Blacklist, the new EP by rapper White-B, sees him tone things down – without selling out – in order to widen his audience.
“I can’t deny that I’m feeling a bit of pressure, but I don’t want to rush things,” he told us last January in our report on 2019’s best emerging rap talents. Now that his latest work has been released, the 24-year-old artist fees more relaxed. “The one question that was constantly on my mind was, ‘Will people like it?’ Let’s be honest, this project is quite different from the previous one. That’s why I felt pressure.”
More on the pop tip than Confession risquée (Risky Confession) – his first solo mixtape, released in the fall of 2017 – Blacklist was produced more quickly. Which, at least in part, explains its increased artistic consistency. “Confession was a hodge-podge of songs I had for over a year,” says White-B. “This time around, I focused on my music for six months, and you can hear it in the musical evolution, my flows, and the melodies.”
He’s inspired by the new wave of extremely melodic French rap by artists like Ninho, Niska, and Koba LaD, but also by Québec’s street rap scene, spearheaded by rappers such as Souldia, Tizzo, and Enima. White-B has enlisted the support of several up-and-coming Montréal-based producers, notably Fifo and Birdzonthetrack. The latter played a key role in the creation of this release by providing the music behind five of the eleven new songs.
“Before I met him, I was having a hard time finding good instrumentals,” says the rapper. “I wanted to avoid buying licences on YouTube as I did before, but none of the meetings I had with beat-makers panned out. He sent me two instrumentals that I didn’t feel, initially, but I still knew that his style had depth. I sent him samples of songs that fit my style, melodic bangers, and he got back to me with the beats for ‘Solo’ and ‘Chacun son récit’ (‘To Each Their Own Story’). From that point on, it just happened really fast.”
On ‘Doué’ (‘Gifted’) and ‘Vien danser’ [sic] (‘Come Dancing’), White-B steps out of his comfort zone and adapts his flow to the kind of tropical rhythms that are in vogue lately. “I wanted to come up with more festive and danceable tracks,” he says. “The themes remain the same, but I figured that maybe that type of more accessible beat would take me further, like on the radio.”
Despite that, he didn’t succumb to cheesy pop ethos and went right back to his favourite themes: loyalty, money and ambition. Wanting to leave behind his dark past – rife with poverty and crime – he’s still grappling with the same duality that powered Confession risqué – that of an artist who, despite remaining on his guard about a system that’s given up on him since his high school days, still wishes to prosper and succeed in the world of music.
“I moved heaven and earth to get everything I didn’t have,” he confesses on ‘Chacun son récit,’ the first single from Blacklist. That sentence is typical of his state of mind. “I’ve always managed on my own, because I got used to having nothing,” he says. “My mom never bought me brand-name items, I never had cable TV before I was 18… In the end, I’ve always done everything I had to to get what I didn’t have. And I know the way to achieve that is to work hard.”
He carries on with this reflection on ‘Million,’ a song where he raps about his grand ambitions. “I was raised by my grandfather, who had three jobs and worked constantly,” says White-B. “Even today, at 80, he buys condos and flips them. He’s a major source of inspiration. Ever since I turned 10 years old, he’s told me that you always have to save up some money to have a safety net for your family. I didn’t pay any mind to it until I found myself in a rough financial situation. I needed a large amount of money and I realized how right my granddad was. Now, I always think about him.”
Now in a strong position to reach his goals, White-B is experiencing enviable success on YouTube and other streaming platforms. He raps that his “salary from music has tripled” (on ‘La nuit’ [‘The Night’]), has bigger ambitions than ever before, and admits being especially happy that the industry is finally accepting his type of rap. “I’m fully aware it’s far from over,” he says. “Millions of views are great, but they’re just views…That means continuing to work very hard. Whether you like it or not, labels like 7ième Ciel, and the success of a guy like Loud, does open doors for us. It’s good for everyone.”
A regular at small venues, the rapper can now aspire to larger-scale shows – like the one he’ll give with his band 5sang14 at MTelus (formerly Metropolis) during the upcoming Francos festival, in Montréal. He does find it regrettable that the good health of the local rap scene is still undermined by stereotypes. He has memories of a few shows cancelled by promoters due to a lot of pressure from the police, notably one scheduled at Belmont in 2017. There’s also the stigma attached 5sang14, wrongly perceived as a street gang after the incarceration of one of its members, named Lost. All this has left a bitter taste in his mouth. The last-minute cancellation of a show he was supposed to give alongside Lost, during M for Montréal in the fall of 2018, offered a powerful demonstration that nothing should be taken for granted, not yet.
“I don’t understand that closed-mindedness, especially when you look at the rap scene in the States,” says White-B. “Whether it’s Eminem or anyone else, they rap about violence, drugs, weapons, the street, money… But if it’s a local rapper doing that, people are uncomfortable. I think that’s slowing down our industry. When you look at the economic uplift of a festival like Metro Metro, it’s obvious that the whole city benefits from it, whether it’s hotels, restaurants, or the taxi industry. We have to catch up, and slowly, all those people will realize all the money they lost in the meantime. Things are changing.”