Toronto hip-hop is in the middle of a creative explosion. Orbiting around superstars Drake and the Weeknd are producers and songwriters whose shine is brushing off on up-and-coming talent. That spotlight will grow brighter as the American hip-hop world takes over Toronto during NBA All-Star Weekend. Here are six acts we're paying attention to.
Tasha the Amazon became notorious a couple of years ago after she roamed Kensington Market with a tiger for a video shoot. Since then, the rapper/producer has adopted a more menacing and club-friendly sound on a string of singles. This is looking like a busy year: new singles and music videos are due out in the months ahead, and her next EP – Die Every Day – is on deck for the summer.
The 19-year-old from Brampton has become a major concern thanks to a deal with Drake’s OVO Sound label. By late 2014 he was an indie artist who’d scored a collab with Detroit MC Dej Loaf, and by last summer he was cameo-ing in Drake’s Energy video. Apparent in his own music is an affinity for Michael Jackson’s vocal runs – a touch that adds wild, gritty texture to the moody, streamlined minimalism that is OVO’s signature. His second EP is due out this spring.
Clairmont the Second has produced a steady stream of music in the past two years, gradually developing a taut, energetic live show as the influences in his recordings have expanded into R&B, gospel and classic rap. From the beginning, the 19-year-old has been building followings in both the hip-hop and indie rock scenes. His next gig is at the Garrison for the Wavelength Festival on Saturday (February 14). Album number three is due later this year.
The Shabazz Palaces-affiliated trio of SunSun, Ayo Leilani and Brandon Valdivia gave us a taste of their upcoming album last year in the form of trippy banger WTF?! The latest song off their Ontario Arts Council-funded record – out this spring and featuring a guest spot from Lido Pimienta – is One, another low-slung, left-field jam that exemplifies their knack for adding warmth to dark and dubby beats. Catch them live during Canadian Music Week in May and at Guelph’s Kazoo! Fest in April.
The young MC has been teasing the March 3 release of mixtape Black Frames with a series of solid singles over the past year, including DWNTWN and My Time. The title track features the same Bobby Caldwell sample used on Tupac’s Do For Love and sets a similarly dreamy mood around ShaqIsDope’s fast flows, singsongy choruses and tricky wordplay.
Working with buzzy, 905-based producers Eastbound and Wondagurl, Leon is the self-proclaimed “king of suburbia.” In 2014, the Ajax native demonstrated his penchant for brutal bass and dreamy atmosphere but maintained a lower profile last year, releasing a smattering of songs that included a remix of the Weeknd’s Tell Your Friends and a collaboration with R&B singer Daniel Caesar. He’s currently working on his Black Sheep Nirvana album.
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