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’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.”
The 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.”
Thanks 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.”