Born in Saint-Raymond, Québec (a small town about an hour West of Québec City), where he did his entire primary education in English, Shawn Jobin moved to Sasktatoon in his mid-teens and finished his high school education… in French! “I’m always swimming upstream,” he says proudly.
And rather than letting it drag him down, the young man capitalized on his cultural singularity. After releasing his Tu m’auras pas EP, which addressed his province’s language issues, he won several awards during the Vue sur la relève festival in 2014 and, the next year, was named Best New Artist from Western Canada at the Gala des Prix Trille Or.
The Saskatoon native has covered a lot of ground since then. Far from trying to disown his 2013 production, the young rapper nonetheless wanted to formally distance himself during the creation of Éléphant. “I didn’t want to make a militant, moralistic rap album,” says Jobin. “I’ve been fighting for my rights as a Francophone, and to make a place for myself, every day for the last 10 years. I simply got to a point where I wanted my music to be about something else.”
That, however, was no small feat. With the help of his buddy Mario Lepage, of Saskatchewan indie-rock outfit Ponteix, Jobin explored countless sonic avenues during a period of about two years. “The process was long because we were learning as we went along,” he explains. “We’re good friends, and I think it had an impact on our creativity, because we like to constantly challenge ourselves. But above all, we wanted to allow ourselves to do whatever we pleased – since we’re just starting, and people don’t have any expectations.”
Tinged with jazz, soul, electronic and experimental music, Éléphant is surprising, for the laid-back and eclectic way in which it combines mysterious atmospheres and stunning beats, sometimes to the point of de-construction… even chaos.
At the centre of the album sits a pop-house exploration, “Danse ta vie,” the most convincing example of the duo’s signature open-mindedness. “It started out as a more brutish Beastie Boys-type number, but once we got to the studio, Sonny Black made us realize we could take it somewhere else,” says Jobin about the man who recorded, mixed and mastered the album. “We decided to stop that session and immediately went back to pre-production. That’s when we found the main melody.”
“I wanted to avoid preaching to people, instead staying in the realm of images and feelings.”
Quite the opposite of that song, an unsettling darkness emanates from the album’s first single, “Fou,” which is exacerbated by the rapper’s disillusioned flow and lyrics. Diagnosed with an anxiety disorder a few years ago, Jobin talks in the song about his anxiety. “It’s a song that may come across as a bit heavy on the surface, but once you consider it as part of a whole, you realize it’s about more than that,” he says. “As a matter of fact, the album exposes anxiety as a daily thing: some days, everything is trash, others everything is fine.”
There are some luminous moments throughout. If he points a finger at his mental illness issues by talking about “the elephant in the room,” Jobin also tries to tame it. “I felt it was my responsibility to deliver a message of hope along with my story in order to avoid coming across as ‘woe is me,’” he says. “I also wanted to avoid preaching to people, instead staying in the realm of images and feelings.”
Feeling like a huge weight has been lifted from his shoulders since the album release, Jobin still doubts and questions the way his work will be perceived. “I wonder if people will get it, or if they’ll think I’m using my issues to sound interesting,” he says. “One thing is clear to me, however: now I talk about it, but after that, I’m moving on. That’s the approach I hope to take throughout my career.”