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.
Souldia

 

“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.”


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Welcome to SOCAN’s Top 10 for 2017 – ten of the many SOCAN-member artists that we, and especially our A&R Department, believe will be among the ones to watch as they strongly emerge, or even break through, this year. In alphabetical order…

 

Banx & Ranx

Duo Banx & Ranx – Montrealers Soké and KNY Factory – has been releasing an eclectic blend of various Caribbean, electronic, urban and pop offerings all over the borderless internet since 2014. The duo was Initially focused on their composition and production work for other artists, and their remixing skills, and armed with an impressive viral factor – their remix of Bob Marley’s “Jammin’” has over 2 million views on YouTube! They were offered a record contract by the British label Parlophone, home of (Coldplay, Gorillaz, and David Guetta), and their first hybrid nuggets will be released throughout 2017 as singles. Banx & Ranx’s list of collaborators includes music-makers from the U.K., Jamaica and Montréal, and they intend to capitalize on Québec’s expertise in visual creativity, a crucial element in their colourful musical fusion. Top this off with their sustained production, songwriting and collaborations with some of the biggest international talent, and you have a recipe for a bright and sunny 2017, both for them, and for listeners like us.

 

Pierre-Philippe Côté

Pierre-Philippe Côté (a. k. a. Pilou) first hit the limelight as a singer, player and producer: a singer for Champion; a multi-instrumentalist for Ariane Moffatt, Jorane, Elisapie Isaac, and many others; a producer of albums for Marie-Jo Thério, Philippe Brach, David Giguère, and Sébastien Lacombe, to name but a few. He also released an album, The Origin, as an Anglophone singer-songwriter under his pseudonym, Peter Henry Phillips. That doesn’t mean he’ll neglect his own repertoire in 2017 – a new album is coming soon – but, increasingly, it’s TV and movie producers, and directors, who’ve become very interested in his scoring skills. American director, actor and screenwriter Quinn Shephard has tapped him to score her first feature-length movie (Blame, 2017), and we’ll also hear his work in Robin Aubert’s Les Affamés and Arnaud Brisebois’ short, Anime, which is set to tour the worldwide film festival circuit. On TV, he’ll be featured in the credits of the second season of Real Detective on Investigation Discovery, as well as in the third season of TV5’s Switch & Bitch. To top it all off, The Origin will be released by Universal, in France, in a deluxe edition.

J Gramm

This Grammy-nominated hip-hop producer contributed behind the scenes to D.R.A.M.’s huge viral hit “Broccoli” – now at more than 103 million YouTube views, and counting – as well as Wiz Khalifa’s “Incense,” Travis Scott’s “Upper Echelon” and many more, by the likes of Lil Yachty, Pusha T, 2 Chainz, and others. He also did the official re-mix for Lorde’s “Team.” A 22-year-old born and raised in Ottawa and now living in L.A., J. Gramm was signed in 2016 to a management deal with Scooter Braun (best known for managing Justin Bieber) and a publishing contract with BMG Rights Management in the U.S. He’s a beat-maker who’s definitely on the way up.

 

 

 

 

Kai

Electronic/pop singer-songwriter Kai’s song “I Choose Me” was licensed in a national campaign for First Choice Haircutters in 2011. She wrote “Sweet Talker” for Jessie J, and was featured on Adventure Club’s “Need Your Heart”, the Jack Ü (Diplo and Skrillex) project song “Mind” and rapper Childish Gambino’s “Crawl.” Kai – along with Australian producer Flume – was also featured on the song “Never Be Like You,” which hit No. 1 in Australia and went Top 20 in the U.S. It also topped the iTunes Electronic charts. Kai’s debut solo full-length album is expected in 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

Lydia Képinski

A familiar voice, a singular viewpoint, a nonchalant attitude, a friendly face. With such a combination of qualities, you’ve got to take heed, or risk missing something precious. That’s exactly what Lydia Képinski is. The singer-songwriter left the 2016 edition of the Festival international de la chanson de Granby with nine awards, including the SOCAN Best Song Award for her bittersweet earworm, “Apprendre à mentir” (“Learning to Lie”), and she’s commanded everyone’s attention ever since – most notably Bonsound, who’ve signed on to book her live concerts. Her first four-song EP, released last November on the Shivi Shivi imprint, was produced by ex-Hôtel Morphée member Blaise B. Léonard, and offers definitive proof that this musician (who also delves in visual arts) has a lot to offer. We’re addicted, and her first full-length album is slated for the fall of 2017.

 

 

Murda Beatz

Murda Beatz started making beats when he was 17, and achieved his first placement in only three months, Soulja Boy. By 22 years old, he had deftly networked his beats on social media, hustling his way into the eardrums of many respected hip-hop crews. The fast-rising, behind-the-scenes Beatz has contributed to Migos’ “Pipe It Up”, PARTYNEXTDOOR’s “Like That,” French Montana’s “No Shopping,” and Drake’s “With You.” With longtime expert hip-hop producer Boi1da as a mentor, Beatz is well on the way to becoming an irreplaceable contributor to some major hit songs. And he can craft a beat in less than 20 minutes, as he proved during SOCAN’s “Cooking Beats” showcase at the IMSTA FESTA tech conference in Toronto in 2016.

 

 

 


Jessie Reyez

Singer-songwriter Jessie Reyez initially dove into music when she was undergoing major heartbreak after the sudden end of a relationship. She was part of the Remix Project in Toronto, an arts academy that helps youth from low-income households. Daniel Daly, from DVSN, was a key early mentor, and before too long Reyez was featured on King Louie’s song “Living in the Sky.” Her video for the heartfelt, pain-exorcising, guitar-and-vocal song “Figures” has independently now reached more than 700,000 views on YouTube. She’s featured in SOCAN’s “Members to Millions” video, and her upcoming album, The Archives, will be a collection of music that draws inspiration from her entire life.

 

 

 

 

Sophie Rose

Sophie Rose is self-described as edgy pop with a touch of princess. At 16 years old, Sophie has written more than 300 songs, collaborated with some of the top writers and producers in pop music, and is currently signed to a publishing joint venture between hit songwriter Ester Dean and Dr. Luke’s Prescription Songs. She began writing songs at age 9, deeply inspired by Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars and Katy Perry. Sophie’s song “Friends Forever” was licensed by MasterCard for their Stand Up to Cancer campaign that aired during the 2015 and 2016 Major League Baseball season on ESPN. Her song “Attention” is the theme song for the AwesomenessTV original series Guidance, airing on go90. “Aces High,” a song co-written by Sophie, aired on Fox’s Empire this fall. Sophie uses her talents to help others by supporting charitable causes including ACT Today! Autism Care and Treatment and the American Red Cross.

 

 

SAFE

In nine months, rapper SAFE (a.k.a. Saif Musaad) went from uploading his first track on Soundcloud to selling out Toronto’s Mod Club. It’s an impressive feat for anyone, but especially for an artist who’s just 18 years old, and the rapper has already caught the biggest eyes and ears of the city. SAFE was invited to work in the OVO pop-up shop by Drake’s right-hand-man Oliver El-Khatib, which eventually led to “Don’t Worry” being featured on OVO Sound. In the fall of 2016, he released a single and a dark, gritty video, “Eternity,” that was “dedicated to the youth of Toronto that have been lost to incarceration and gang violence; and all others that have fallen victim to unruly environments.”

 

 

 

 

Gabrielle Shonk

We’ve already told you how much we love Gabrielle Shonk in the August 2016 issue of Paroles & Musique. She’s also received more than enthusiastic reaction to her first single, “Habit,” from such influential music publications as Noisey and Buzzfeed. This grandiose, soulful yet venomous ballad – addressed to a guy with decidedly bad habits – landed her numerous offers from local, national and international labels. So much so that her first self-produced album, that’s been ready to release for months now, will finally come out before summer 2017, if all goes according to plan. It’s an introspective, authentic, soul- and folk-tinged album written mostly in English, but with a few French songs sprinkled in. Shonk staunchly insisted on it, as a reflection of her reality, since this 28-year-old bilingual singer was born in the U.S. Get ready to be deeply moved.


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Isolation has its advantages.

Growing up in the tiny northern Mennonite hamlet of La Crete, Alberta, about 250 km south of the Northwest Territories border, Brad and Curtis Rempel were cut off from the type of media exposure the rest of us take for granted.

For example, you might be surprised to learn about the kind of music the brothers Rempel – known musically and professionally as High Valleydidn’t have on their radar.

“We’d never heard of Michael Jackson until we moved to Nashville,” admits Brad. “We’d never heard of Led Zeppelin, or Nirvana, or any of these other famous bands people think we’ve heard of.”

No “Stairway to Heaven”? No “Billie Jean”? No “Smells Like Teen Spirit”?

Ricky Skaggs was one of only three albums we were allowed to listen to when we were growing up,” says Brad, during a recent promotional trip to Toronto. “We didn’t have any radio or TV, so all we had was bluegrass music. So we’d heard of Ricky Skaggs, and Del McCoury, and Ralph Stanley, and stuff like that.”

It’s an interesting circumstance, because if you think you hear echoes of Mumford & Sons or The Lumineers in High Valley’s rollicking rhythms, spirited harmonies and stomping beats – on such songs as “Dear Life” and “Young Forever,” from the duo’s fifth and latest album, Dear Life – the Rempels claim they were Mumford before Mumford was Mumford.

“What we’re doing now is what we did for the first 15 years, but nobody heard it,” says Brad. “In brutal honesty, we tried to make that music for a couple years in Canada, but we felt pressured to fit in, and write and record music that sounded like normal country radio.

“What we’re doing now is what we did for the first 15 years, but nobody heard it.” – Brad Rempel of High Valley

High Valley“We bought our way out of our record deal two-and-a-half years ago, and finally we said, ‘OK, now we’re going to do what we always done.’ Then we started hearing Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and the Avett Brothers on pop radio, and I called Curtis and said, ‘Hey, they’re playing bluegrass music on pop radio. I wonder if they’re going to start playing it again on country radio soon.’

“So we went back and started making the same kind of music we’d always made.  If you listen to the record our family made when I was four years old – and I had two songs on it – in 1988, it would sound a lot more familiar with what we’re doing today than everything we made in between. It’s what we should have stuck with the whole time.”

While U.S. audiences are just beginning to discover High Valley, thanks to a deal inked with Atlantic/Warner Music Nashville – and the song “Make You Mine” (recorded with the duo’s childhood hero Ricky Skaggs) – Canadians have known the hit-making band since 2007, stretching back to their trio days when brother Bryan was a member. They scored three Top 20 hits with “Love You for a Long Time,” “Trying to Believe,” and their first Top 10, “Rescue You.”

Brad Rempel also won a 2016 SOCAN Country Music Award for “Make You Mine,” and has earned four SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards, all for topping the CMT Canada Countdown Chart: one in 2016 for “Come On Down,” co-written with Jared Crump (SESAC) and Frederick Wilhelm (BMI); two in 2015, for “Make You Mine” and “She’s with Me,” both co-written with Seth Mosley (SESAC) and Ben Stennis (BMI); and one in 2013, for “Let it Be Me,” co-written with Crump and Philip Barton (BMI).

After brother Bryan Rempel high-tailed it to spend more time with his family, Brad and Curtis had the latitude to return to their basics. “We figured we’d rather be at the front of a line of people doing this sound than the 25th-best version of the bro country sound, which is what we never fit into, although we almost pretended to fit into it for a couple of years,” Brad explains. “Our music has naturally been about faith, family and farming, those kind of things, and for me to be able to write old-school songs using the bluegrass language.”

“Rescue You” was also responsible for putting a solid songwriting team in place: Brad, his pal Stennis, and Grammy-nominated producer Mosley, also a member of Me in Motion, a Christian rock band. The trio is so comfortable with each other that their creative process is actually pretty enviable.

“Ben’s wife and his kids; me, my wife and our kids; and Seth, his wife and their child, we all go to the beach together, multiple times a year, to Pensacola Beach in Florida,” says Brad. “We’ll write during the day, go to the beach, come back and record. A lot of the lead vocals on Dear Life were me holding a mic in my hand in the beach house, singing it for the first time.

“We just wrote the song, I sang it, and that’s the vocal that’s on the record. So ‘Dear Life,’ ‘Don’t Stop,’ ‘Memory Making’ and ‘Young Forever’ were all recorded at the beach. We love writing that way. We love recording that way. Zero of the songs on this record that I had anything to do with were written on [Nashville’s] Music Row. I bought this old farmhouse in the country, so we worked at the farmhouse, or at Seth’s house in Franklin, Tennessee, or at the beach house.”

Brad describes the process, one in which he says suffers no pressure. “At the beach we have a makeshift studio,” he explains. “For several tracks on the record, Seth would literally bring a laptop, use Logic [recording software] and say, ‘I want to test my skills and only use the built-in skills that came with Logic on my laptop.’ I literally sang sitting on a chair, holding a studio mic in my hand for some of the songs. And we recorded some at the Castle, where Al Capone used to hang out in Tennessee.

“Warner was really cool,” Brad continues. “We signed with Warner Atlantic, and all of a sudden we had this budget where we could record anywhere we wanted to, which was mind-boggling. But we still went to Seth’s place to record it just like County Line, the last record. We’re cheap, stingy, Mennonite kids. We don’t really want to change anything.”

In terms of subject matter, Brad says he’s inspired by nostalgia. “It’s very, very easy for things to give me memories of my childhood,” he says. “It’s very important with me, with our kids, that everything we’re doing are things that we’ll remember in positive ways. What if I fly on this airplane and I never see them again? What are they going to remember? I think way too much about that stuff.

“So there’s a song called ‘Memory Making’ – that’s one of the beach songs. My wife Rebekah came up with the title for ‘Dear Life.’ I had come home and she said, ‘Man, our kids are growing up so fast – I feel we’re hanging on for dear life.’ And I said, ‘Man, that’s a great song title.’ We saved it for the next beach trip, and I told the guys, and we wrote it like a diary. Hopefully the album is like a diary: here’s what we’re thankful for; here’s what we’re scared of… and here’s what we’re proud of.”

With “Young Forever” recently placed on the ultra-popular video game Madden 2017 and ESPN picking it up for college basketball broadcasts – and “Make You Mine” denting the U.S. country charts – High Valley’s big-picture musical philosophy is offering something fresh and different.

“People call it Americana, and folk, and Mumford, and we just call it bluegrass, though we hired a very progressive producer who pulls it into a much more 2016 vibe,” says Brad. “Then we come at it with all the banjos, and mandolins, and acoustic instruments we can find. It’s like this tug of war where it ends up being the High Valley sound that we’re definitely proud of. It’s definitely different from normal country radio, for sure.”


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