Nate Husser doesn’t like talking for no reason. Voluble on the mic, tireless onstage, the 26-year-old rapper is, paradoxically, discreet in an interview context. “I concentrate entirely on music,” he says unapologetically.
We meet in a café on Montréal’s Sainte-Catherine Street, a location he documents with a barely contained, explosive rage on his blazing rap-rock album Catherine. The Montréal-born artist talks with iron-clad precision and not a trace of confession. “I have very mixed feelings about that street. It’s both light and dark,” says the young man who grew up “10 minutes’walk” from the heart of downtown.
Explicit, but not in-your-face, the violence that imbues the dark lyrics of Catherine is rooted in the tumultuous journey of his life. The rough experiences that young Nate Husser survived in the city’s Little Burgundy neighbourhood have marked him deeply. “I had to grow up much faster than most people,” he says. “I witnessed a lot of stuff on the streets. I’ve seen violence, corruption, people turning against each other… And that was before I was a teen,” he says, with a rare openness.
The stories of young Husser would become the canvas for things to come. To survive between school, work and shenanigans – “grindin’ and hustlin’” – the young man who lived in his mom’s basement turned to his passion for rap. At the tail end of his teens, he met his future Posterz partners, Joey Sherrett and Kris The $pirit. “Our paths crossed in a Little Burgundy community centre. There was a studio at the bottom of the stairs,” says.
Between 2013 and 2016, The Posterz recorded three EPs that were critically acclaimed in Québec, and found promising traction abroad. Satisfied with his band’s œuvre, Husser felt it was time to pick up the pace and let his creativity run free on a solo project. Launched last fall on the Cult Nation imprint, and lauded by several major media outlets such as Noisey and The Source, Geto Rock for the Youth is emblematic of the contradictions that inhabit its creator: aloof yet incisive; scattered, yet dense.
Peppered with references to the turn of the century – think Eminem and American nu metal – the music on this EP is somewhat nostalgic. “I wasn’t exposed to hip-hop radio stations when I was a kid,” says Husser. “What I was exposed to was mainly pop, rock, and alternative. It all stayed with me, and influenced my music.” Husser tapped his producer friends Joey Sherrett, Mike Shabb, Maky Lavender, Ajust and Jay Century for his first solo recording, which has racked up more than 300,000 streams on Spotify so far.
An devotee of freestyle – “Paid to Party,” for example, is an entirely improvised song – Nate Husser speaks frankly when he’s on the mic. Without going so far as to label his style “protest rap,” he readily admits the importance of being authentic, hip-hop’s ultimate value. “I’d rather inform people of my reality than brag or try to look cool,” says Husser. “I believe a song should always have a message, regardless of the message’s weight or depth. If your topic is popping molly, you need to incarnate it and tell it like it is, with authenticity. The same goes for politics.”
This sincere approach is the driving force of Like It Doesn’t Hurt, a collaboration with label-mate Charlotte Cardin, whose striking video has already garnered more than five million plays. Husser didn’t have to look very far to write this piece about a tortuous and failing relationship. “It’s totally based on my own life experience, because that’s easy for me to do,” he says. “I’ve lived [through] a lot of totally crazy situations and, in any case, I’m no good at imagining things.”
At the other end of the spectrum, a track like “KillaKop” is just as striking, with its intense, straight-to-the point narrative, one that leaves no doubt about his past history of violence. “In 2014, I was facing two charges of assault against a police officer,” says Husser. “For a year-and-a-half, I had to go back and forth to court for absolutely nothing. Nothing but lies and bullshit! So I figured, if I’m gonna end up behind bars, might as well have actually done something wrong.”
Thankfully, such dark thoughts have since fled the rapper’s mind. As a matter of fact, he’s after a new, more wholesome lifestyle now. “I’m trying to be more normal, calmer,” he says. “Obviously, it has an impact on my lyrics, because for the first time in my life, I’m happy.”
With upcoming, even more potentially bright projects on the horizon, Husser wants to prove his relevance and his worth beyond Montréal’s rap scene. “I don’t want people to see me just as a rapper, but as a complete artist,” says the man who won the Anglophone Artist of the Year Award at the last Dynastie Gala, a ceremony that celebrates Québec’s Black personalities. “Rap is something I can do, but I can also do a lot of other things, like writing and producing songs.”