“Pas t’m’entir, j’m’en foutais de la musique/J’suis gêné, je déteste l’attention” (“Not gonna lie, I didn’t give a damn about music / I’m shy, I hate being the centre of attention”). Shreez drops this lyric on “Plankton,” the hard-hitting single from his first solo album, On frap. With those two lines, the Laval-born rapper aptly summarizes his personality, as if to say we’ll have to work really hard to approach him. “I’m a shy person, not very sociable,” he confirms over the phone. “But I’m better with interviews than I used to be. I’ve gotten used to them.”
His family, however, is still unaccustomed to seeing him in front of the camera, or onstage. “They still have a hard time believing it,” he says. “To them, it’s a complete mystery how I’m able to get onstage, because I was so shy as a kid. I just got used to it, after awhile, that’s all.”
In other words, Shreez is now a rapper only out of habit. Raised on the sounds of East Coast rap (Nas and Wu-Tang, most notably), the Québécois artist, of Haitian descent, was a fan of Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane, and 50 Cent as a teen, before moving on to other artists such as Chief Keef and the whole Chicago Drill scene – a darker and more raw version of trap.
But far from spending his evenings at the park, freestyling – as most classic hip-hop personal histories go – Shreez had a marked interest for everything computer-related. His friends Young Mic, Le Ice, and, later, Tizzo, would change the course of his life. “I decided to have a go at it after hanging out with them in the studio and watching them sing,” he says. “But just for fun, as a hobby.”
In 2018, Shreez was by Tizzo’s side when the latter’s career exploded thanks to “Ça pue, On fouetté” (the winning song of the French component of the 2019 SOCAN Songwriting Prize), “Pour un cheque,” and other hits from their collaborative mixtapes 51tr4p Fr4p50 and Fouette Jean-Baptiste, were released a few weeks apart.
“We were roommates at the time, on Henri-Bourassa [a main boulevard in the city of Montréal North, where a sizable portion of the Haitian community lives,” says Shreez. “We got evicted after three months because we were too noisy. The guys would make beats until five in the morning,” he recalls, bemused.
And that’s where things started to change. Almost overnight, Shreez stopped not giving a damn about music. “When I saw that we were having success, it gave me confidence,” he says. “The confidence to believe that I could earn a living that way. I wouldn’t have forged on otherwise. I don’t want to waste my time.”
The ambitious 26-year-old rapper knows how to be concise, whether he’s being interviewed or he’s writing verses. “Mets-toi où tu veux/ Mais jamais dans mon chemin/ Ton opinion, garde-la pour toi/ Comme Benjamin, j’m’en bats les reins” (“Stand where you want / But never in my way / Keep your opinion to yourself / Like Benjamin, I couldn’t care less”) he raps on “Partie,” an insider’s reference to another Montréal rapper, Benjamin Dokey (“Bat les reins”).
It’s this self-sufficient state of mind that guided the artist throughout the creation of On Frap. “I’m pig-headed,” he says. “I do as I please, but I’m not an idiot either. If there’s a piece of advice that I think makes sense, I’ll abide by it… But it’s always my decision, in the end.”
Productions by Alain, P.C., DiceFly, RKT Beat, Ruffsound, and Alex DaGr8 helped him make well-informed decisions. “It all starts from the beats,” says Shreez. “I absolutely do not force anything: I listen to the beats that people send me and if I don’t get, like, two or three bars to pop into my mind during that first listen, I move on to the next one,” adds the artist, who recorded the lion’s share of his album in the legendary studio of sound engineer M-Press Live, in Montréal’s Saint-Michel neighbourhood.
It’s to him that we owe the fact of taking Shreez out of his comfort zone on “Rose,” one of the album’s more melodious songs. “M-Press constantly wants me to sing,” he says, laughing. “It wasn’t something natural for me, before, because Tizzo and I would always pick beats that were on the trap tip.”
But his influences go well beyond trap and drill, and he’s a huge fan of artists that are at the crossroads of rap and R&B, like Tory Lanez. An ever-present acoustic guitar on Alain’s compositions (“Rose,” “J’en dis,” “Caramel”) brings an original twist to his new songs. “It wasn’t even intentional!” he says. “Alain sent me a bunch of beats, and it’s only later that I realized there was a guitar on basically all of the ones I had selected.”
Shreez’s evolution between On frap and La vie gratuite, his first solo mixtape, released in January 2019, is remarkable. A lot less dark and raw than its predecessor, fraught with references to illicit trades and computer fraud, the new album tackles more approachable, or at the very least less niche, themes.
The intro of “LVG 2Q” (an acronym standing for “La vie gratuite 2e quart”) acts as a bridge between the two projects. “J’avais des CVV pis des logs/Jamais eu les mains dans la drogue” (“I had CVVs and logs / Never had my hands in drugs”) Shreez raps. as if to dispel any doubts about his past. “That intro is a transition,” he says. “I don’t do that anymore, I no longer earn a living that way. I rap, now,” he insists. “There’s the old Shreez and the new Shreez.”
“Né pour briller, j’l’ai réalisé récemment/Si j’ai changé de voix, c’est pas juste pour moi, c’est pour mes parents” (“Born to shine, I realized recently / If my voice has changed, it’s not just for me, but for my parents”) he sings on the following song, “Diamants.” “My whole family listens to my music, so I try to make my lyrics less raw,” says Shreez. “I’m also doing it for my kid, even though he doesn’t understand my lyrics yet.”
On frap marks an important turn in Shreez’s life. Besides his fondness for “kush,” which he celebrates on the powerful “Loud,” there seems to be only one element common to the old and new versions of Shreez: hard work.
“On frap is just like ‘On fouette,’ it applies to everyone,” he says. “It means working hard. Whether you have a 9-to-5 office job, you’re a fraudster, or a stripper, you have to frap,” he explains, about his iconic slang expression. “Now that I do music, I work non-stop. While we’re doing this interview, my boy is coming to pick me up and take me to the studio. I’ll be there tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that… I never take a break.”
Let’s call it an essential service.