real,” says Zacka, before mentioning that he wrote the song “Fugueuse” after being hit by a stray bullet from a gunfight near his mom’s house.

Slated for release this winter, the duo’s first official album – with production by E-Beats and Farfadet – will dig deeper along the convoluted path of the creative duo. “We emphasize everything we’ve lived through,” they say. “We dig deeper. We struggled financially in the beginning, but nowadays we’re doing rather well. We’re not where we’d like to be yet, but even a small step is a good step.”

David Campana

Revealed as one half of HDC X LTK in 2015, David Campana has evolved tremendously ever since. After assuming his real identity on the double-mixtape MYNB, the Montréal singer and rapper joined his longtime friend Shotto Guapo for the CE7TE LIFE project, a conceptual EP that they championed onstage during the latest edition of Francouvertes alongside producer Major.

During that competition, the 29-year-old artist was tapped by Hydrophonik Records, the new urban music subsidiary of the Montréal-based rock label Indica. “I hadn’t planned on signing with a label, because I’ve always wanted to remain free and independent, but Indica’s off-the-beaten-path mentality was in synch with my own,” says Campana.

While revisiting the trap soul recipe that was the key to the success of CE7TE LIFE, Campana will soon release his second solo project: Bonjour, Hi. Produced by Novengitum – a trio of talented producers that made a name for itself with dope.gng – this new solo mixtape will be a portrait of the artist’s musical and personal evolution.

“I used to talk a lot about the reality of the ‘hood, but I want to reach a wider audience now,” he says. “I think it’s directly influenced by Novengitum’s productions, which tend to be on a more pop tip. I want to come across as I really am, in a very simple way, with my ‘Frenglish’ style… Hence the title.”

Other “Queb” rap breakthrough artists to watch closely this year: LK Tha Goon, dope.gng, MikeZup, Malkay Lacrymogene, Kay Bandz, Raccoon, Tyleen, Miles Barnes, Shotto Guapo, Soubillz



For Bhagya Ramesh and Priya Ramesh, making music is weighted with responsibility; one that the politically astute sisters from Calgary – who call themselves Cartel Madras – not only take seriously but embrace heartily.

Bhagya, a.k.a. Eboshi, and Priya, whose stage name is Contra, formed the trap group two years back. Since then, their hyper-kinetic sound has been earning them glowing reviews from far and wide, including the Indian editions of Rolling Stone and Vogue, which called them “a Tamil Pulp Fiction-meets-MIA” who deliver “bad-ass, no-fucks-given, brown girl anthems.”

And last June, the sisters signed with Sub Pop, the legendary label that was home to Nirvana and Soundgarden. “It was a dream scenario being signed by (Shabazz Palaces’ and former Digable Planets member) Ishmael Butler,” Bhagya says from her home in Calgary. “It was crazy validation!”

In a press release, Sub Pop said, “Contra and Eboshi enter the world of trap loudly, abrasively, unapologetically – signaling to their growing fan base that they intend to bring something entirely new to hip-hop.”

That “something new” is a sound informed by the duo’s different identities. Contra and Eboshi are queer, South Asian women operating in a Black genre that’s predominantly male, and that’s been criticized for its misogynistic and violent lyrics.

The sisters agree that these layers manifest themselves in their music. “Definitely,” says Priya. “We’re two brown women coming into this space and trying to figure out how we lean into this sub-genre of hip-hop, that’s associated with sex and a gangster lifestyle, while saying something new. All these different layers bubble up into Cartel Madras.”

Adds Bhagya, “There are also so many important conversations we’re having with all the communities we represent. There’s definitely a responsibility to participate in them, and to speak to – and not just on behalf of – those communities. Just within [those communities], there’s so much diversity.”

“Goonda Rap was a right fit. It’s scary and disruptive and gangsta.” – Priya Ramesh of Cartel Madras

Talk inevitably turns to the Hindu nationalism that’s sweeping India – the sisters were born in the southern Indian city of Chennai, which was formerly called Madras – and their tweet urging “Diaspora Indians to be angry and raise hell to tell everyone the truth about the rising fascism in your motherland.”

“You have to be very vocal about what’s happening at home,” Bhagya insists. “It seems like some diaspora Indians don’t give a shit! They’ve used their culture as a building block for their platform, and it’s shocking to me that they don’t speak out. I mean, what else is your platform for?”

The Cartel Madras Discography
Age of the Goonda (EP, 2019)
“Goonda Gold” (Single, 2019)
“Lil Pump Type Beat” (Single, 2019)
Project Goonda Part 1: Trapistan (Mixtape, 2018)
“Pork and Leek” (Single, 2018)

Goonda Rap – goonda is a Hindi word for thug or trouble-maker – is Cartel Madras’ platform, a furious hybrid of Indian sounds and languages, rib cage-rattling beats, and rapid-fire verses. “Goonda Rap was a right fit,” says Priya. “It’s scary and disruptive and gangsta.”

They say that hearing various Indian languages and music styles while growing up inspired them to pursue a career in music. “It was obvious from a young age that we weren’t going to be doctors or lawyers of engineers,” says Priya, laughing. “We faced the same pressure from our parents that other young South Asians face, but we kind of bent their will. In South Asian homes, the choice is either ‘I’m going to listen to my parents’ or ‘I’m going to stand my ground.’ We stood our ground.”

Bhagya and Priya say they have a deep respect for the origins of hip-hop, “a sound that traditionally doesn’t belong to us. We’re in our own lane, this is our take on the genre.”

When it comes to making music, Priya and Bhagya say they sit in separate rooms, “writing our own verses but collaborating on the hook. We do a good job balancing everything. As sisters, we know each other’s skills and talents, and that makes it easier when something works or doesn’t. If we do have any disagreements, they might be about beat choices.

“On the other hand, the first time we heard the beats for Age of the Goonda, we were like, ‘Oh yeah! This is it, this the beat we’ve been looking for.’ “We’re all about pushing the envelope sonically.”