Ottawa is having an urban music renaissance


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.

Check out the playlist sample below, and stream the whole thing in Spotify.