We’re pleased to continue our Upstarts series, featuring profiles of very young SOCAN members making a name for themselves with their music.
By the mere fact of growing up in the Appartements St-Pie X complex, Jay Jay already had one foot in Québec’s hip-hop culture. Previously known as Tours Bardy, the iconic apartment towers of Québec City’s Limoilou neighbourhood have been the epicentre of the city’s rap movement for three decades.
At 12 – having just graduated from elementary school a month ago – Jay Jay is the latest up-and-comer of one of the province’s seminal rap neighbourhoods, one which has already given us Shoddy, Webster, Souldia, Les Sozi, and many more. Bloc 2000, his debut EP, is geographically anchored in Limoilou-land, its title referring to 2000, rue Désilets, the address of one of those two emblematic housing project towers, where a plethora of cultures co-habitate in a vibrant, warm, yet sometime impetuous, climate.
“Retourne chez toi / Juste au cas où / Y’a des bagarres de partout, cours / On pourrait dire des loups-garous” (Go home / Just in case / There’s fighting everywhere, run / They’re like werewolves), raps the young artist, of Congolese origin, on the hard-hitting “Feu rouge” (“Red Light”). The title refers to the flashing police-car lights that he saw illuminating the window panes of Bloc 2000, early on in his life.
“Limoilou is like a big family,” says Jay Jay, who we reach on the phone alongside Sami, his manager, who occasionally jumps in on the conversation to direct his young recruit’s train of thought. “But if you’re a newcomer, it can be scary. It’s a neighbourhood with lots of crooks… but if you were born here, you grew up with them.”
“I think what we can take away from it, is that Limoilou is like a family,” Sami adds, with a smile in his voice.
And if there’s one thing we all know, it’s family that matters most. The adage of Alaclair Ensemble, a band that has some of its many roots in the neighbourhood, embodies what comes out of Bloc 2000, an EP marked by Jay Jay’s love for his mother, his crew, and his friends.
One of them is Izo, a young teenager from the block who made him want to pick up rapping about a year ago. “I could tell he was really good,” says Jay Jay of the man he cites as a major influence, alongside big names like Koba LaD, Souldia, and 50 Cent. “We started rapping together about a year ago. He’s the one who introduced me to Sami.”
Sami quickly picked up on the talent of the two youngsters. “I invited them over to my humble studio,” he says. “A friend had stored his equipment in my bedroom. The result was ‘Recompter,’” says the young manager, who also grew up in Appartement St-Pie X.
The video for the first song by Jay Jay and Izo quickly reached 10,000 views on YouTube. The success was promising, but sadly “Izo’s mom deleted the video,” Sami says. “I got in touch with Jay to do a solo track. And this time, I took him to a real studio. We recorded Bloc 2000 with a different beat from the one you hear on the album.”
Sami then had the stroke of genius to send the song to a friend of his cousins: Souldia. Always on the lookout for fresh talent, the rapper immediately took Jay Jay under his wing. “I struggled to keep my emotions inside,” says the 12-year-old rappe,. who sees Souldia as a role model. “He said that from that point on, the one goal was to make a full album in a real studio. It was totally professional!”
Released by Disques 7 ième Ciel and Altitude Records – Souldia’s brand new record label – the mini-album was recorded in Montréal at the studio of Christophe Martin, Souldia’s loyal producer and sound engineer. The song “Malewa” – the EP’s first single, launched in March 2021, praising the virtues of his mom’s restaurant – established the basis of Jay Jay’s style: fiery trap, led by rather dark music, that contrast with radiant and candid lyrics, that are nonetheless rather mature and conscious for his age.
La drogue, nah, ne prends pas de tout ça / Ils croient que je dors, mais nah, je ne connais pas le cousin / Tu sais où que j’ai poussé, la jeunesse est dégoûtée / Bloc 2000, St-Pie-X, dis-moi est-ce que tu sais où c’est (Drugs, nah, don’t touch any of that / They think I’m asleep, but nah, I don’t know any pillow / You know, where I grew up, the young’uns are disgusted / Bloc 2000, St-Pie-X, tell me, do you know where that is), he raps with a precise and exhilarated flow that’s perfectly aligned with current trends.
Elsewhere, as on “Jeanine” – a touching homage to his mother – Jay Jay shows he’s also capable of being sensitive and emotional. “J’espère que ma musique pourra te faire vibrer / Maman je pars faire du rap / J’ai un combat à livrer” (I hope my music can move you / Mommy, I’m leaving to make rap music / I have a battle to fight), he confides.
“I wanted to thank my mom for the career she gave me. I adore my mother,” says Jay Jay. “I thought she’d put a stop [to my ambitions of making music]. It could’ve ruined all my dreams.”
That same song also leaves its mark because of its heart-wrenching chorus. “Papa où es-tu ?” (“Where are you, Dad?”), he repeatedly asks, in a way that is reminiscent of Stromae’s international hit. When we touch upon that question, Jay Jay becomes unequivocal: “I can’t even say he’s my dad… He never took care of me!”
Then again, why rely on a deadbeat dad when you have a whole neighbourhood behind you?