TronelAfter a decade spent as a member of the satirical rap outfit Les Anticipateurs, Tronel has dropped a rather stunning debut album.

The album might have well been titled Tronel’s Angels or Troneldorado, but in the end, it’s TronelDiablo that came out on top after an inspired brainstorm. “Some people wanted to crucify and burn Les Anticipateurs at the stake. That’s what the title references, but also the fact that it’s a relatively dark album,” says the Montréal-based rapper, now also co-founder of the Ultra Nova Club label. “It just felt appropriate for this transition.”

The transition in question is the one he embarked on two years ago when the Anticipateurs project was kiboshed after a final split with Monak, the other main rapper in the group – which had risen to iconic fame for its effective, vulgar pastiche of American gangsta rap.

“I started working on tracks and I figured Monak would hop on them,” says Tronel. “And we’d also talked about going solo with our respective characters, but he was less and less involved. So, at a certain point, after working on tracks on my own, I realized I needed to take my art further – and that meant I could drop the character. Let’s be honest: that character was pretty burdensome. It was getting quite boring. I’d milked that joke for all it had.”

The Anticipateurs “joke” began in the early 2010s with a mixtape titled Deep dans l’game. It was the following year, thanks to their coked-up anthem “SAPOUD,” that the band from St-Joseph-de-Sorel (according to its own foundational story, at least) took off on the Québec rap scene – which, at the time, was experiencing a renaissance. Over the next decade, Anticipateurs dropped a dozen musical projects, flush with tracks that were essentially all about sex, drugs, or hockey – and often all three at once.

As the group evolved, it did become slightly more serious, but the basic intention always was a playful one. Tronel and Monak’s larger-than-life characters, whose lyrics mixed humor, Québec cultural references, and gratuitous profanity, became the group’s creative engines.

“There’s no doubt that [shocking people] draws attention, but I wouldn’t say that our success was entirely based on just that. We always came out with slick products and huge productions,” says Tronel, referring notably to the band’s collaborations with brand-name American producers such as Loud Lord, Lex Luger, and Scott Storch, the latter being responsible for such rap megahits as “Still D.R.E.” and “Let Me Blow Ya Mind.”

And let’s give credit where credit is due: the musical and sonic powerhouse of the Anticipateurs’ albums were largely the brainchild of Tronel, aka Nicolas Ranchoux, the man with French (from France) roots hidden behind his glasses, and bandana. With a Bachelor’s degree in Audio Arts and Engineering from the SAE Institute in Paris, the 1986-born rapper worked as a resident engineer in a renowned French studio (One Two Pass It), and as a sound engineer for international mega-tours, before returning to his hometown of Montréal for good.

“I spent 10 years in Paris and I would come back here for tours,” says Tronel. I reached a point where I could earn a living with the Anticipateurs alone, so I left my sound-guy career by the wayside. But I quickly realized that meant working twice as hard making rap, if I wanted to earn a decent living. Except I didn’t have enough work on my plate with Anticipateurs alone. There was something more powerful, creatively, inside of me that needed to come out. It feels good, honestly, and I believe the music is better than ever.”

Tronel can now count on Danny Ill, a talented Montréal producer who’s worked with Mike Shabb and Kgoon, among others. “We worked together on Dieux du Québec [the last Anticipateurs album, released in 2020] and we really developed a great relationship,” says Tronel. “I created about 100 songs and together we made one cut for the album.”

The final result is a selection of mainly trap songs, that still boasts diverse influences, such as baile funk (“Fais PT”), synth-pop (“Magnifique”), and reggaeton (“Chérie chérie”). “I think I’ve accomplished the right balance between what people loved [about Les Anticipateurs] and what they hated,” says Tronel. “Our die-hard fans will want to puke when they hear ‘Chérie chérie,’ but there’s also tracks that are as hard as ever [just for them].”

Aware of the large number of “unacceptable sentences” on the album, the rapper says he wanted to keep a balance between the old and the new Tronel. On “Haut d’gamme,” for example, we’re right in the middle of Anticipateurs territory. “J’suis pas un player, j’suis un pimp, j’ai trop d’femmes / Si t’es un hater, big t’as sniffé trop d’grammes,” (“I’m not a player, I’m a pimp, I got too many women/If you wanna hate on me, big, you’ve sniffed too many grams”), he says, as the opening salvo of this impressively trivial song.

“I just came out of a band that said the craziest shit,” he says. “It’s just a nod to that… some make real rap, I make surreal rap. There’s a second level to it, but I can’t help it if people don’t get it. I’m aware that artists have a certain degree of responsibility, but it also depends on who they’re pushing their music to. I’ve been making music for more than 18 years, and I’ve always promoted it as such.”

To be honest, the new, glasses-less Tronel reveals himself gradually, more towards the end of the album, and more specifically on “Spectaculaire,” an epic song where the rapper expresses his love for Prince, and “Mon Dieu,” where he sets the stage for “phase two” of his solo endeavour. “J’ai parié tous mes jetons sur mon ego comme un con / J’ai l’impression que j’pourrais exploser de rage sans faire un son / Certains pensent que j’ai un don, mais dans ma tête, ça tourne en rond,” (“I bet everything on my ego, like an idiot / I feel like I could explode and not even make a sound / Some think I have a gift, but my mind is just running in circles”), he confides, in a rare introspective mood. “I’ve lived, and I have tales to tell,” he says. “I’ve created songs that said stupid stuff for so long that it’s become super-easy for me to makes songs that don’t say stupid stuff. I have nothing but good stuff to say.

“Rest assured, I won’t stop making funnier songs,” says Tronel, as if he needs to reassure us. “I want to make lover-boy songs as much as I want to make bangers, and more personal things. It does feel good, though, to be able to be sincere about what you say.”