In the past, Toronto was partly left off from the Hip-Hop scene. It was nothing that really stood out and its music hasn’t always been so cohesive and solid. Years ago the city was highly inspired by the New York sound and it didn’t have something personal like Chicago with drill music or New Orleans with its bounce. Nothing happened over a night, but after years of growth, the city has now established itself.
It’s no secret that Toronto has recently placed itself amongst North America’s most buzzworthy music cities due to the worldwide ascents of Drake (have you heard Scorpion?) and The Weeknd. Now, the Toronto sound has created something completely personal and singers and rappers from all over the world are trying to emulate it.
What is the Toronto sound?
We can describe this sound as nocturnal, murky and shadowy as the Toronto beats are something completely opposite compared to what you might hear in clubs.
The beats have distorted 808s drums, deep basses, sharp clean snares, crisp hi-hats and pounding kicks. It looks like an easy copy&paste formula, but it’s not so simple to replicate. Although seen from the outside may seem, it’s not only a mix of singing and rapping over a slow beat, is much more. This music is something intimate, passionate, intense and emotional. It’s a feeling that comes from the city’s cold and it transforms into musical notes. It’s that type of music you listen to when it’s 4 A.M. and you’re driving to get home after a night with your girlfriend/boyfriend. It’s dark, the streets are deserted, it’s frozen, the moon is right in front of you and there’s snow falling. You don’t hear the slightest noise around, it’s just you and your thoughts. Do you catch the vibe?
Drake once said:
“I make my music strictly for the purpose of driving at nighttime”
First of all, for those who don’t know, OVOXO is the Canadian based collaboration group that includes Drake (the OVO) and The Weeknd (XO). OVO stands for October’s Very Own as Drake was born in October. XO is Abel’s slogan: the X stands for ecstasy and the O stands for oxycodone. The two artists are now Toronto’s main faces but their relationship wasn’t really stable and it has been quite hard to keep track of over the years.
It all starts in 2010 when Drake gives a shoutout to The Weeknd on the OVO Blog and again in 2011 on Twitter.
The first collaboration comes a few months later when Drake appears on the Weeknd’s mixtape Thursday.
Shortly after ‘The Zone’, their collaboration continues to such a point that The Weeknd becomes a major key in the realization of ‘Take Care’. According to what he said, Abel would have given half of his record to Drake.
“I gave up almost half of my album, it’s hard. I will always be thankful, if it wasn’t for the light he shined on me, who knows where I’d be. And everything happens for a reason. You never know what I would say if this success wasn’t in front of me now. He’s the homie, at the end of the day, that’s my guy. Oliver, 40, all of Toronto. There wouldn’t be any new artists from there if it wasn’t for Drake making Toronto cool because it wasn’t cool. Let’s be honest. Canada wasn’t ever cool.”
But then Drizzy denies it on Instagram.
“He’s definitely somebody who, everywhere I go, they love him. They’re that loud every single night when I say the Weeknd’s name.As far as on paper, it’s all being worked out, but that’s not really what counts anyway. What counts to me is the fact that the affiliation is so known, and that’s all I really care about. I want to continue being involved in his career and vice versa and keep making music together. We’re definitely a family. It’s definitely a Toronto thing. That’s not changing at all.”
Many Canadians are now getting global attention for their talents. Is the time to get familiar with some of the city’s most valid singers. Let’s begin.
Roy Woods, class 1996, has created with the time his own distinctive sound. Some of his songs are calm and relaxed but he also likes to explore the dancehall/island vibe. But despite the genres change, he always manages to keep an abstract and dreamy sound. He releases his first studio album, Exis, in 2015, followed by Waking at Dawn and Nocturnal in 2016 and Say Less in 2017.
The 25-year-old singer signs to Drake’s label OVO Sound back in 2013. PARTYNEXTDOOR’s self-titled mixtapes and albums span a handful of sub-genres, from straight-up Hip-Hop to more smooth and experimental adult contemporary R&B. PARTYNEXTDOOR is also great writer, aside from his own material (he releases PARTINEXTDOOR in 2013, PARTYNEXTDOOR 2 and COLOURS in 2014, P3 in 2016 and COLOURS 2 and Seven Days in 2017) he writes ‘Legend’ and ‘Company’ on Drake’s mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, ‘Let Me’ on Usher‘s Hard II Love album, ‘U With Me’ on Drake’s Views, ‘Shining‘ for DJ Khaled and two songs for Rihanna‘s ANTI album: ‘Sex With Me’ and the worldwide smash hit ‘Work’.
dvsn isn’t actually an acronym, but a disemvoweling of the word division, hence the division signs on most of their album artwork. The dynamic duo is composed by producer Nineteen85 (who’s responsible for most of Drake’s melodic hits, including ‘One Dance’, ‘Hotline Bling’, and ‘Hold On’, ‘We’re Going Home)’ and singer Daniel Daley. dvsn kind of brings us back to traditional R&B. The way dvsn’s music is layered simply feels more involved and cohesive than a lot of Toronto’s music coming out these days, and it is most likely because they are a producer/vocal duo working as a pair. If you didn’t know them, we highly advise you to recover SEPTH 5TH and Morning After, their two studio albums.
Bryson Tiller has created himself in a very short time a space in the music industry without sacrificing his credibility to the Hip-Hop scene. Being honest, if we have to compare him to many of his colleagues is neither an excellent rapper nor an exalted singer, but has the great merit of having practically invented a sound and a way of making music. He’s been able to mix classic Hip-Hop, Trap, Soul and R&B into something never seen before. His first studio album TrapSoul has influenced artists from all over the world and it’s absolutely a must if you like this genre. In 2017 he releases True To Self but unfortunately it’not even remotely comparable to his first project.
Even if he’s Canadian too, Daniel Caesar has nothing to do with the artists mentioned above. He’s like a mix between Frank Ocean and Miguel, but with a unique gospel touch. In 2015, he puts out 2 independent and acclaimed EPs, Praise Break and Pilgrim’s Paradise. In 2017, Caesar’ releases his first debut studio album, Freudian and gains two Grammy nominations for best R&B album and best R&B performance.
Jazz Cartier is quickly positioning himself as one of the most interesting artists out of Toronto. Paying no mind to what city’s artists should or shouldn’t sound like, the 25-years-old singer and rapper is on a unique path. Check out his last album, Fleurever, if you haven’t yet.
Who’s your favorite Toronto artist right now?