The Québec hip-hop scene is bustling with fresh talent. Here are three who’ll undoubtedly attract the attention of both audience and media in 2018.

FouKi

FouKi, QuietMikeFouKi’s reputation has soared considerably since he released his first mixtape Plato Hess (a phonetic twist on Plateau-Est, a hip Montréal neighbourhood) in November of 2016. Thanks to the success of his reggae-tinged track “Gayé,” which garnered more than 120,000 views on YouTube, the rapper quickly regitered on the radar of pre-eminent hip-hop label 7ième Ciel, and a firm offer rapidly followed.

For the 21-year-old rapper, the label proffered the deal at just the right moment, because it pushed him to surpass himself artistically. Instinctive but not thoughtless, his writing is constantly refined, and increasingly allows him to navigate more easily “between being serious and being facetious,” between deeper and then more playful subject matter. “I write happy lyrics that make you wanna vibe, and more introspective ones,” he says about this album, where he notably touches upon artistic concerns, and his take on male-female relations.

It’s worth pointing out that FouKi has a major ally by his side: producer QuietMike, who will used this first album to renew his signature organic hip-hop vibe, largely based on piano and acoustic guitar samples. “I sample the Québécois repertoire more and more, because it’s easier to get a clearance down the road,” says FouKi. “Now that we’re signed to a label, we can’t just steal music like we used to,” admits the composer who, early in his career, had extensively pilfered his parents’ record collection, with a particular fondness for the soundtrack to the movie Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain. “Working with samples is still what I prefer, because there’s always an original texture that you can’t just reproduce with a synth.”

The proximity and complicity that exists between the two long-time friends is what matters most. FouKi writes mainly at home, after improvising bits and pieces while walking about, or cooking pizzas at work. But he readily admits being unable to create a song if he hasn’t heard the music first. “Everything starts with the beat,” he says. “Initially, I test-drive some flows, I’ll rap over it using just onomatopoeia, and then I come up with a meaning and lyrics. Ultimately, when I rap something stupid, it’s really just because the onomatopoeia has taken over,” says the young man, who’s recently been included in the Top 10 list of songwriters to watch by Radio-Canada’s premier literary program, Plus on est de fous, plus on lit!. “Otherwise, there are some lyrics that I work on more than others, sometimes for weeks. They’re like dictation with holes.”

 

 

Marie-Gold

Marie-GoldThe year 2018 starts with a bang for rapper/producer Marie-Gold and her quartet, Bad Nylon. Her third mulit-song release, on Jan. 12, 2018, was highly anticipated on the local rap scene since her first single, “Rappa,” which announced a slightly heavier musical direction than on the previous two EPs, from 2015. The new EP, by Marie-Gold – and her accomplices Zoz, Kayiri and Audrey Bélanger – offers nine tracks with laser-sharp focus on dreams of riches, female friendships and professional ambition.

But Marie-Gold is aware that such theme-based, multi-headed creations have their limits. That’s partly why she’ll also present her audience with a different, more intimate side of herself later this year. “When I started, I wanted Québec’s rap scene to have its girl band,” she says, “but now I feel more like making music that represents me. I want to establish myself as an artist, I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a girl rapper,” she says, adding that her solo career is about to start in the coming months with the release of videos and singles.

The 25-year-old Montréaler will use this new beginning to delve into themes “that dig a little deeper,” like her relationship with money and love. “It’s partly due to the stuff I listen to nowadays, stuff like Brockhampton and a lot of French rap,” says Marie-Gold. “I don’t really listen to joke rap, and I want people to sincerely relate to what I say.”

In order to prop up this more personal and thorough artistic approach, Marie-Gold will leave Bad Nylon’s typical party mood and old-school influences behind. Motivated by a desire to widen her horizons, the composer is currently exploring the rich universe of jazz by collaborating with, among other things, a trumpet player.

Inspiration usually arrives in her home studio, and she allows herself creative freedom. “I often try to reproduce the vibe of a song I really like and, ultimately, I end up going somewhere completely different,” she says. “Once I have my beat down, I write my verse in one go, according to the emotion I want to express.”

Rowjay

RowjayThanks to his “international” French accent, his highly articulated flow, and his relentless production work for rising stars of the Québec hip-hop – such as Freakey! and Doomx (of Planet Giza fame) – Rowjay is one of the few rappers in the province to have found some success in France. For the time being, it’s still nascent, but recent metrics on his Soundcloud page are telling: the vast majority of the tens of thousands of plays he’s garnered are from Francophone Europe.

Launched early in January of 2018, his fourth project – and first EP – Hors catégorie moves even further away from his earlier satirical approach. A fan of Roi Heenok in his teens, Rowjay has now distanced himself from this caricatured influence to build a character of his own, with a distinctive set of references and unique discourse. Clearly present in the lyrics of his third album, Carnaval de finesse, launched at the tail end of 2016, the rapper’s motivational message has now taken on a slightly edgier dimension this time around.

“It’s actually more of a call to revolt,” says Rowjay. “Each of the last three or four years, we’ve worked on a project, getting better and better at it, establishing ourselves more and more,” says the rapper, while decrying the media under-exposure he gets in Québec compared to the numerous mini-tours of France that keep raking it in.

Hence the concept on Hors catégorie. Comfortably sitting between two fires, Rowjay doesn’t identify with the street rap scene of artists like Enima or Izzy-S, any more than he does to that of the more “mainstream” scene of Loud and Alaclair Ensemble. “I feel like no one does the kind of music I do in Québec,” says the Italian Montréaler, who describes his style as “St-Léo trap”, in reference to Saint-Léonard, a predominantly Italian borough on the northeastern part of the island of Montréal.

To this end, the contribution of his talented producer friends is indispensable. “I can’t write a song if I haven’t heard the beat. It’s just necessary for me,” says Rowjay, adding that the creative process for this EP was especially complex, given that his collaborators were all busy on other projects. “I’m constantly brainstorming, thinking of new concepts. I’m equally influenced by video games like Mario Odyssey and Zelda as I am by fashion design, for example.”


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Galaxie“It’s fun to make people dance—it’s a welcome change from head-banging,” says songwriter, singer, guitarist and producer Olivier Langevin, the mastermind behind Galaxie. When it burst onto the scene in 2002, the band – then called Galaxie 500 – was dubbed a stoner-rock outfit; but no longer, as the bombshell album Super Lynx Deluxe confirms. It’s the boldest of the Galaxie albums so far, a collection of infectious grooves that tips its hat to The Beastie Boys, Rage Against the Machine, and other such alternative music heroes of the ’90s.

Langevin will provide many a revelation during our long conversation in a second-hand vinyl record store in Montréal’s hip Plateau neighbourhood – where the axeman dug up an old LP of instrumental improvisations by Robert Fripp, Let the Power Fall, released in 1981, and containing a preface written in Montréal’s own Château Versailles hotel!

Here’s another shocking revelation: he’s a Rihanna fan.  “And I’ve always been a huge Prince fan,” he adds. “As a matter of fact, even if it’s not obvious, there are influences of James Brown [on the new album].” The Godfather of Soul is even quoted in album’s title track, in which James Brown and La danse à Saint-Dilon are juxtaposed in the same sentence, to underscore the urge to dance.

“I’ve always loved pop hits,” says Langevin. “I’m like a collector of hits that get on people’s nerves. Just like Rihanna’s songs – those tracks are superbly done! Then, my trip is to bring that pop nature into the Galaxie universe. It’s a universe with strict parameters, and by that I mean there are things I could never do with that band. Yet it’s very much a playground.”

And, oh what fun can be had in that playground! Over the course of 33 minutes and 10 tracks, Langevin and his partners in crime – Pierre Fortin on drums, François Lafontaine on keys, Karin Pion on back vocals, Fred Fortin on bass and Jonathan Bigras on percussion – explore new territories. Here, Galaxie’s usual shaggy “rawk” goes nuts, and flirts with techno and tribal rhythms, most notably in a collaboration with percussionist El Hadj Diouf, who guests on two of the album’s most exhilarating tracks.

Langevin agrees: “Super Lynx Deluxe is the boldest sonic leap forward that band has accomplished so far,” he says. As far as exploring new musical avenues, he says, “It was mostly with the integration of electronic sounds on Tigre et Diesel [2011] that we settled that. Some of our fans really had a bad trip when we came out with that album, by far our poppiest. But it was totally intentional. We had a blast from just daring to do it, and taking the measure of people’s reactions. From that point on, everything changed for us. All of a sudden, we could do whatever we pleased.” As long as it fits within the “galactic parameters,” of course. “I want Galaxie to make you want to Olivier Langevin of Galaxiedance and to be fun for us to play live,” he says.

Langevin says “we” a lot when talking about Galaxie, despite the fact that it’s his project, and he’s the main songwriter. When working on a new album, he’ll jot down a few sentences, come up with a beat, hit on a guitar riff, and record a minute-long demo in order to avoid, as he puts it, “demo-itis.” “It’s a disease that afflicts a lot of singer-songwriters when they get to the studio to record their album,” he says. “You can re-record it as many times as you want, there’s always something f___ing magical about the demo – pardon my language. Always something great in it that, even though you record it in the best possible conditions and with a ton of the best musicians around, and even though the session couldn’t go any better, there’s always that little something on that demo that you just can’t quite re-capture in the studio.” That’s why Langevin also keeps his demos as short as possible: to avoid the symptoms of “demo-itis.”

“I’ll come up with the songs, the melodies, and then we get together to flesh them out with arrangements,” Langevin says. “The groove will come first, then the melody – on the demos, I sing the melody without lyrics, like a lot of people do. As for the lyrics, I very often write without thinking of a specific song or melody, and later I’ll dip into my lyrics bank to match them to a song. Otherwise, most of the time, I write purely for the rhythm and the groove.

“On the first two albums in particular, I would come up with song skeletons and then call upon my hard core, as I like to call them, Frank [Lafontaine], Pierre Fortin and Pierre Girard on sound engineering. From that stage on, I give the guys a lot of latitude, so that they can come up with arrangement ideas, textures, even though it may take the song somewhere else entirely. “We work in a very instinctive way, but we always know when a song is on the right track, and once that happens, we dive right in. That way we do things is both very abstract and extremely precise.. I don’t know how to explain it any better…”

Alongside his hard core, Langevin plays ping-pong with ideas, because “we need to surprise ourselves, we need it to remain stimulating.” On Super Lynx Deluxe, the end result is striking: the guitars are juicy as ever and, this time around, drenched in the very particular flavour of the flange guitar effect, a bit like a wave coming to shore. “We dug up this old effect that happens to be ‘in’ at the moment,” Langevin admits. “We often record in blocks of three or four days. I think we recorded a lot of flanged guitars!”

This effect injects a dose of tension in the rhythmic, nearly techno tracks that Galaxie offers this time, and they turn into purely tribal affairs once Diouf’s djembe is added on top of it all. Another new addition to the Galaxie sound comes from the two opening tracks, reminiscent of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” (from 1994’s Ill Communication) and its energy, edgy guitars and crunchy drums.

“I played that so much as a teen,” says Langevin. “‘Sabotage,’ ‘Check Your Head.’ It’s something I wanted to do for a long time, and hadn’t done yet. For a while, there, in the studio, we embarked on quite a hip-hop buzz, and then I said to myself: OK, this is when I get that out of my system! The ‘Sabotage’ sound is exactly what I wanted, that kind of hip-hop beat with fuzzed drums; that’s exactly where my mind was at.

“You know, Galaxie has always been a mix of dance music and blues. The songs on the new album may sound like they’ve been worked into something akin to techno, but when you boil it down, we play those songs as if we were an old blues trio. It reminds me of the Rolling Stones’ disco phase, you know, like ‘Miss You’? They were great, hooky songs, but it’s Mick’s thing, you can tell that Keith wasn’t into it so much… It’s disco, yet the guys play as they’ve always played. It’s like there’s something shady going behind those songs…”

Super Lynx Deluxe will be launched on Jan. 31, 2018, at Cabaret La Tulipe in Montréal.

The album comes out Feb. 2, 2018.


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Émile Proulx-Cloutier“I’m looking for the movie within the song,” says Émile Proulx-Cloutier, author, composer, singer, filmmaker… and let’s stop there, because otherwise, his resumé will fill the whole screen. On this polar Sunday morning, we meet at a café not to talk about his television, documentary, or stage play work, but about his songs – and the movies hidden within them. Twelve in total, featured on his sophomore album Marée Haute, launched in November of 2017.

“How do you tell that story?” says the creative powerhouse. “Does it need an army of brass, or just a simple electro beat? Waves of strings, or all kinds of instruments no one has ever heard about? That’s the question. To me, music must serve the story.”

The story first, the sonic cosmetics after. Each of these 12 new compositions is a universe unto itself, with a beginning, an end, and a message. Music underscores the verb, and the singer’s breath has to be perfectly calibrated to the story. On Marée Haute, the music is very diverse from one song to the next, yet the album as a whole is cohesive. As theatre people say, he achieves a unity of tone. Boileau summarized the concept in L’Art poétique:  “Qu’en un lieu, qu’en un jour, un seul fait accompli/tienne jusqu’à la fin le théâtre rempli.” (“In this place, on this day, one thing achieved / A theatre full until the end.”)

The artist was 26 when everything gelled between his cinema studies, his acting career, and his love of song. “All of a sudden,” says Proulx-Cloutier, “I realized that telling a story, enjoying words, caressing the keys of a piano, getting on stage to play characters and situations… Wait! Songs are the crossroads [of all that]. Above all, they’re a way for me to do all the things I love.”

Like writing, for one. For Proulx-Cloutier, a song is written in the same fashion as a movie script. “Do you know what screenwriters do when they don’t know how to close a scene?” he asks rhetorically. “They write moments down on Post-Its and play around with them. That’s what I did with ‘Retrouvailles.’ I wrote that song on cue cards. Thirty-six sentences. And then I found out how to tell that story.”

As above, each song is a universe unto itself. Memories from high school resurface on “Retrouvailles” (“Reunion”). The wear and tear of the working life on the body and soul of a labourer on “Mon Dos” (“My Back”). Illness and a father’s last breath on “Derniers mots” (“Last Words”). And his adaptation of Marc Gélinas’ and Gilles Richer’s “Mommy, Daddy”, a classic of Pauline Julien’s repertoire, and of Dominique Michel’s before her. It becomes even more relevant when Proux-Cloutier’s character in the song asks why native languages no longer exist in the mouths of First Nations communities.

It was obvious on his first album, and still is on Marée Haute, that Proulx-Cloutier sings for a reason. His songs are messages. “My fun side comes out on stage; I do say a lot of silly things!” he says. “Not to be entertaining, but as a diversion, to make people open to the tragic revelation of the next song. It keeps the pendulum swinging.”

In Proulx-Cloutier’s creative process, words usually come first. Ideas, pell-mell, he explains, smartphone in hand. “On here, the notepad app contains about 600 entries,” he says. “I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to write. Anywhere, I open a page and start writing about what’s going on around me. At all times, songs are ripped from real life.”

It’s a life spent between theatre stages, film sets, and his family. Albums need a deadline to come to life; having been invited to be the spokesperson of Saguenay’s Regard sur le court métrage festival in March, 2017, he promised the organizers that he’d present a unique concert composed “of 80 percent new material,”  he says. “I told them I would break in 10 songs.” It was the proverbial kick in the ass that he needed, spurring him to go through the 600 notes buried on his cellphone. “I had to finish the album!” he says.

Fours years after entrusting Philippe Brault with finding the best way to sing his films on Aimer les monstres, Proulx-Cloutier tapped composer, arranger, violinist and producer Guido del Fabbro for his second album. “When I met Guido, I first told him, ‘I want to have a hand on the wheel, but not both,’” he says. It was his way of giving the producer all the latitude he wanted to dress up his images and melodies.

“I had been such an interventionist on the first album, always looking for justness, that I did not give Philippe the latitude he needed,” says Proulx-Cloutier. “This time around, I gave it my all in the compositions, but I left the production and orchestration entirely to him.” Compared to his first album, Proulx-Cloutier says he freed himself a lot when it came to the harmonic progressions of the compositions on Marée Haute. “I had fun with form,” he says, “and I allowed purely musical, instrumental, moments to exist. It gives the arranger the space they need to be free. I’m constantly looking for stories and images, but this time, I embraced the idea that music can also tell the story.

“Songs,” he adds, “are the places where everything is possible at minimal cost. Doing a stage play means asking the people to come, there’s a lot involved. Gilles Vigneault said songs are like a pocket mirror. Something you carry with you, and something in which you can ‘scope’ yourself with, whenever you feel like it. It’s a portable art form. Not a minor art, but an art of miniatures. It’s miniature cinéma.”


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