Ones To Watch: Hip-Hop Edition

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 

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.

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Roy Woods

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.

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Clairmont the Second 

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. 

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Above Top Secret

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.

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ShaqIsDope 

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.

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Sean Leon

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.

kevinr@nowtoronto.com | @kevinritchie

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