If you happen to sit in Erroll Layco’s barber chair and he asks, “What it’ll be today?” just say, “I’ll have a serving of your laid-back beats that make my head nod!”

The expression on the face of the Winnipeg-born rapper, who goes by E.GG (Elevation for the Greater Good), is sure to be priceless.

The pandemic has put a pause on his barbering, but luckily for those of us who love clever, introspective poetry riding soulful, jazzy music, it hasn’t railroaded his rhyming. On “Good Fortune,” his latest single, he emphasizes the importance of loyalty and urges us to “let go, live simply” and “ease up on the gas.”

“It was written to reflect the need to slow down and take a step back to appreciate the real good fortune in our lives, whether it’s family or friends,” says E.GG, who now lives in Toronto. He says he understands that “money is a tool that we need to fund our passions, but it shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all.”

The nocturnal-sounding track, featuring Infinit0, was produced by Matt Peters and Matt Schellenberg, two members of Winnipeg indie band Royal Canoe, who formed the production team deadmen last year. E.GG calls the collaboration “an awesome experience” and is convinced that artists shouldn’t be shy to work with musicians from other genres “just to catch a vibe. That allows us to create new sounds and cultivate fresh ideas.”

He says he was inspired to work with deadmen again after they produced “I Could Spend A Lifetime,” a song he cut with pop powerhouse Begonia last year. “I wanted to create an R&B-sounding tune, with a singing-rapping element for the hook and verses, so I pitched a few ideas to them,” he says, explaining the genesis of “Good Fortune.” E.GG says the instrumental deadmen sent him “hit the notes I envisioned. It was sombre whilst still carrying a hip-hop-R&B bop.”

“We started off by playing gigs with punk and hardcore bands”

According to the singer-songwriter, this spirit of cross-cultural collaboration is in full effect in his hometown. “There’s this willingness to go beyond what we know, because those of us who were born and raised in Winnipeg understand there is only so much to explore, but that in itself allows us to create these special memories,” says E.GG. “Winnipeg never fails to remind me how much I love everything about it. It’s a small city with a huge heart. You can’t replicate that type of energy.”

E.GG says he doesn’t feel that community vibe – what he calls “an interconnection within scenes” – in Toronto. “In Winnipeg, you’ll have folk artists collaborating with hip-hop artists or, in my case, when I was doing shows with our group 3Peat, we started off by playing gigs with punk and hardcore bands. It was refreshing being in environments that had nothing but love for any type of genre of music in that particular venue. The sense of community is strong.”

E.GG., who was born and raised in Winnipeg’s West end, says the first record he heard “that meant everything and still does” was Tupac’s “Dear Mama.” As a Filipino artist operating in a Black genre, E.GG has never felt excluded or been made to feel like a guest. “As someone growing up in the B-boy and the rap scenes, I saw hip-hop as something that promoted unity,” he tells us. “I felt, and still feel, a lot of love within this culture. In Winnipeg, it created a strong community and it’s forever growing.

“I’m still researching hip-hop’s history,” says EG.G excitedly. “I’m a student in this life. I want to understand more of the culture I fell in love with as a kid, so I can better represent it.”

When Kellie Loder was 14, their (Loder uses gender-neutral pronouns) older cousin died in a car accident. Inspired by a poem a friend had written in his honour, Loder decided to try setting the words to music – and quickly found their calling. “I realized I could write songs,” they say. “From there it snowballed into me being a songwriter. I knew early on that I felt so much joy from writing songs.”

Raised in a religious household in rural Newfoundland, Loder, 32, used their writing to make sense of their world, including their own sexuality. “Being a closeted Christian person who grew up in a very strict Christian home, it was my only outlet,” they say.

At the same time, however, Loder’s spiritual and musical worlds were deeply connected: as a two-year-old, they learned rhythm from banging on church pews during church services, and by 10 they were playing drums in the church band: “That’s basically where I learned to play music.”

“Whatever my music is, that’s what my life is”

So, when it came to a direction for their first records, Loder, who was by then studying nursing, turned to what they knew. “I listened to a lot of worship music, and I was passionate about my spirituality… I just wanted to sing about it,” they say. They were nominated as Female Artist of the Year at the 2010 MusicNL Awards, and as Gospel Artist of the Year in 2011, with their sophomore album, Imperfections & Directions, nominated for Contemporary Christian/Gospel Album of the Year at the 2012 JUNO Awards.

But after that success, what followed for Loder was a period of introspection – and a decision to step away from their music career for a period. “I was trying to find myself,” they say. “I did a lot of soul-searching and a lot of writing.”

In 2015, they headed back to school to study music performance, connecting with classmate Daniel Adams, an aspiring producer. The pair began collaborating, producing Loder’s song  “Boxes,” which won MusicNL’s Video of the Year in 2017. More recently, the duo worked together to produce Loder’s 2019 tune “Fearless,” which was used in the trailer for IMAX film Superpower Dogs, narrated by Captain America’s Chris Evans.

Now dividing their time between St. John’s and Toronto, Loder – who’s shared stages with Steven Page, Stephen Fearing and Alan Doyle – is excited about the possibility of doing more writing for film, as well as for other performers. And while still deeply spiritual, they’re also intent on establishing a career outside of the genre constraints of those early albums.

“The problem with identifying as a Christian artist is that it pigeonholed me to only reach a certain audience, and that was hard,” they say. Instead, Loder wants to focus on saying what they need to say with their music, and to avoid the labels – just as they’re doing with their gender identity.

In their 2018 tune “Molded Like a Monster,” for example, Loder explores the pain of being born into a world where you don’t feel you fit, and about what might happen if love were allowed to triumph over hate: Singin’ oh my goodness / We are more the same than different / Cut the noise / Oh crack the code / Break the mold.

For Loder, making music is still the most immediate way they have to make sense of their world.

“Whatever my music is, that’s what my life is; or what my life is, that’s what my music is,” they say with a laugh. “My truest form of art is just me and a guitar. I feel the most whole and alive when I sing songs like that, when I present my songs the way they were written. That’s when the true Kellie comes out.”

Born in Seattle, singer-songwriter Claire Ridgely grew up between Lausanne, Switzerland, and McLean, Virginia, before settling down in Montréal. The city’s fertile musical soil is allowing her to really bloom, these days.

Claire Ridgely In her apartment in the 514, which she shares with Clément Langlois-Légaré and her lover Adel Kazi – known collectively as the Pops & Poolboy duo – Ridgely is the contemporary incarnation of Aznavour’s La Bohème. Every moment of her existence hinges around songwriting and recording.

Her voice is recognizably soft yet limpid, with an impish timbre anchored in soul, which will no doubt earn her some flattering comparisons to Alessia Cara. In phase with Clay and Friends’ funk and swaying rhythms – a band in which Langlois-Légaré and Kazi also play – the adoptive Québecer is rooted in jazz, and all the genres that flow from it.

Yet, she cut her teeth on lyrical singing before reaching adulthood. “I admit what I’m doing today has more swing,” says Ridgely. “Classical music is quite straight… I think it’s because I didn’t want to be a classical singer. It took a really long time and a ton of songs, that I’ve never released, before I found my voice.”

Now in full control of her instrument and of its colours, Claire even goes so far as to flirt with hip-hop on the verses of “It’s All Over Now,” one of the songs on her EP, which was released on Jan. 29, 2021. She’s still singing, but the her flow and phrasing are on the edge of rap. “It was definitely a challenge. I really went for it,” she says. “That song wasn’t intended for me, initially, but my friend and co-writer Oren Lefkowitz, aka Oscar Louis, convinced me to try it. I dared, I gave everything I had in the recording booth, and I’m really happy with the result!”

But Ridgely isn’t a one-musical-style kind of girl. On “Take The Pain,” the third song on her debut project, she goes for baby-pink and powder-blue pop. At the end of that breakup song, sprinkled with positive musings and a reggae-ish flavour, she cheekily quotes the Spice Girls, singing a snippet of their monster hit, “Say You’ll Be There.” “To me, that band embodies creativity, strong women, good music and sisterhood,” she says.

“Girl Power,” the Spice Girls’ leitmotif back in the day, also permeates Ridgely’s budding career. Her ever so slightly acidic music and her lyrics bear witness to that. “Can We Be Friends?,” a single released ahead of her EP, is based on a conversation with a sexual predator who had followed her home. It was a highly confusing experience for the 12- or 13-year-old girl she was at the time, and she kept the trauma bottled up until she was able to exorcize it on a contagious pop song. “I wanted to create a contrast between dark lyrics about a specific moment that really happened to me, and a bouncy and energetic production,” she says. “I think it’s a little weird, ultimately, but it feels good to dance to a dark song.”

Whether we like it or not, all women evolve in the music industry encountering the many traps set up for them, a rather sordid backstage game that the second wave of the #MeToo movement brought to light during the summer of 2020 in La Belle Province. So in order to avoid having to go forward with fingers crossed, in the hopes of not crossing paths with the wrong people, Ridgley has decided to place both hands firmly on the steering wheel. After completing SOCAN Foundation’s TD Incubator for Creative Entrepreneurship, she looked in the direction of the American market.

“It’s totally part of my game plan, and it would be awesome, but I think you just need to go with the flow,” she says. “I have dreams and goals, but I can never forget that I’m here to make good music, whatever happens.”