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