Lary Kidd originally wanted to call his second album Thus Spoke Larry Kidd, something that would have been in character for this Ahuntsic (Québec) rapper who’s fond of literary references, and who once casually dropped the name of Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran. But he eventually realized that a reference to Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra might be heavy, and decided instead to choose a title that was evocative of another concept linked to the German philosopher: The Superman.

Lary KiddSince the album’s release last November, Larry has refrained from posing as an intellectual, and rightly claimed instead that the Superman idea also corresponded to the extreme braggadoccio so typical of the rap scene. “It’s a way of placing yourself above the fray; I love bragging!” he likes to say. “It’s always been part of the hip-hop codes, it’s not just something that you fall into. A good knowledge of the genre’s codes is what helps me explore, go further, and build my sound intelligently.”

His sometimes killer rhymes, however, go beyond mere show-off. While everybody agrees that Surhomme’s production is airier, and that the rhymes are more playful than those found on the anxiety-producing Contrôle, the new rhymes are often very dense, beginning with those of the title piece, whose references to drug consumption are more of a warning than a glorification.

“At my age [32], I’ve grown somewhat wiser,” Kidd explains. “When I talk about depravity in my songs, I mostly look back to my early 20s for inspiration – rap, after all, is a young people’s music! I hope to still be relevant when I’m 40, but it’s important not to turn into an old man preaching to his audience.”

Put together with Ruffsound and his old sidekick Ajust – the sound builders who’ve contributed to Loud’s success – Surhomme is both punchier and lighter than Kidd’s previous opus, and much easier to take in. “I sat down for six months writing the words, but the music came in a flash,” he says. “The guys [Ruffsound and Ajust] arrived at the cottage, they set up their keyboards, and they worked until 11:00 p.m. every day. They’re just like machines, they can come up with something like 10 beats in a work day.”

Every time he gets a chance, Kidd stresses the importance of beat-makers in his creative work. “They work like maniacs, especially in the weeks following the recording,” he says. “It takes a lot of talent to take a rap album that could easily become repetitive and tiresome, and turn it into something rich and varied, and I think that they succeed in doing that spectacularly.”

“I’ve realized that the hummed, somewhat soft rap that dominates right now isn’t my thing.”

Unlike his old pal Loud (credited on the song “Sac de sport” ), Kidd hasn’t yet broken into the pop scene, but he’s far from feeling sorry about it. “I’m making a good living with my clothing line [Officiel], I never lack work, quite the contrary!” he says. “And the cool thing is that my sideline is providing me with another creative avenue; it’s not like I have to go back to mopping floors!”

That security is making it possible for Kidd to do his own thing without trying to please at all costs. “Of course, I could have a few club songs with women in them,” he laughs. “But I’ve realized that the hummed, somewhat soft rap that dominates right now isn’t my thing. Personally, I’m sticking to a more classic rap, and I hope that when that kind of sound is back in style, I’ll be recognized as someone who has always toed the line. I’m not trying to make myself look like an old purist, but I sometimes feel completely disconnected from today’s sound. When I looked at my Spotify playlists, I realized that the song I listened to the most times in 2019 was Ghostface Killah’s “Mighty Healthy,” a piece that goes back to 1993!”

But don’t believe that Kidd is frozen in time. It’s the opposite: in our interview, he frequently stresses the importance of evolving without losing your character. “This album took me to the next level,” he says. “I feel that the process made me a better rapper, both in the flow and in the writing. Everything I’m writing now is four times more solid. I look for the right turn of phrase, the right rhyme, and I stay away from stuff that’s too facile. Writing half in French and half in English, for instance, just because it’s easy, is something in which I’m no longer interested.”

“I think musically, we’re the best in the world.”

Alex Ernewein has good reason to proclaim Toronto as a top destination for musical exports. He cites hip-hop superstar Drake as the biggest example of a successful artist putting the Canadian city on the global map, but that fortune runs all the way down to someone like Ernewein – a musician and producer who has also flourished in recent years, by making “the weirdest chord progressions and textures, and still have them slap and get streams.”

Most may recognize Ernewein as a touring member of R&B star Daniel Caesar’s band, but he’s also performed with Charlotte Day Wilson, co-produced records for both (Caesar’s Freudian and Wilson’s Stone Woman EP), and surrounded himself with some of the city’s most promising talent (Sean Leon, Liza Yohannes, Dylan Sinclair). Most recently, he took a massive step outside of his sphere, contributing samples to Kanye West’s album Jesus is King.

He also makes music under his own name, where he strives to go “even weirder” by exploring odd chord progressions. (He admittedly grew up on a lot of jazz music.) “People know me for R&B,” he acknowledges, “but I’ve worked on so many different projects now that it’s more diverse than that.

“I think in the next 10 years, the sound is just going to get even better, and more sophisticated,” Ernewein says of Toronto’s sonic identity. “There’s too many great minds for it not to.” While he may not have reached the upper echelon of the city’s most prominent acts just yet, Ernewein –  who says he’s still “showing and proving” his skills to others – is well on his way to becoming one of those great minds.

Just like the rest of the music industry, the publishing business today is a lot more fluid than it used to be. Where the role of the music publisher once focused mostly on getting synchs (or placements) for songs in a variety of media – TV shows, movies, videogames, advertisements – today’s publisher wears many hats.

“Our business represents songs and songwriters,” explains Vivian Barclay, General Manager, Warner Chappell Music Canada, and member of SOCAN’s Board of Directors. “Our job is two-fold. Some people still take a very linear view of publishing, thinking it’s only about administration, like a bank or service business, but it is really multi-faceted. The proper administration of copyright, registration, and paying out royalties is one side. The other side is about creativity. We’re signing songwriters, developing them, and helping to provide them with resources and connections.”

Barclay is used to wearing many hats, and making many connections. She’s never had a five-year plan, and has always taken on whatever job needed doing. Barclay was born into the creative arts field. Her dad was a working musician and her mom was a fine art painter. After graduating with a degree in audio engineering from Ryerson, she worked for now-defunct community radio station CKLN. There, she did everything from on-air host, to program director, to acting station manager. A stint with Denise Jones, at Jones and Jones Productions, followed, as Barclay’s education continued. She learned how to manage artists, market them, and promote and host live events, among other things

“If you can’t pull it off live, I’m not interested.”

In 2001, a vacancy opened in the royalties department at Warner Chappell Music Canada. Denise Jones recommended her, and she jumped at the opportunity to learn about the world of music publishing. This temporary gig evolved into a full-time role. She moved from royalties to copyright, and by the end of the year transferred to the company’s Los Angeles office. Two years later, she was back in Toronto to head up the Canadian office.

Maple Music Makers

Warner-Chappel Music Canada’s roster includes, or has included:

  • Aaron Goodvin
  • Barenaked Ladies
  • The Be Good Tanyas
  • Begonia
  • Death From Above 1979
  • Donovan Woods
  • Gordon Lightfoot
  • Jully Black
  • Michael Bernard Fitzgerald
  • Michael Bublé
  • Nickelback
  • PartyNextDoor
  • The Rheostatics
  • Saukrates
  • Sebastian Gaskin
  • Spirit of the West
  • The Tea Party
  • Tomi Swick

Today, as General Manager of Warner Chappell Music Canada, Barclay manages an extensive and diverse song catalogue, encompassing  the American songbook compositions of George and Ira Gershwin, the storied songs of Gordon Lightfoot, and everything in between. The Canadian office of Warner Chappell Music also represents a pair of Christmas classics penned by Johnny Marks: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” Barclay finds ways to bring these classics to a new generation.

“It’s about re-invigorating the catalogue,” she explains. “We try really hard to find ways to breathe new life into these evergreen songs.”

There’s no typical day for Barclay. Each writer she represents is at a different stage in his or her artist cycle –penning new material, or releasing new recordings, or touring. She spends as much time finding and developing new artists as she does brainstorming ways to get timeless songs re-interpreted. For songwriters, earning a living today is challenging at best. As it gets harder for them to make ends meet, Barclay’s role is even more important to “try to make sure the value of what they’re creating isn’t decimated.”

Playing live is still one of the best ways for songwriters to earn an income, and attending live shows is also one of the best ways for publishers to discover new artists. Many nights, Barclay is checking out artists in clubs around Toronto, and at festivals and conferences across the country, and around the world, seeking new songwriters for Warner Chappell. “For me, no matter what genre you’re in, ‘live’ matters,” she says. “If you can’t pull it off live, I’m not interested.”

Warner Chappell Music Canada has many domestic artists on its current and past roster. The company also recently entered into a deal with The Brothers Landreth’s label (Birthday Cake), thereby picking up many Western Canadian artists. (See sidebar for some of the company’s Canadian clients.)

Digital music, and the subsequent easy access to discovering new artists, has made the world smaller. Since Canada is such a diverse country, and people settle here from so many different cultures, Barclay isn’t just searching for Canadian acts she can bring to the rest of the world, but also for international artists that resonate domestically. A couple examples are the “King of Soca,” Machel Montano of Trinidad, and Patoranking, a Nigerian reggae dancehall/Afrobeat artist.

Artists and their managers send Barclay links every day to music, via every major social media platform. SOCAN, and others in the music industry, also tip her off to potential artists to whom  she “should” listen. When searching for new clients, whether Canadian or international, genre doesn’t matter to her. It’s all about the song.

“No matter who you talk to in the publishing business, we’re all passionate about good songs,” she says. “Creating a legacy of good songs is where it starts. You can write in whatever genre you want to, as long as the song is good, and connects with your audience.”