Kevin Bourne is the co-founder and Editor of SHIFTER Magazine, a hub for people with strong ideas, discerning tastes in culture, and an itch to create. Cover photo: City Fidelia.
Ottawa is in the midst of an urban music renaissance. Twenty-six years after the release of Organized Rhymes’ classic Check the O.R. and 16 years after Wassim “SAL” Slaiby and Belly started CP Records, also known as Capital Prophets Records, eventually releasing projects from Belly, Mia Martina and Massari, Ottawa is once again emerging as a hotbed for hip-hop and R&B music and it looks like it’s here to stay.
Night Lovell is racking up tens of millions of streams on Spotify and YouTube, and has been interviewed by top American media outlets like Genius, No Jumper, and Pigeons & Planes. City Fidelia has been featured in Vice’s Noisey. Belly, now based in L.A., was signed to Roc Nation, and in recent years Maurice Moore joined Kehlani’s Tsunami Collective and was featured in Billboard.
I’ve been following Ottawa music for some time now, but Bluesfest 2018 was a turning point for me, when quiet fandom turned into flat out excitement, especially when it comes to hip-hop and R&B. I saw artists going to each other’s shows, cheering each other on. There was a genuine excitement and energy in the air. Although it wasn’t what we planned, our team at SHIFTER magazine ended up covering more local shows than headliners, not out of charity but because the music and shows were that good. Artists like City Fidelia, Black Iri$h, Tapas, Morris Ogbowu, Aspects and Rita Carter put on shows that rivalled any headliner.
One of the knocks on Ottawa is we don’t support talent until they blow up outside of the city. Case in point, Elijah Woods x Jamie Fine.
As a result, we at SHIFTER launched an Ottawa hip-hop and R&B Spotify playlist called Capital Essentials. We believe it’s the most complete urban music playlist in the capital. It includes artists like Night Lovell, Maurice Moore, Vi, Black Iri$h, and lesser known artists like Melvin Elray. It also includes boom bap, R&B and trap, as well as Indigenous, Christian and French hip-hop.
We created this playlist for three reasons. First, so Ottawa can become fans of its own music. Second, so artists can become fans of each other and hopefully collaborate. Lastly, so the world can become fans of Ottawa music. Thanks to our Indigenous and French communities, Ottawa probably has one of the most diverse urban music scenes in Canada. It’s time to celebrate that and share it with the world, but it all starts with becoming fans of ourselves and what’s being created here.
Ottawa and its residents have the ability to decide what poppin’ in Ottawa. No one outside of Ottawa should decide what’s hot in our city. If we decide Drake and Travis Scott are hot in Ottawa that’s cool, but if we also decide that City Fidelia, Vi, and Buck-N-Nice are hot in Ottawa that’s up to us as well (and they should be). Although I salute the success of Elijah Woods x Jamie Fine, what I hate is Ottawa radio stations and fans didn’t support them until they got a co-sign from CTV. In other words, a Toronto media outlet made them hot in Ottawa, not us.
If we’re going to keep our most talented artists and not lose them to greener, and larger, pastures, including Toronto and Montreal, we need to make sure they’re recognized and platformed here before elsewhere. The Beatles were already hot in Liverpool, with people camping outside their homes, before they ventured across the ocean and gave birth to the British Invasion.
I invite you to follow and share SHIFTER’s Capital Essentials playlist and become a fan of the hip-hop and R&B coming of Kanata, Centretown, Orleans, Gloucester, and Hintonburg. As a city, let’s give these artists the push, support and buzz they need to grow and eventually launch onto the national and international stage. After all, it’s well within our power to do so.
Hip hop is like any other genre in the music industry. There are some real artists that work hard and pay their dues to bring listeners and fans material that is impactful in one way or another. But there are a lot of people out there that find shortcuts, step on others in their community, and rip off material to get ahead, too. That’s the music industry, in any genre—it can be a dark, dark place.
Buck n’ Nice is a group that consists of two entities. On one side there is producer, beatmaker, Cypher radio host, and DJ—DJ So Nice, who has been cutting his teeth in the art of hip hop beats since he was 13 years old. He’s a huge grassroots community supporter who throws some of the best parties in town, not least of which is the monthly Hip Hop Karaoke at Elmdale Tavern. On the other side, there is Sawbuck—a proven MC who came from difficult circumstances and worked his way to where he is now. His honesty and untethered lyricism fist in seamlessly with his masterful delivery, digging deep into his hip hop influences such as Mobb Deep, EPMD, Wu Tang, and Gang Starr.
That’s the subject of Ottawa hip hop duo Buck n’ Nice’s new album EMAG. Good hip hop is clever with words (obviously), and it took me a second to realize what “EMAG” actually meant.
“After getting our feet wet with our debut album, we learned from the inside out how backwards the industry is,” they say. “It’s a machine filled with appropriation, shortcuts to success and all-around deception. This is the theme of EMAG, an album titled so because the GAME is backwards.”
With the duo’s sophomore release, they aren’t mincing words or beating around the bush. Having gained momentum in Canada’s hip hop landscape with multiple releases since 2014, Buck n’ Nice have taken from their real life experiences in the music industry and applied them to their new record. It doesn’t take long for them to sink their teeth into the subject, as they dive right into it on the second track, also called “EMAG.”
It’s important to mention that although this concept may sound jaded or negative, I don’t get that sense when listening to the album all the way through. They’re not saying “fuck the music industry” per se—they’re pointing out the problematic parts of it, the deception and fakers, the toxic people and money that drives a lot of the music made in it. To me, what goes part-in-parcel with these criticisms are the things that do matter in music—things like community, real life experiences, people’s everyday struggles, and most of all, valuing more than just money when making art. One of my favourite rhymes from the album is from the track “Leader”, which goes “What’s the difference between me and you? I see the bigger picture, you crop the image just to see the view.”
On EMAG, the duo collaborate with talented artists such as Prufrock Shadowrunner, REKS, Freddy Printz, Whitney Delion, Cheko Salaam (a.k.a. Hyf), as well as Patience and Bender of Flight Distance (RIP Bender), among others. These guys are part of a hip hop community that is stronger and more cohesive as ever. On tracks like “Le Coeur” with Cheko Salaam, both he and Sawbuck bounce words off each other, with rhymes that weave seamlessly and that effectively builds the climactic pillars on the album. In “Ocean or Shallow End” with the guys from Flight Distance, So Nice slows things down and the sample includes strings. Their metaphor of “Ocean or Shallow End” comes across effectively, and hits the listener right in the face. The brilliance with tracks like this is that although the beat is more restrained, the rhymes and lyrics are highlighted to an even greater degree. The same can be said for “Three Sides” close to the end of the album—there’s no letting up here.
After giving EMAG a few listens, any hip hop fan should know that these guys are for real. There’s no filler. There’s no bullshit. Buck n’ Nice had something to say and they did that by packing all of their ideas into an album with a tonne of dynamite and then lighting the fuse. The result is an intelligent, groove-laden record that pays homage to hip hop of old, while keeping true to their own style and modern interpretations of rap. This album will stand the test of time, and will surely make waves across communities in Ottawa and the country as a whole.
Buck n’ Nice are officially releasing EMAG at a party called ANIMAL HOUSE this Saturday, July 28th at The 27 Club (27 York St.), where a triple album release will be taking place. Other releases at the party will be the Feel EP by Freddy Printz, and SpaXe Camels by Missing LinX. Needless to say, if there’s one party you don’t want to miss this weekend, this is it.
Stream EMAG below or click here for full list of streaming links. Check out their full album video on YouTube here.
As Bluesfest rolled along, the much-anticipated seventh day finally arrived. Chicago rapper Noname was definitely one of the buzz acts of this year’s festival, as she has begun to take the hip hop world by storm. If you haven’t seen her NPR Tiny Desk concert session, you should go do that right now. Blue Rodeo also headlined the night, a band that can play Bluesfest almost every year and still draw a crowd of dedicated fans each time. Els took some great shots, have a look below.
BROCKHAMPTON, hereafter styled “Brockhampton,” were in Ottawa on Friday night, with a diverse and complex boy band show. They even call themselves a boy band, something that hasn’t been attempted in a while, and the relatively new Brockhampton out of Texas appears to be pulling it off quite well.
Emerging to screams wearing matching white t-shirts, the group was in fine form on one of the more tolerable days of Bluesfest, weather-wise. They definitely pull off the boy band aesthetic. Each of their personalities is on full display at all times, whether they’re making goofy faces or hyping up the crowd, each one of them is working the entire time. This is no pace-around-the-stage-slowly-and-spit-the-occasional-verse affair. No. These guys work out.
Another way their personalities played a central role was in the audio-visual department, centred on a screen behind the band that featured a looping, long video of the band playing with a camera phone in a dressing room. It’s possible they understand the power of their very salient personalities, but it’s also possible they just like messing with people. Perhaps that’s the beauty of Brockhampton.
Brockhampton dropped a brand new song, likely from their new LP, in Ottawa on the banks of the river. The song was called “1999 WILDFIRE,” and features an example of the cell phone dressing room footage I was talking about earlier.
Incidentally that song is now number #30 on YouTube’s trending ladder. That’s kind of a big deal for anyone, let alone a bunch of kids from Texas who decided to do something a little bit different with the hip hop thing.
These guys have only been active since 2015 and already, perhaps through the big deal that is Kevin Abstract, one of the group’s most prominent members, Brockhampton has obtained international fame through the release of a bunch of albums that have been critically praised and welcomed by fans.
Their songs are full of excellent beats and catchy hooks, clever lyrics and interesting production. They also put on a very good show. The crowd was a mix of generations: some in their 20s, some 30s, many in their teens. They had a fairly committed moshpit and had no trouble working the crowd.
“Hands up!” shouted Abstract, gesturing. The crowd definitely obeyed. And when they dropped “1999 WILDFIRE,” the crowd was so into it, I swear I saw some lighters.
Kim Villagante, better known as Kimmortal is a queer Filipinx visual artist and rapper from Vancouver known for her story like rhymes. She touches upon social and racial injustices, discrimination, and representation. Valuing education, inclusiveness, and liberation, Kimmortal coneys the messages in creative and storybook ways with captivating visuals. Fusing visual art with music, she uses it as an aid to decolonize, teach, and heal.
Kimmortal has played the Queer Women of Colour Festival, Filipino Arts Festival, Junofest, and SXSW. She’s currently working on an album that will be released in August.
Ev: DIY Spring is hosting one of your events, seeing as it’s an intersectional inclusive festival, how did you feel in regards to them hosting it?
Kimmortal: DIY Spring has been consistently supportive and truly DIY which means grassroots and well connected to artists in authentic ways. Bridging the possibilities artists dream up to reach a lot of the QTIBIPOC community in Ottawa, I believe it’s so essential for me to do my thing when I have trustworthy bookers and show producers around me. I’m very grateful for DIY Spring.
Ev: Yes of course! So I heard you studied visual arts and art history, how do you think that knowledge has affected your art or helped it develop?
Kimmortal: I’m inspired by the way I am a visual artist in the world of music. In art school I studied about performance artists like Dana Claxton, Peaches, Coco Fusco, while also listening to poets and emcees like Blue Scholars, Ian Kamau, Gina Loring, Climbing Poetree, and Invincible. My art is influenced by various artists in different mediums. I am working to tap into the same freedom I get when I’m doodling in my music. How I’m planning to do this is to time myself for like 2 hours max to produce tracks, and then write lyrics and record them in another hour.. 1..2..3… And then release the track online. Spontaneous art making is really good for me.
Ev: That being said, and watching your music videos and knowing that you’re a visual artist as well it makes me wonder if you built your own set for “I’M BLUE” and if you animated the video for “Brushing by Heaven’s Shoulder”?
Kimmortal: I animated the entire video for “Brushing by Heaven’s Shoulder.” I’m so proud of that thing. That film came about when I was sick for a good 2 weeks and was bored at home so I decided to film a music video for this song in my living room. It started off as an experiment. The white background is literally a white canvas that I nailed into the wall and filmed myself in front of. The animations are made up of drawings from my sketchbook that I taught myself to animate in After Effects. It was a lot of hours and I lost a lot of files. I wanted to throw my computer against the wall countless times but it turned out swell and has my black and white aesthetic. “I’m Blue” was directed by Entertainment Forever. All the art on the walls are my paintings and the book featured in it is my Visual Arts grad thesis project! The symbols on the trees are my work replicated by the Entertainment Forever team. I am ecstatic when I get my DIY on and pair my art with my music.
Ev: As a queer artist of colour, how did you find the journey to getting to where you are today?
Kimmortal: It’s hard to find other queer artists of colour “out there”. A lot of my friends who are local are queer and/or bipoc and so it’s been a very local journey if that makes sense. I usually meet other queer artists of colour through underground lofi shows I’ve been booked at abroad. I love being a part of punk, hip-hop, experimental, and DIY underground shit because I think that’s where I can cultivate the same intimate feel I get when I’m creating.
Ev: Well that’s certainly a real positive outlook. You have a clear and unique voice for what you do and you tell stories through your art. How did you come about finding that voice?
Kimmortal: I really value education for liberation because it’s where I have found myself and my community and the root to a lot of pain experienced individually and collectively. I am nurtured in conversation and my wisdom is from my ancestors and the people around me. I’m still finding my voice but I try to ground it in honesty. A friend and emcee recently told me that the best way I can stay authentic is by speaking from my experience and from what I know. As I get to know myself deeper, my voice inevitably becomes stronger. I am raised by the bold voices of mainly fierce Filipinx femmes in my life and QTIBIPOC poets, crafters and emcees. I am informed by my friends who are my extended community, who are agitators, healers, teachers, and outspoken voices.
Ev: You clearly address dire issues in our society that seem to be brushed aside, what made you decide to rap and sing about them instead of following the same path others do? Do you think your identity plays into that?
Kimmortal: The late Filipino Canadian youth alliance based in Vancouver was one of the first spaces I witnessed and got connected to radical brown and black emcees and poets. Dagamuffin, a friend, and activist who passed away was an outspoken rapper who was one of many Filipino activists who pushed me to keep repping. I have experienced what it feels like to see someone represent on stage and feel reflected. I want that to continue in this art so that we all feel activated to create. I see how art is not just a tool for activating and educating people, but it is also a wellspring for us to get the energy to keep going.
Ev: That being said, what do you see as the biggest and most important issue you’ve addressed through your music and art and why do you think it’s the most important issue you’ve addressed?
Kimmortal: I think all the issues are really connected. I can’t talk about my relationship to being Filipino without talking about my relationship to being queer and fluid and an artist, etc… I think the power is in the sum of our layers. Sometimes shows are geared towards one aspect of our identities, like a queer show, or like a women of colour show… for the first time, I get to perform on a stage on June 16 that will be featuring Filipinx nonbinary artists based on unceceeded coast Salish territory, aka Vancouver, and put on by Pinoy Pride in Vancouver.
Check out Kimmortal as they headline a DIY Spring show this Wednesday June 13 at The Origin Arts & Community Centre featuring King Kimbit and Throne Seekers, more info here.
The local hip-hop duo, Buck-N-Nice, are back and have been teasing us with pieces off their upcoming sophomore album EMAG since the beginning of the year.
They recently dropped a video for the first single, “Care Less,” off of the album. They hosted a video release party a few weeks back at Bar Robo, which also featured a performance from another rising hip hop group in Ottawa called Tapas. The video is simple, no gimmicks, and really lets the words shine through. That being said, the video is far from boring. I can’t help but feel that Buck-N-Nice are interrogating the viewer as the light bulb hanging from the ceiling in the small room swings back an forth. I can’t really tell who is the good cop and who is the bad cop—or maybe they’re both here to verbally rough you up.
The entire piece has a certain underground edge to it. The small room could be in someone’s cellar or damp shed in the woods. The setting creates this sense of isolation and voyeurism all at once. The song also clocks in closer to a punk song at under three minutes than the prototypical hip-hop track.
Director Patrick Lozinski did a really good job with the whole video. I especially love how epic DJ So Nice looks at the end standing over his decks scratching out the final piece of the track.
Check out the video below and keep your eyes peeled for more content from Buck-N-Nice over the coming months leading up to the release of EMAG.
Tapas is the name of a new hip hop trio in Ottawa, but they’re anything but rookies. The group consists of two of Ottawa’s finest MC’s—G.Grand, and Hyf—along with locally-renowned producer Jeepz behind the beats. Together they are a force to be reckoned with.
What’s so special about a hip hop crew like this getting together?
I would argue that good chemistry is more crucial in hip hop than more than any other type of music. Not only do the styles and flow need to weave together well, but each MC also needs to offer something different to the music. Think of Wu Tang Clan, El-P and Killer Mike, Talib Kweli and Mos Def, Andre 3000 and Big Boi, Q-Tip and Phife—all the great groups have a push-pull dynamic, working off each other’s style while contributing to the larger work. While each MC is undoubtedly extraordinary in their own right, in the case of hip hop, the sum is greater than the parts.
This is the case with Tapas. Individually, G.Grand and Hyf are well-respected in the music community and considered examples of intelligent, talented MC’s in Ottawa. Hyf is the stage name of Sergio Guerra, an accomplished Salvadorian-born MC, poet, and producer who is also part of the slam poetry/hip hop ensemble called Missing Linx, along with well-known artists Just Jamaal, Cannon2x, PrufRock Shadowrunner. He is also the co-founder of the local avant-garde label, Nationaless Mind Records, which has an impressive roster of artists and continues to push traditional boundaries in the music industry with a progressive agenda and mission. Hyf is also a two-time Canadian Festival of Spoken Word finalist, and has garnered local praise over the years for his broad lyrical vocabulary and sharp phrasing and flow.
G.Grand grew up in London, ON, listening to soul, R&B, and rap as well as a diverse group of musicians with whom his father worked as a manager in the 1990’s. He moved to Ottawa for university and started cutting his teeth as an MC recording tracks throughout his undergrad at UofO. While exploring his new path as a musician, in 2010 Grand was introduced to producer and future collaborator, Jean-Paul Tyo—better known in the Ottawa/Gatineau music community as Jeepz.
Jeepz is, by far, one of the most proficient and versatile producers in the Ottawa area. His style is informed by the smooth, groovy beats from the golden era of hip hop in the 1980’s. Drawing on the methods of game-changing producers from this time–notably the late J Dilla–Jeepz has constructed a sonic bridge for us to experience hip hop in the same way that listeners of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and The Pharcyde might have in the past.
His tracks give off an air of perfectionism, in the sense that each layer and each tone is intricately fine-tuned to create a truly “vintage boom-bap” sound. As a multi-instrumentalist, Jeepz started working on beats with his first drum set in grade seven, learning the ins and outs of rhythm while continuously trying his hand at new technologies by which he could make music. Over the years, he continually pushed himself to be better, and now he is two-time Ottawa Beat League champion.
Call it fate, or luck, but this chance meeting of ingenuitive minds was the start of a partnership that truly unlocked the skills and potential of Grand, Hyf, and Jeepz.
“The things that never change are an appreciation for quality and craftsmanship in the music and the understanding that hip-hop culture is always evolving,” explains Grand. “Making sure that we stay open-minded to new elements of the culture while still being able to call out aspects that we think are less positive has become more important as we’ve grown up with hip-hop.”
The trio that is Tapas is therefore a well-oiled hip hop machine, with plenty of years of experience behind them. Their self-titled album transcends any specific style and flow of hip hop, dipping into the vintage-era sounds and samples on tracks like “Loop it Up,” but also tracks like “Gotta Love It” that touch on modern-era methods that favour sub-divided hi-hats, heavy kicks, and layered synthesizers.
“The sound is just a natural extension of making the music we want to hear right now,” says Grand. “We didn’t force anything, but we wanted to make sure that we were pushing our sound forward and challenging ourselves to try new things.”
“I hope people recognize the work that we put into this in terms of pushing ourselves lyrically and especially on production side to make a quality project. We also hope that people see that we’re proudly representing the Ottawa hip-hop community because our scene doesn’t get enough credit for producing some very dope artists.”
Local Francophone hip-hop artist Squerl Noir recently dropped a new video for his track “Calypso.”
The black and white video is centered on Squerl Noir as he raps his way through the track focused on duality and introspection within the chaos of the world. Directed by Antoine Simard-Legault of Lonely Fire Productions, who has worked with other local artists like Flying Hórses, the video features some very cool camera work shifting and blurring Squerl Noir’s faces around as he repeats the lines about drowning in the chaos. It really amplifies the message.
There is also a nice subtle touch of water overlay during certain sections of the video which I can only assume is a homage to Calypso, who in Greek mythology was a nymph who captured the Greek hero Odysseus for many years and is often represented by the sea.
Check out the video for “Calypso” below and keep your ears peeled for Squerl Noir’s next single due to be released in early 2018.
The band may only be a couple years old, but Slack Bridges already feels like a well-seasoned veteran of the music scene here in Ottawa. Even though the band is fresh off the release of its debut full-length Joy of Joys, it has already sent shock waves throughout the capital.
This is what happens when musical masterminds from all corners of Ottawa’s music community come together to present something altogether original, breaking new ground by fusing hip hop, soul, and jazz fusion influences into tracks that burst at the seams with ear-pleasing tones. After only a few shows and the release of their first EP in 2016, Slack Bridges quickly caught the year of large-scale festival organizers as they got included on lineups at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest, TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, House of PainT, Ottawa Race Weekend. They also were the main attraction at last year’s independent festival called Bangers & Mash, a soul-focused weekend-long party co-organized by band member Garett Bass himself.
Slack Bridges performed at this year’s House of PainT Urban Art Fest this past August. Photo by Kelly Morrissey.
Joy of Joys is indeed a full album. It is a front-to-back trip that explores different soundscapes and textures, pleasing listeners with dance-inducing bangers like “In The Drought” as well as teasing us with down-tempo ballads such as “Smile.” Guitarist Chris Elms puts his dexterous guitar work on full display throughout the ten-track journey that is Joy of Joys, from providing grimy and emotive riffs that explode off the record in “Jungle” to sultry tones that seduce the listener deeper into tracks like “Apologies.”
Vocalist Matt Gilmour’s infectious deep vocal prowess is an undeniable x-factor in this band, and without detracting from the group’s talents, his voice and persona are front and centre on the record and the stage. You wouldn’t first think of him as a former member of bands in Ottawa’s punk and hardcore scenes, but his influences are many. His appreciation for R&B and hip hop rhythm come across immediately, and his unique vocal tones and style lend perfectly to the rest of the band’s impressive instrumental chemistry. Not to mention his subtle moves on stage give crowds even more to scream for (see video below—just wait for it).
All in all, Joy of Joys is the record Ottawa needs, wants, and will cherish. The band spent a lot of time and energy into crafting their identity, sound, and style—and it shows. It really feels as though they took a “why stop here?” approach to this record, and the seamless inclusion of brass parts from local visionaries Ed Lister and Julian Selody exemplifies the level of musicianship this band is operating at. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Be sure to pick up Joy of Joys on vinyl at local record shops around town now, which they recently released on November 11th at a sold-out show at The Rainbow. It is also available digitally here.
Watch their Shot in the Dark performance and stream Joy of Joys below.
This year’s CityFolk Festival got off to a good start at Lansdowne Park with some stellar performances by Ruth B, Post Malone, Allan Rayman, and more. Our photographer Els Durnford got in nice and close to get some shots throughout the night. Check out the gallery below.