Few Québec artists can boast a creative pace as intense as Souldia’s. Since the fall of 2015, the emblematic rapper from Limoilou (a popular Québec City neighbourhood) has launched five albums: two as a band member (Les poètes maudits with Facekché and Fils de l’anarchie with Northsiderz), one as a duo (Amsterdam with Rymz), and two solo ones (a compilation of b-sides titled Les archives vol. 3 and his official fourth album, Sacrifice).
Over 10,000 copies later, the 31-year-old artist is happy, but exhausted, by the year that’s just ended. “I didn’t have a single weekend off,” says Souldia. “I’d get offstage for one album’s tour, and embark on the next one the day after… Let’s just say I was swamped. The coolest part, though, is to see my audience grow. I’ve met a lot of death metal fans with face tattoos at my concerts… I think they dig the aggressive aspect of my music.”
And yet, Sacrifice is less incisive than 2014’s explosive Krime Grave. Created with renowned hip hop producers such as Gary Wide, Ruffsound, Ajust, Hotbox and DJ Manifest, the tracks are mellower, and the rapper’s flow, often augmented by a strong Auto-Tune, is more melodic.
“The atmosphere is a lot more relaxed,” Souldia concedes, “but my lyrics are just as hard. Hard, but not as violent, even though I have trauma relating to that. I launched my previous album with a very intense video about a bank robbery. I’ve grown up a bit and I asked myself what kind of musical legacy I want to leave my future kids. And I don’t want to leave them only dark videos with AK-47s in them.”
So, instead of painting everything black, Souldia has decided to seek the light by talking about his desire for freedom (“Corbeau”), his new relationship (“Skeletor”) and his love of being on stage (“Overdose”). Obviously, he also settles some scores (“La liste noire” [“The Blacklist”]) and re-visits some of the darker moments of his life, namely once when he made his mother cry “between two clients buying coke over the phone” on the powerful “Inoubliable” (”Unforgettable’).
“I’ve matured a bit, but I’ll never go soft,” says Souldia. “That small core of violence will be inside me until I die. All I can do from now on is making sure it comes out in a good way. I try to stay away from overly-depressing lyrics, because in the end, I write to give people some feelings. I don’t want to wrap them in a bubble that makes them want to hang themselves.”
But despite this new level of consciousness, Kevin St-Laurent knows all too well that his alter ego Souldia will always evolve in the margins of the Québec music industry. Ignored by most media, shunned by commercial radio, and kept well away of TV studios, his music is doomed to shine only on the Internet, most notably on Spotify and YouTube – where its success is quite enviable. “At this point, I couldn’t care less about the mainstream. With social networks, I’ve become my own media outlet,” says the artist, whose Facebook page has more than 34,000 followers.
“At this point, I couldn’t care less about the mainstream. With social networks, I’ve become my own media outlet.”
The effect is that the information is much more centralized, and a lot less skewed by the sensationalism that is the lot of the few generalist media of his hometown. Released from jail earlier this decade, after a three-year stint for possession of a loaded firearm, Souldia was the object of dubious press coverage for many years after that.
“When I came out, the first show I gave was at the Imperial, and half of the crowd were cops with shields and dogs,” he says. “It drew a lot of journalists that were looking to give me bad press. Sometimes, it was completely ridiculous… Like on the day after an album launch, they would write stories saying that everything went just fine, after all,” he remembers, with a grin.
“It’s a lot better, nowadays. The police show up at my launch for a few minutes and they leave,” he says. “But when I’m being interviewed, they always start by asking me about my stint in the joint. I don’t mind talking about it, but I’ve recently decided to remove that info from my official bio. I want to put the music forward.”
Active for the past 15 years on the Québec City rap scene, Souldia boasts an increasingly impressive musical vocabulary. This fourth album, an assessment of his tortuous past, is a testament to the major sacrifices he’s had to make after choosing a life in music, following a visit to his deepest, darkest places.
“There are years where I would’ve made a lot more money with crime than with rap,” Souldia confides. “It was really hard to not give in, to stay the course, but I soldiered on and now it’s starting to pay off. It’s a long and exhausting process, but I can now say that it’s possible.”