Eight years is an eternity in hip-hop. It’s even longer in Canadian hip-hop. And yet D-Sisive, a self-identified “43-year-old Canadian dad,” is on a quest to become “the most famous-est rapper in the world.” If that wasn’t audacious enough, the artist born Derek Christoff claims he can do it in three months’ time.

Never mind that Christoff announced that goal… three months ago. The point, for the Polaris-longlisted and JUNO-nominated rapper, was to set a goal that could kickstart the creativity of an artist who once dropped two albums a year between 2008 and 2014. In 2009, he won SOCAN’s Echo Songwriting Prize (now without the “Echo” in its name)  for his song “Nobody With a Notepad,” co-written with Rob “Muneshine” Bakker, from a shortlist that included Joel Plaskett, Land of Talk, and Timber Timbre. He’s likely the only rapper to have had both Ron Sexsmith and Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham guest on his records. Now D-Sisive is on track to release two EPs a month, while posting podcasts and vlogs, and hosting monthly Zoom listening sessions with fans, all part of a subscription project he calls Knoblich Gardens.

D-Sisive, Knoblich Gardens, Episode 1

Click on the image to play the video for Episode 1 of Knoblich Gardens

Despite his bold, WWE-kayfabe-style boasts, Christoff is realistic. “Music has changed completely in the last eight years,” he says. “At my peak, I was in the conversation: not that it means anything, but I was in the CBC lists and Vice articles about Canadian rap. Now: it’s like I was never there. Everything is different: from the sound of the music, to sub-genres of hip-hop, even down to people who work in the industry. I feel like a brand-new artist starting at zero.”

He’s taken an extended break before. An acclaimed battle rapper in the late ’90s, he laid low for six years while battling depression. When he returned in 2008, it coincided with a slowly evolving addiction to Percocets, which he’d been prescribed after a brutal bout with mononucleosis in 2005. The son of an alcoholic, he didn’t drink or do any kind of drugs before then, not even painkillers. Like many people, he didn’t realize that Percocets are not unlike synthetic heroin. He soon learned that his siblings were also using, and he now had access to a cheap, steady supply.

“You’d think my siblings would try and talk me out of it, but it turned into an enabling situation,” says Christoff. “I could have said no. But my life was turning dark. My dad was getting sicker, his addiction was getting worse, and these pills became an escape for me. Things slowly progressed. It wasn’t like I dove in really quick.”

The addiction and other life events caught up to him after 2014’s Raging Bull EP. He checked into rehab in 2017 and was determined to start recording again. His doctor advised him to slow down, and not risk a relapse. Instead, Christoff took a factory job with a 5:00 a.m. shift and focused on family life as the father of three daughters. It wasn’t until October of 2022, during a weekend getaway with his wife, that she advised him to put up or shut up: “I don’t want to hear your ideas anymore!” she told him. “I want to hear you rap.” Two days later, he posted a video to social media announcing the ambition of the Knoblich Gardens project. Fifteen minutes later he got a message from Muneshine, his longtime collaborator. “So, uh, yeah, I just saw your post. You’re fucking insane. But let’s do this.” Three weeks later, the first EP dropped.

Around that time, he posted a before-and-after picture on Instagram: on the left, he was a drug-addled disaster from years past; on the right, he was clean, had lost weight, and was the proud father of twins. He then got a DM from a fan, whom he’d met on University Avenue in Toronto the day he checked himself into rehab in 2017. The fan wrote, “Your music helped me get through dark times and shitty moments in my life. I’d always wanted to meet you. As we were exchanging words on the street that day, all I could think was, ‘I don’t think he’s going to live much longer.’ I wanted so badly to take a picture with you, but I couldn’t do it, because I didn’t want that to be the last memory of someone I admired so much.”

D-Sisive, Knoblich Gardens, Episode 2

Click on the image to play video for Episode 2 of Knoblich Gardens

Now that he’s back in the game, he’s heard his share of naysaying. “I have friends who say, ‘No one wants to hear someone rap at your age.’ And I’m, like, ‘Where is that proven?’” He cites the third-act career of El-P, the 48-year-old who now headlines arenas as half of Run the Jewels. “El-P has proven that age doesn’t matter, as long as you make amazing shit that people can relate to. Maybe young kids don’t want to hear old rappers if they’re not delivering anything they want to hear.”

Despite likely industry perception, there’s an audience of older hip-hop fans who appreciate someone with life experience: 43-year-old rap fans exist, so why can’t a 43-year-old rapper succeed? “I don’t know who created this narrative that you turn 40 and you don’t listen to music anymore, you just sit in silence and stare at the wall all day,” says Christoff. “I also have 23-year-old people who listen to me, and I know that because I get messages from them – but they have to go digging to find me.”

On one of his recent podcasts, Christoff said, “I haven’t made so many mistakes – I’ve made every mistake.” Asked about that directly, he laughs and says, “That’s my life. That will be on my tombstone. As long as you learn from those mistakes, and don’t make them again.”

It seems appropriate that our conversation with Alex Cuba comes exactly one year and one day after the acclaimed singer-songwriter from Smithers, BC, won his first-ever Grammy Award. That was in the Best Latin Pop Performance category, for the album Mendo, and came after three earlier nominations.

“I found out [that I won the Grammy] in the most Canadian way possible, driving home in a snowstorm,” says Cuba. “I’d just played two symphony concerts in the Okanagan, beautiful shows that made me feel properly back onstage after lockdowns. Some areas lacked cell service, so my U.S. publicist couldn’t reach me. When he finally did, he said ‘I need a quote. You just won a Grammy!’”

Cuba is no stranger to awards. He’s previously won four Latin Grammys, including a Best New Artist nod in 2010, along with two JUNO Awards, and, most recently, a 2022 SOCAN Hagood Hardy Award.

Alex Cuba, Quiero Quedarme

Click on the image to play the Alex Cuba video “Quiero Quedarme”

He’s certainly not resting on his laurels now, with multiple projects on the go. His first release of 2023 is the track “Quiero Quedarme,” the third advance single from an EP arriving later in the year.

“I see this project as a perfect marriage between my organic vibe and the electronic elements,” says Cuba. “During the pandemic, as I was building the album that won a Grammy, I started writing these songs I saw as having an electronic soul feel.

“It’s a completely solo record, with one voice, one guitar, and at least 20 songs. This is connected to my recent solo tour, which was so inspiring. I’m doing this because I’m concentrating on songwriting.  Everything you hear now is so hook-focused that the art of writing songs, with bridges that feel natural, seems to be becoming rare. For this acoustic album I already have seven pieces recorded. It will be primarily Spanish, as I want it to be very honest and soulful, and that’s easier with my mother language.

“One of the most important things to me in music is melody,” he continues. “A melody can contain huge amounts of information, and it’s capable of making people feel something. I believe that’s why this solo Canadian tour I just finished was such a success. It was just me onstage, and people were crying, laughing, having a blast.

“I believe melodies are the gift in music. You can spend three months, or years, writing lyrics to a melody that you have. Most people can do that, but the melody is the true gift, the one that comes from you don’t know where.”

“My fans stay because I keep them guessing where I’ll go next”

Cuba continues to challenge himself musically, as is showcased on the stylistic variety of his catalogue – one that features Latin, soul, pop, and rock elements. “My biggest pride in music is that in eight albums, no song of mine sounds like another,” he says. “My fans stay because I keep them guessing where I’ll go next. That’s a healthy thing for a musician and songwriter. If you only do one kind of music and you get your fans used to that, then when you want to do something different, you’re trapped. I’m so happy to have that freedom creatively.”

Unlike so many peers, he has reason to feel grateful for the pandemic. Unable to maintain his usual busy touring schedule, he took the opportunity to build a home studio, which has provided a huge boost in his creativity.

“I recorded Mendo, the Grammy-winning album, in my living room,” he says, “but I’ve now turned our garage in the back into a studio. It has a stable temperature, so my instruments stay in tune. I get lost in there, and that’s so inspiring.”

Aaron Miguel, La Aguja

Click on the image to play the video of Aaron Miguel’s “La Aguja”

This new facility gives Cuba the opportunity to pursue some of the production work he’s now being offered. “What I’m proudest about with my Grammy is that it says ‘Alex Cuba – Artist, Producer, Engineer,’ so it feels like three Grammys in one. The morning after I won, I was flooded with texts and e-mails from artists wanting me to produce them. I’m looking forward to spending more time at home working on productions, while being careful that it never feels like a job.”

Some ongoing production work has been with Aarón Miguel, an artist Cuba signed to his record label, Caracol Records. “I’m also finishing up music for Mi Tierra- Homeland, an audio book by David Lindes, an American friend of mine,” says Cuba. “It’s a brilliant book about migration trauma, with songs to the stories, and I’m adding instrumentation to, and producing, those.”

He’s also excited about yet another future project. “You’re the first person to know about this, and it’s called Voices of My Family. I’m recording songs with members of my family, and I see this as a potential mini-documentary, where I travel to Cuba to record and film more.

“I hope I can keep borrowing from the infinite universe of music. I believe music is the biggest gift we have.”

Edmonton-based, Calgary-raised Mariel Buckley’s second full-length album, Everywhere I Used to Be, is a huge critical hit, with CBC Music calling her “an essential new voice”; The Edmonton Journal calling the album “a tremendous showcase of Buckley’s talents”; and Americana UK calling it “uncompromising, honest stuff… exceptional and sincere.” Buckley has even received acclaim from another Alberta-raised artist, the iconic kd lang, who notably said, “this kid has a big future.”

Mariel Buckley, "Driving Around"

Click on the image to play the video for “Driving Around”

But Buckley is no stranger to success. Her first album, Driving in the Dark, won her almost $102,000 for a first-place finish in an Alberta-wide radio station contest sponsored by New Country FM, WILD 953 (CKWD-FM) and Alberta Music, and garnered recognition from No Depression, CBC Music, and PopMatters.

Despite her accomplishments, the lyrics on Everywhere I Used to Be express feelings of failure, and the futility of trying.

Buying cocaine outside the Circle K
Who cares if it kills me anyway?
What’s the point
In staying clean for Christmas?

 The singer-songwriter’s words are true to her experiences, and she doesn’t wish the kind of hardships she’s endured on anyone. But with self-reflection and time, Buckley has turned things around. “I know it had a little bit to do with turning 30 a couple of years ago,” she says. “I think I just felt, like, a little bit of a shift within myself, wanting to change some habits and look at some stuff that had been tough for me. So, I think it was pretty organic, you know, in the way we change as we get older.”

Buckley’s evolving sense of self-respect also extends to her romantic relationships. For instance, in the song “Everywhere I Used to Be,” she recognizes that she deserves better, singing, “I have never spoken to anyone / The way that you speak to me.” Then, in the chorus, she says goodbye, and drives away knowing it’s the right thing to do.

She similarly hits the road to escape in “Driving Around,” singing about the freedom found after being cooped up inside for days with her queer date, because it’s too dangerous for them to be out in the open. “There’s just so many people that have to live with a part of themselves that’s secret,” she says. “They haven’t been raised in a place where it’s okay to be themselves, and they don’t feel fully safe to be themselves. I felt like that for so much of my life. I just hope I can reach these folks and let them know there’s no rush, and the world is here for you whenever.”

Whether driving away from trouble, or driving around to keep from getting into trouble, Buckley is most comfortable on the highway. “I love being on the road,” she says. “It’s my favourite place to be. It’s where I get most of my inspiration.”

Mariel Buckley, Shooting at the Moon

Click on the image to play the video for “Shooting at the Moon”

When she happens to be at home, Buckley enjoys settling into a writing routine that has her waking around 6:00 a.m., going for a lengthy walk, and writing for several hours. “I love writing when I can get into a rhythm. That’s the best feeling ever,” she says, though such experience is elusive. “It happens about twice a year that I get cookin’ on some stuff. I love that feeling of, sort of, experiencing what you’re trying to say, and it starts pouring out of you a little bit.”

Despite Buckley’s personal growth and professional success, she still feels like an outsider. “I do think it’s a hard thing to shake,” she says. “And while I’d like to shake some of the negative pieces of that, like feeling the world’s out to get ya, there’s also a huge piece of it that’s very motivating, and I think very healthy for the kind of art that I want to make.” As she herself sings, in “Shooting at the Moon,” “I wanna be the underdog / Up against the wind.”

No matter how seemingly bright Buckley’s future, it’s important for her to remain faithful to that ethos. “I hope I don’t ever lose that spirit,” she says. “I think it’s important to be true to yourself, and it’s important to me to tell stories of people that are underrepresented. So, I just hope to continue to do that – no matter what people are saying.”