With production credits for the likes of popular hip-hop artists like Young Thug, 2 Chainz, and the late Pop Smoke, among others, PittThaKid is one of Toronto’s fastest-rising producers / beat-makers / songwriters. Given the high profile of those placements, you’d think that being a knob-turner for some of the genre’s most successful artists was a long-term goal that Pitt The Kid had cherished since childhood, but it didn’t actually start out that way.

“I used to rap and I needed beats to rap over, in my later years of high school,” says PittThaKid. “So, you know, I didn’t want to pay for beats, and I’m, like, ‘Okay, let me just try to figure out how to make beats myself.’  And my rap career might have lasted a month, because after I started making beats, I just fell in love with it.”

Starting out with FL Studio, PittThaKid continued to work on his craft by entering beat battles with organizations like The Beat Academy, while he studied business at Laurier University. Eventually, his first big break came in 2016 when he landed a placement with Lloyd Banks of G-Unit fame.

“I had known this engineer out in New York, and he was sending in stuff for Banks,” says PittThaKid. “He asked if I had any records. And then he just texted me one day and said, ‘Hey, we got one.’ And then, you know, the song literally came out the next day,  it was on Halloween. And I remember sitting in my room, just playing the track back, like, at least 50 times, man, ‘cause I couldn’t believe that he was on my beat.”

Since then, PittThaKid’s musical style has changed from the straight-up boom-bap sound he favoured in those days. “I think what I mainly try to do is just, you know, blend the old school with the new school, you know, as far as it’s kind of blending, but across genres,” he says. “I usually like to take the vintage influences and mix it with the modern stuff. I guess that’s kind of what I’m known for.”

PittThaKid has a penchant for incorporating guitars into his sound, which often arises from a collaborative approach. “A lot of the times, if I can, I’m in the studio with other producers,” he says. “So it’s kind of, like, I start an idea, then someone might come in and add, some keys, or some different instruments, might lay the drums down. And then a lot of the times, too, I create samples, so I’ll create the musical idea. And then I’ll e-mail it off to the producer.”

Sometimes these musical ideas take on a life of their own. PittThaKid sent off a musical idea that featured a chopped-up kids choir sample to multi-platinum producer B-Rackz, who brought it to the attention of high-profile Atlanta producer Mike Will Made It.

“[B-Rackz] ended up using something that I sent him with Mike Will, and then they made the whole beat, and then you had 2 Chainz, Schoolboy Q, and Eearz ended up hopping on [“Kill ‘Em With Success”], and it just became like one big banger,” says PittThaKid. “And then I found out that [it]  was going to be [in the] movie Creed 2 [soundtrack] with Michael B. Jordan. So you know, I ended up going to the theatre and seeing my name on the credits, which is pretty crazy. So definitely a blessing.”

But the song that’s had the biggest effect on Pitt The Kid’s career is “Boy Back,” from Atlanta MC Young Thug’s So Much Fun album, featuring Nav, another Toronto representative. For PittThaKid, the song represents more than a beat; it’s a reflection of his career arc to date.

“I think it’s a bit of a full-circle moment,” he says. “”Cause early in my career, I tried to do a lot of work in Toronto, and it just wasn’t really bringing me to where I needed to be,” he says. “And I realized that I needed to expand my horizons a little bit. So back at the end of 2018, I started, like, really focusing on the States, trying to work with as many American artists as I can. And then, I said to myself, ‘Once I gained a lot of traction in the States, then I’m going to come back to Toronto,’ and show love. So it kind of happened for me… It’s my biggest placement in the States, Nav’s on it, they’re shooting the video in Toronto.”

True to his vow to show love to Toronto, now that he’s found some success, PittThaKid is willing to work with emerging producers who e-mail him directly at collabwithpitt@gmail.com. “A  lot of the time when I was coming up, I didn’t really have an opportunity from people to get my music heard,” says PittThaKid. ”And anyone wants to work with me, or send me stuff, I’m listening all the time for new stuff. You know, I just want to give out opportunities.”

Watch out: it’s contagious. From the very first notes of the One Step EP, you know you’re on to something. It sounds like Michael Jackson’s back, with his famous choruses and his dancing swagger. The Foundation, the collective of seven musicians behind the song, propels this hit-to-be with a solid dose of urban soul. We re-discover the inexorably visceral, climatic voices of Frédéric Varre and singer Mel Pacifico.

 Fredy V and The Foundation“This [six-track] EP is a transition for me as a producer,” says Fredy Varre. “Self-isolation forced me to improve in that field. With The Foundation, our goal is to pick up the torch [of ‘70s funk and soul] and take it into the future.”

“Your Own Way” is just as thrilling, and could just as well have been recorded by the British combo Brand New Heavies, with its lush vocal harmonies and driving beats. “It Could Be,” although it doesn’t exactly re-invent the wheel, is irresistibly pumping, while “Funghi” is a techno-house instrumental that still fits perfectly well with the other songs on the project.

“Mel and I sometimes choose to not include vocals on a track,” says Varre. “Funghi takes us to another dimension, and it’s a bit of a moment to take a breath.”

“45” is One Step’s other big hit: featuring the line “You make me spin like a 45,” it has everything an earworm requires. “Gimme The Check” is a heavy, two-speed funk song that’s as dirty as it is brilliantly assembled. Varre and his production partner Caulder Nash have succeeded in finding the right balance of songs, each assembled down to the smallest detail.

“For me this EP is also a transition from solo artist to band member,” says Varre. “I felt like experiencing what it’s like to compose a song alongside six other people.” The experiment took a year. The band’s improvisations are recorded, then tweaked to perfection.

“We knew we wanted songs you can dance to, not slow stuff,” says Varre. “Something festive and inclusive, that makes you vibe and dance. We also wanted to have international potential, with a touch of nostalgia, and a modern essence. Knowing these musicians are going to collect royalties, now that they’re SOCAN members, that’s what gets me going. We try to create music that’s original, to create jobs, because music is not an eternal vehicle!”

The new EP finds Fredy V.  following up It Takes a Village, his first one, released in 2017, and Varsity Vol. 1 (2014). Many enjoyed his work with Kalmunity, singer Shay Lia, and Kallitechnis, all Montréal-bred R&B projects, not to mention the homage to Prince at Métropolis in 2016, alongside The Brooks, where Varre burned the place down with his falsetto interpretation of “I Wanna Be Your Lover.”

“The Brooks are like big brothers,” he says. “Alan Pater, their singer, is my main mentor, he’s my Jedi master! The Foundation and The Brooks are basically like the yin and yang of Québec R&B. We’re more in the Prince vibe, whereas they’re more classic.”

Fredy V. and The Foundation have adapted their true passion to the techniques and sounds of modern studios. Therein lies their strength. And the result is a project that could only have grown in the fertile ground of a cosmopolitan city like Montréal.

As for the urge to play his new songs onstage, Varre is epically realistic, and he truly impressed viewers – with only four musicians to back him up – during the recent virtual edition of the Montréal International Jazz Festival.

“I’m like a boxer who just wants to fight,” he says. “My dream right now is to get back onstage with this project. The world is getting smaller and smaller, and we have to go global, I want to move funk and soul forward. The Foundation is bigger than the sum of its parts. We represent a brand, a movement. A village.”

He’s been living in Montréal for more than half of his existence, but it’s still in Kinshasa that his imagination as a writer is rooted. At the frontier between Congolese rhumba and French-filtered house music, the singer-songwriter Pierre Kwenders has become a master at blurring all kinds of boundaries.

PIerre Kwenders

Photo: Diego Urbina

“What I’m proudest of is my history,” he sings on “Ego,” a song he created alongside French beat-maker Clément Bazin, where he straightforwardly admits to being in love with himself, albeit with a healthy dose of humour, and even self-deprecation. He’s part of an elite group of writers who look well beyond heartbreak as a theme. He much favours original, and often surprising, content.

Notwithstanding the apparently unwavering confidence the propels his alter ego, the Congo-born artist began his career relatively late in life. José Louis Modabi (his actual name) was already 16 years old when he took the full measure of his vocation. He’d just moved to Québec at the time.

“I’m from a family of music lovers and ambiance creators, especially on my mother’s side,” says Kwenders. “We love playing guitar, we have a joie de vivre and we like to party. When there’s music and drinks, everyone is happy. It was always part of my life, but it’s only when I came to Canada that I discovered I, too, could make music after I discovered my own voice, thanks to choral singing. That’s when I found the ambition to make a living from it, which I’m doing now.”

He’s still a member of the vocal group that trained him – a Catholic choir whose sound falls somewhere between opera and African gospel – and he hooked up with his colleagues for a recording that should be released in 2021. “I recently sang with them on a song that will be on my next album,” says Kwenders. “It’s a different way of working with one’s voice, but I like challenging myself. I obviously don’t have the voice of a Céline Dion, or a Whitney Houston, but I like having fun with whatever voice I have.”

Congolese Above All

In many ways, Kwenders is a cultural ambassador. He’s gained critical acclaim, and he even managed to get nominated to the Polaris short list in 2018, not to mention the fact that he’s introduced Afrobeat to many households in La Belle Province and the rest of Canada. And that’s on top of his work as a DJ in the Moonshine collective, although that role was put on hold due to the ongoing pandemic.

But his role as a singer hasn’t been affected. His desire to make us move and groove is omnipresent in his music nowadays, especially when he teams up with someone like Clément Bazin. “The music on this EP (Classe Tendresse) is very close to the identity of Pierre Kwenders the DJ,” he says. “I think I’d reached that stage where I needed to unify those two universes, which weren’t that far apart to begin with. I’m trying to solidify the bridge between them.”

Kwenders also plans, in the near future, to develop his presence on the Congolese market. “There was a time when Congo was kind of like the United States of Africa,” he says. “Music is a huge part of the culture there, and there are tons of artists. I’m not saying I can’t find my place there, but it’s not as important as artists who are already there. I tread slowly.”

Forever attached to his country of origin, the co-writer of “Classe Tendresse” even gives a nod to Koffi Olomidé on that tender song. “It’s a song from a wonderful album titled Noblesse oblige that I really recommend to anyone who wants to explore Congolese rhumba,” says Kwenders. “It’s a classic… He and Lokua Kanza are artists that truly inspire me. I hope to make them proud, one way or another.”