The expression we’ve been using the most over the last year certainly was “OMG.” While becoming an incubator for unborn talents, the pandemic has also spurred existing talents to take things to the next level. That’s certainly true of  Laurence Nerbonne, who’s quietly releasing OMG, a French-language album whose English title proclaims what Laurence Nerbonne, and all Québec women, are or should be.

“The album’s final cut, ‘Queens,’ is an important song for me because it plainly states how all these women can take power, and how there’s nobody around to take it back from them,” says Nerbonne. A member of Hôtel Morphée for nearly 15 years, she embarked on her new mission as soon as she left that band in 2015. By 2016, she’d already grown solo roots with her debut album. “Since then, I allowed my style to change so I could increasingly become who I had always wanted to be,” she says. “It’s taken me all these years to learn, but OMG is the first album I’m able to control all the way to the final product.” Ultimately, everything in it is a reflection of her.

From start to finish in the making of an album, creativity may take a variety of forms and rhythms. In Nerbonne’s experience, inspiration can be something that you build on, or something that just happens.

“Inspiration is often described as a flash of light that happens in the middle of the night and comes out of nowhere, and it’s true,” she says. “However, that kind of inspiration only hits you once in a blue moon. The rest of the time, I keep working on the same piece, the same beat and the same chorus for days on end. I re-write, I start over again, I refine. You can seldom say you’re really done.”

The isolation dictated by the pandemic, and an intimate desire to take creative control, were both factors in the singer-songwriter’s desire to bring her pop music closer to rap’s traditional purview. “Upbeat female rap, sung in French, made by women, is something you never hear, and I don’t understand why,” says Nerbonne. “Recently, a number of industry people have lamented that all you hear on commercial radio are the same artists. Female music rarely exceeds 30 percent of the programming, and when it does, it’s always the same stuff. If male artists can have commercial success with American-style rap, I don’t see why what I’m doing shouldn’t work.”

So far, Nerbonne has been commercially successful, her songs have been played on radio, but she’s now decided to bring a sound that’s more in tune with who she really is. “There are two different types of voices on my album,” she says. “First, there are the voices of the characters I play. I want to be funny, and that shows in my lines. In “Première ministre,“ one can truly see that I’ve created this ambitious woman who can push open any door. Nothing can prevent her from going where she wants, and it may just be that, for once, the scandals surrounding her aren’t going to destroy her. We’re sick of seeing all these male characters who are always successful, and who never have to face the consequences of their actions. I also wanted to leave room for party songs… we need them a lot.”

The second tone of voice we hear on the album is Nerbonne’s own. It’s more forward and more serious. It’s obviously her own voice, the voice of a woman who has a lot to say about the way women in general, and women in music in particular, are being treated. “I wanted people to feel the empowerment, obviously,” she says. “I felt it was important for people to perceive a change. I dare to address topics that only men usually talk about in public.”

The day the stage really opens up to women unconditionally, women’s issues and feminism will be allowed to be addressed in all music genres. Nerbonne will be one of the women who have re-invented themselves at the institutions’ request. In embracing trap, rap, and R&B, in expressing herself openly, she’s nurturing a landscape that we all think should be more diversified. In the end, she’ll have done this for herself, and for a larger goal: representing women’s reality. “If I can be one female voice among all the ones that are being heard, that will be enough for me,” she says. “My goal is not to be the only one.”

The door is open.

He goes by the artist alias Konrad OldMoney and his music company is entitled Vintage Currency, but there’s nothing retro or old-school about the creative process of Konrad Abramowicz.

From his current Vancouver base, the Polish-born producer/composer/songwriter tells Words & Music, “I’m all about staying on top of new technology and new movements we have in music. Nowadays, I’ve been really diving into AI-guided music. I’ll probably end up putting myself out of a job,” he laughs. “I just need a way as a businessman to own a piece of it, and then I’ll be fine – ‘OK computer, you think it up and I’ll take the credit!’”

Over the past decade, OldMoney has made a serious splash, placing his music in internationally renowned video games (including many EA Sports titles), films, TV series, and commercials. He also produces other artists and releases his own music in various forms, resulting in a well-balanced current career that’s both prolific and highly successful.

A recent coup has been contributing music to the highly-anticipated video game Cyberpunk 2077 (regardless of the its ultimate reception by gamers). ”I have 27 placements on the game, and I believe that makes me the highest-placed producer on the project,” says OldMoney. “Getting that gig was interesting. I had just signed on with my Vancouver agency, Core Agency, and at an L.A. meeting we had, they said, ‘There’s a Cyberpunk thing happening.’ The way I pitched was to take the one game trailer online and remove all the sound. I redid all the foley and sound effects myself, so it’d have a nice bed, then re-composed the music in two different ways, and submitted it.”

To boost his chances, OldMoney seriously researched the music of the game’s three core composers, Marcin Przybyłowicz, Paul Leonard Morgan, and P.T Adamczyk. “I noticed there are a lot of edgy, harsher sounds in their work, so I wanted to ensure my mixing style and choice of sounds complemented that. You’re doing that out of respect for what they do, but also because you’re competitive. That extra five percent of energy exponentially increases your chances.”

OldMoney has also dominated on two of the game’s associated radio stations, 30 Principales (Latin) and The Dirge (hip-hop).

“The Cyberpunk project was fun, but very labour-intensive,” he says. “I made sure to document the process, so when the game dropped, I released behind-the-scenes videos for every song I contributed, and used that to launch my YouTube channel. There are 27 high-quality videos, of six to nine minutes each, on there.”

“I see myself as a Swiss army knife, genre-wise”

A potent weapon in OldMoney’s arsenal is his proficiency in a wide number of genres. Old-school ‘90s hip-hop was his first passion, but he quickly expanded his range.

“After moving to Canada in 1993, I became a voracious consumer of cultural influences,” he recalls. I wanted to learn all kinds of music from all over the world. At the beginning of my career, people doubted my acumen. They think if you do four different genres you can’t be that great at any of them, but then they’d listen to the music and give me a chance.”

“One of my biggest assets in the studio is that I can go in there with punk, dancehall, Korean, or Latin artists. I see myself as a Swiss army knife, genre-wise.”

That versatility helped him score spots in last year’s Justin Bieber YouTube documentary series Seasons. “I have 10 songs placed on that. I’ve done lots of both pop music and tropical crossover, so that was perfect for me.”

OldMoney continues to collaborate with other artists, including fellow British Columbians Johnny4Graves and Cerbeus. As well as working together on Cyberpunk 2077, OldMoney and Graves recently recorded “We Got The Spin,” selected as the opening theme for Beyblade, a famed Japanese animated TV series with a large global following.

Since 2018, OldMoney has carved out time from his busy schedule for a solo project, Single Friend. He describes its focus as “lo-fi underground hip-hop, music to chill out or study to,” and the material he’s placed on Spotify has generated millions of plays per month.

“Single Friend is basically a passion project for me, so I make a very concentrated effort on it – so I’m not neglecting my other focuses,” he says. “My multi-media music for videogames, movies, TV, and commercials is still the majority of my work. Still, Single Friend is on my mind constantly, as it’s a rather weird reflection of who I am. I do it on my downtime, so instead of riding my motorbike I’ll spend an hour on it.”

Over his two-decade-long career, OldMoney has worked on projects with such notables as Future, The Roots, Run The Jewels, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and Illmind (in the acclaimed band Smokey Robotic). He singles out his interaction with RZA, of Wu-Tang Clan, as a life-changer.

“I programmed Wu-Tang-inspired music for RZA’s line of Boombotix speakers,” he says. “I told him I’d spent my formative years idolizing what he’d done. He advised me, ‘Get out there more, travel more, keep re-defining things, and push forward.’ That was super-inspirational.”

Montréal-based rapper and singer Hua Li couldn’t have hoped for a better timing: she released her EP Yellow Crane in late November of 2020, a project she intended as “a love letter to Wuhan,” the capital of the province of Hubei, in east-central China. That’s where her roots are, and where her grandmother and part of her mother’s family still live. It’s a city of more than 10 million inhabitants that was, until February 2020, largely unknown by a majority of our planet. It’s a city that, a year later, is in need of a little TLC…

Hua LiYes, that city. The alleged Ground Zero of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not exactly a city’s ideal way of becoming known to the entire world. “It’s quite a coincidence, because I’d decided to write songs about Wuhan before the pandemic,” says the songwriter. “I took that idea with me during my residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity last March, almost a year ago. Except by March 2020, everyone had heard about Wuhan…”

Li was in Banff when the first lockdown happened. “Suddenly, all that was going on completely changed the perspective of my project,” she says. “I initially envisioned an EP that would tell the city’s history, with plenty of facts, so that people could learn a few things about the place it has in China – it’s a major city, it’s huge! – despite the fact that no one knows about it. But because of everything that was going on, I decided I would instead write a love letter to the city, almost like a promotional campaign to counter everything bad that was being said about Wuhan in the wake of this virus.”

While Li wrote three of the four gorgeous songs on Yellow Crane, the closing one, “Electronic Girl,” is a cover, originally performed by a virtually-unknown math-rock band called Chinese Football. “I had a vague idea that I wanted to do a cover of a band or artist from Wuhan on this project,” she says, because that city is considered to be the cradle of Chinese punk, the only city in the nation to have such a musical scene.

“I asked members of my family to go out and scout songs for me, but I wasn’t thrilled by their suggestions,” says Li. “I did know that there’s a real indie rock scene in Wuhan – obviously, it’s not a scene that my family follows! I started by exploring shoegaze bands from Bejing – shoegaze is huge there! – and one thing leading to another, I found Chinese Football.”

Hua Li’s electronic neo-R&B/hip-hop groove and Chinese Football’s math-rock may seem like chalk and cheese, and she readily admits not having much interest for that branch of prog-rock. But, she says, “I was really intrigued by this song. I really like indie rock, which is partly where I came from, and it’s one of the reasons why I really felt at home in Montréal” – which is where she wrote and recorded (with the help of producer and multi-instrumentalist Alexander Thibault) the songs on Dynasty, her debut album, released in September 2019 on Next Door Records.

Long story short, her version of “Electronic Girl,” which she sings in Mandarin, is formidable, as are the cool rap track “Water ,” the highly melodic “Four More Days” (a “quarantine love song”), and “Dream Narratives in Modern China.” Yellow Crane is the prefect coda to Dynasty, a record that, thanks to the pandemic, didn’t enjoy the life it deserves on stage.

“I won’t lie, the last year was very hard for me,” says Li. “The majority of my family still lives in Wuhan, so the situation freaked me out a lot more than the people around me here… As to whether what I’ve experienced this past year will be expressed in my new songs, I would say that my opinions and convictions have always been reflected in my work, even if not really explicitly.

“I write things that are always very personal to me, and often about human relationships – not necessarily love, but rather, the role I play in all my relationships with others. And in this respect, I think, everything I’ve been able to experience eventually emerges. Everything that happens around me finds its way into my music, especially since 2020 should have been a busy year of concerts and tours for me. I had to re-invent myself – isn’t that the word of the year! – after being forced to self-isolate, so I wrote a ton of new material. And because there was so much anxiety and uncertainty in the air, it felt good to be able to channel it all into creation.” Hua Li hopes to release a new album in early 2022.