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Entertainment Montreal rap’s freshman class ready for the hustle

01:05  23 may  2020
01:05  23 may  2020 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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Johnson, who raps mononymously as Tyleen, wrote church songs and poetry before getting into rap , first as a model in videos. The 22-year-old’ s own His latest music is inspired by a new wave of Latin artists in Montreal . In turn, Montreal ’ s freshman class of rappers can perhaps find inspiration in a

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a man wearing a hat talking on a cell phone: Maky Lavender’s suburban upbringing factors heavily in his lyricism. “Whenever I tell people I’m from the West Island, I hear the place is wack, but I think it makes me push it more,” he says. “It’s easy to hate where you’re from, but I want to push the feeling of being proud.” © Allen McInnis Maky Lavender’s suburban upbringing factors heavily in his lyricism. “Whenever I tell people I’m from the West Island, I hear the place is wack, but I think it makes me push it more,” he says. “It’s easy to hate where you’re from, but I want to push the feeling of being proud.”

With much of the artistic world on pause and venues temporarily shuttered, there remains at least one area of Montreal culture where new content continues apace: the city’s rappers have stepped up to the plate in early 2020 with a number of new releases to soundtrack your solitary spring days at home.

Maky Lavender, Tyleen and Naya Ali are reflections of where Montreal is headed musically. After years of being a second-class rap city compared to Toronto and major markets in the United States, Montreal is no longer playing catch-up — the city is raising a generation of young, hungry artists capable of putting the 514 on their backs as they pursue their dreams here and abroad.

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Alaclair Ensemble (Troupe de Post-rigodon). Agentz Of Influence ( rap group) facebook page. All-Star-Genesis ( rap group) facebook page. Alifierce ( rapper ). Ali Chaotik ( rapper ) R.I.P. Video. Alquimia Verbal Bandcamp. Army Of 2 ( rap duo). Aspect Mendoza ( rapper ) reverbnation white rapper .

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Circumstances may be keeping them at home for the time being — all three of the above-mentioned artists had plans curtailed — but the music is out there, ready to be discovered by discerning rap fans always looking for the next thing.

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Following a number of single releases, a mixtape and a high-profile cameo on a track by Polaris-shortlisted artist Les Louanges, 24-year-old rapper Maky Lavender released his debut album, … At Least My Mom Loves Me , in February. It’s a self-deprecating title in a world where confidence is key, but it’s part of the West Islander’s unapologetic, warts-and-all persona. The album standout Bloom, for instance, touches upon the depression and self-doubt that can creep into his psyche.

“I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not,” Lavender said. “When it comes to my music, if a beat makes me feel like the king of the world, I’m going to roll with it. If a beat brings out the lonely or negative sides of my life, I’ll go there. I go where the music takes me.”

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His performance at a sneaker launch at retailer Off the Hook was one of the last shows to occur in the city before isolation, and he’s since had some European dates cancelled.

Lavender’s suburban upbringing factors heavily in his lyricism. The album track Hours is a relatable ode to his retail days, while the unfinished REM train gets a shout-out on Air Transat Freestyle. He also shot a video — without permission — in the Fairview Mall parking lot. (“I tried to get Fairview’s attention, but they never contacted me.”)

“Whenever I tell people I’m from the West Island, I hear the place is wack, but I think it makes me push it more,” Lavender said. “It’s easy to hate where you’re from, but I want to push the feeling of being proud. I made sure it was important.”

Lavender grew up with one foot in the suburbs and one in the city. His first family home was an apartment in Montreal North, and he spent considerable time with his cousins in Rivière-des-Prairies.

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In American parlance, a freshman , first year, or frosh, is a person in the first year at an educational institution, usually a secondary or post-secondary school. In much of the Arab world, a first-year is called a "Ebtidae" (Pl. Mubtadeen), which is Arabic for "beginner".

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“Being of immigrant parents and living the suburban life, and seeing your parents move up in life, we know the city — and trouble — is not that far away,” he said.

Since he grew up so far from Montreal’s rap epicentres, Lavender is used to taking the lead on projects, from booking a rare West Island rap show in 2017 at Salle Pauline-Julien (which also featured up-and-comer Krookstar) to opting for the small independent label Ghost Club Records for the release of … At Least My Mom Loves Me. It also means he has had to forge his own way in the business side, which has come with ups and downs.

“The business side is heartbreaking, but at the same time I think I came at the right time,” Lavender said. “Earlier on, as a dreaming kid who went to shows every week, you think it’s grandiose. I was blessed enough to go to school in audio engineering and learn that side of music.

“I’ve taken so many Ls. I’ve been taken off shows; I’ve had people tell me no; every time I thought something worked a certain way, it didn’t. But I’ve worked for years on it and figured it out. I’ve been making music in my basement since 15. Business is ruthless, and I’ve gotten more used to it. I separate my feelings from it. I have more to learn, but it doesn’t hurt anymore.”

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 Instagram Live appearances helped Tyleen Johnson hone her craft. “I don’t want to hide my music,” she says. “I want to know what people feel about it, even before I drop it. It allows me to get a sense of whether I should go back to the studio to work on something, or if it’s ready.” © Allen McInnis Instagram Live appearances helped Tyleen Johnson hone her craft. “I don’t want to hide my music,” she says. “I want to know what people feel about it, even before I drop it. It allows me to get a sense of whether I should go back to the studio to work on something, or if it’s ready.”

In LaSalle native Tyleen Johnson’s case, the business found her.

Johnson, who raps mononymously as Tyleen, wrote church songs and poetry before getting into rap, first as a model in videos. The 22-year-old’s own demo recordings eventually found their way to VNCE, the beatmaker for pioneering Quebec rap group Dead Obies. He produced the bulk of her debut EP, Fanta$y, which came out May 1.

While Tyleen was working on her record, there remained only one track of hers online: a guest verse on Dead Obie Joe Rocca’s album French Kiss, the product of Tyleen’s introduction to VNCE. With nothing new online, to outsiders it looked like her career was stalling before it even began, but in truth she signed to Bonsound rap imprint Make It Rain before even finishing a track.

“The EP has been made since last year,” Tyleen said. “We finished recording the last song in February (2019), ready to be pushed last summer, but a couple of things weren’t ready yet — like, I didn’t have my manager. Now we’re more prepared and ready. Over 50 songs were recorded, but we’re only using six for the project.”

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So what does a rapper do in the meantime when all their music is locked away? Shows, for one thing — although on top of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s hard to do shows when you don’t have any songs out, as Tyleen can attest.

Forward-thinking rappers can also get on social media.

“As far as keeping the fans involved, Instagram helps me meet people I’d otherwise never get to see,” Tyleen said. “They’ll send me video clips of them at my shows. I go on Instagram Live a lot and talk to them and play my songs so they can hear what I’m working on. I try to stay involved with the people supporting me.”

Even before Fanta$y’s official release, Tyleen had revealed much of her music on Instagram Live for fans and peers. The instant reaction proved to be an effective way of knowing if she was on the right track or not.

“I don’t want to hide my music,” she said. “I want to know what people feel about it, even before I drop it. It allows me to get a sense of whether I should go back to the studio to work on something, or if it’s ready.”

Although not having any music out was frustrating at times, in hindsight Tyleen is glad she was able to assemble her team first and work on improving her technique in the studio. She said even the way she holds the mic has changed over time.

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a woman wearing a black shirt:  Naya Ali fuses a hard-hitting rap approach with more mainstream, radio-friendly beats. © Neil Mota Naya Ali fuses a hard-hitting rap approach with more mainstream, radio-friendly beats.

Naya Ali’s progression in becoming one of Montreal’s most skilful rappers is written right on her album titles. Her 2018 debut EP was called Higher Self, and it found her striving to reach her lofty goals. This year she followed it up with Godspeed: Baptism, a prelude to an upcoming full-length. The release, which came out in April, is named after her most incendiary rap yet, as well as her metaphorical birth as a player for Montreal rap’s throne.

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In addition to Godspeed: Baptism’s release, Ali’s 2020 plans included an appearance at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, but the festival was cancelled in early March due to the pandemic. Playing SXSW is a dream of hers that will go unfulfilled for a little longer.

“I wanted Godspeed: Prelude to be a humble but confident introduction into who I am, my thoughts, what I’ve been through, my environment and more of myself than we’re used to,” Ali said. “I’m going deeper — I’m shedding more layers sonically and showing more vulnerability. Once I opened that door, I felt I came into a new life, becoming who I always was.”

Ali came into rap with a level of business acumen not shared by many of her contemporaries — she studied public relations and worked in marketing before pursuing music full time. The major difference between the two fields, she said, is the balance of business and artistic integrity when you’re a musician.

One way she has managed to strike the right tone is by fusing her hard-hitting rap approach with more mainstream, radio-friendly beats. Last year she teamed up with international hitmaking Montreal duo Banx and Ranx on the one-off single Get It Right, and on her latest release she worked on For Yuh with producer Clipz, a Montrealer who recently collaborated with Puerto Rican rap king Bad Bunny. She’s hoping Quebec radio picks up on the infectious sounds.

Whether it’s over a commercial dancehall beat or in a gritty parking-lot setting, as in her recent Like Marshawn Freestyle video, Ali consistently appears in control.

“Even when it’s a crossover, it’s still in my universe,” Ali said. “Working with different producers, at the end of the day they’re coming into my world and making the sounds that I envision, coming in with their knowledge and talent.”

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Where Lavender, Tyleen and Ali share a similar outlook is in their optimism and their ability as rappers to galvanize and make noise for their hometown.

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“I want to be an advocate for all the young female artists in Montreal,” said Tyleen. “I know I’m not Cardi B, but I can have an impact on people. If I bring positivity, I can let people know it’s not impossible and anyone with the passion and talent to do it should go full throttle. It’s unbelievable the doors that open for you.”

Lavender says by working together, Montreal rappers have a chance to lift each other up.

“Everyone wants the same thing,” he said. “We should use the fact that we have English rappers and French rappers in the same place to our advantage. There’s no other city in the world where you could do that.”

While the rap scene is flush with ambitious 20-somethings aiming to propel Montreal to new heights, the city’s weathered pros — the ones who aren’t jaded purists — look on with curiosity.

“It’s really beautiful for me to see a scene that was completely put on the side now become the big thing,” said Boogat , who started out rapping in French but made a name for himself as Montreal’s pre-eminent Spanish-language MC. His latest project, El Gato y Los Rumberos, finds him in a somewhat new role of bandleader.

Boogat’s career has had many twists and turns: he was often the only white or Latin guy at his early concerts, and he watched as the audiences became prominently white francophone over the years.

His latest music is inspired by a new wave of Latin artists in Montreal. In turn, Montreal’s freshman class of rappers can perhaps find inspiration in a scene that took years to break into the mainstream.

“It was another world back then,” Boogat said. “Now I’m in Eastman, Que., and middle-class kids here use Haitian expressions. I think it’s amazing to see what effect rap has had on the culture over time.”

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