10 Toronto hip hop producers to keep an eye on
By this point, we've all heard material from the OVOXO production team behind Drake and The Weeknd. At one point or another, this Toronto-based outfit has included 40, T-Minus, Boi-1da, Illangelo, Doc McKinney, and DropxLife, all of whom are now widely sought after in the industry. But not every faceless beatsmith gets the chance to catapult his career by crafting whole albums with the likes of such world renowned vocalists. At least not immediately, not without some domestic hype.
In years past, however, the sheer concept of homegrown support for Toronto product was incomprehensible, shameful even. Salty, unimpressionable rap fans almost proudly earned their city the embarrassing moniker of "the Screwface Capital." It was as if the community preferred having a spiteful rep over manufacturing its own ambassadors. Even Wheelchair Drizzy had to make it big down south with Lil Wayne's Young Money imprint before gaining the clout to host sold out OVOFests in his hometown. A pretty roundabout path to superstardom, that's for sure, but certainly one worthwhile.
Along with Drake's unprecedented rise to global stardom, also came an awakening of the Torontonian psyche. The realization that, yes, Canadian rap can cross borders entrenched itself in the minds of artists and audiences alike. Widespread talent and interest in the rap game seemingly sprang up overnight, as screwface culture's self-limiting dogma no longer made any sense. While this budding milieu has effectively broken the ice for young emcees, the same can be said for their frequently overlooked beatmaking counterparts as well. Taking full advantage of this transitional period in Toronto's rap history, we eagerly present to you a comprehensive list of the best new hip hop producers in the city.
Equal parts Kid Cudi and Big K.R.I.T., the catchy yet introspective rapper-producer Teddy Fantu first broke onto the scene with his hazy, f**k-the-world themed anthem, "On My Way." The lead single off his debut mixtape not only showed love to his Esplanade stomping grounds, but also exemplified his innovative sampling skills (see: the hook's 8-bit, Atari-esque percussion).
A year later, with a moniker change highlighting his initials and affinity for self-made, in-house production, TFHOUSE released 2011's Superior Taste. The noticeably cohesive sophomore effort flaunted lush, summery melodies, accented by sonically diverse, southern-influenced drum programming. From the album's musical palette, listeners would be hard pressed to avoid tropical vibes - fitting, considering Fantu's decision to film its second video in Miami.
Superior Taste's sheer enjoyability, polished videography, and unexpected indie collaborations deservedly led to significant online praise and a string of high profile live performances. In addition to opening for Wiz Khalifa in Toronto, TFHOUSE toured the country with both Mac Miller and The Weeknd, rapidly expanding his growing fanbase.
Despite self-producing his entire discography thus far, TFHOUSE will be incorporating outside contributions on the boards for his upcoming project, Young Desperado. In the meantime, you can catch Teddy spinning at Crawford alongside members of his multimedia collective, DSTRY.
Follow him on Twitter: @TFHOUSE
If there's a single Canadian producer already on the brink of blowing up internationally, it's probably 23 year-old classically trained pianist/guitarist, Arthur McArthur. Boasting production credits for Nas, Lil Wayne, Drake, Rick Ross, and Gucci Mane, McArthur's former nickname "king" is more or less obligatory at this point.
The multi-instrumentalist's first big break, however, arose serendipitously in 2008. After facing off at Toronto's "Battle of the Beatmakers" competition, McArthur and Boi-1da joined forces to work on songs for Dr. Dre's Chronic 2001 follow-up. During the secretive Detox sessions, in typically unpredictable Tunechi fashion, Lil Wayne approached the tag team to compose an arrangement sampling Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl". With McArthur handling instrumentation, including some unforgettable organ stabs, and 1da doing the drums, the twosome ultimately ended up providing the backdrop for Drake's Weezy- and Bun B-featuring posse cut, "Uptown". Though it was never given the video treatment, it instantly became the most quotable, anthemic track on Drake's breakout tape, So Far Gone.
More recently, Arthur McArthur's talents have begun stirring up bidding wars in the rap world. Prior to eventually falling into the hands of Rick Ross, a number of artists were said to have expressed interest in Rich Forever's standout trap instrumental, "MMG Untouchable." Luckily for them, there's plenty more where that sound came from, as McArthur is only now beginning to hit his prime. Fans can expect to hear new material from the Toronto native as soon as December, when heavyweights T.I. and Wiz Khalifa drop their respective Trouble Man and O.N.I.F.C. albums.
Follow him on Twitter: @arthurmcarthur
Sure, he dabbles in R&B and a multitude of electronic subgenres. Technically, he is Nova Scotian. Regardless, you can bet that won't stop Toronto hip hop enthusiasts from claiming Zodiac as one of their own local treasures.
The city did not greet Jeremy Rose graciously from the get-go, however. Bursting at the seams with potential, an alliance with a then-unknown Abel Tesfaye regrettably went sour before it even took off. In spite of coining the Week(e)nd pseudonym, proposing a faded, depraved aesthetic, and constructing the soundscape for the act's initial recordings, Zodiac was given no recognition or compensation by the aspiring singer. Internet hits "Loft Music", "What You Need", "The Morning (Screwed)" and, later, the "Master of None"-sampling "The Party", were falsely credited to the aforementioned Illangelo and Doc McKinney.
Cheated and unappreciated, Rose remained too busy to wallow in self-pity. Outsourcing his musical arsenal to the States, Zodiac briefly hooked up with Bay Area rappers The Jealous Guys and Roach Rigz. A menacing cover of Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg's provocative '80s duet, "Lemon Incest", swiftly followed. But, in due time, karma would play its part in Rose's unpredictable career. Patrick McGuire's Vice Mag exposé on The Weeknd's origins finally set the record straight in March of 2012. Effectively, this opened the door to an eventual settlement between the former pairing.
Jeremy Rose's star has only skyrocketed since the debacle's conclusion, impressing even foreign markets. Before signing a writing deal with producer Paul Epworth (of Adele and Florence + The Machine fame), Zodiac was also featured in TNGHT's BBC Radio 1 Mix. Co-signs continue to pour in back home as well. Just last week, in fact, Jacques Greene's Montreal-based Vase Records issued a physical copy of the Zodiac EP on wax.
Follow him on Twitter: @zodiacbeat
Higher Society & Tha Smash Broz of Villain Anonymous
Sporting all black everything, whilst rarely showing their faces in photographs, the Villain Anonymous crew focus on craft instead of ego. With soloists Delorean Black and Aux Mega at the helm, and Monyak brand designer Pavel Ioudine in the mix, producers Higher Society and Tha Smash Broz anchor the clique's expansive scope. As the group's tone-setters, both literally and figuratively, VA's beatmakers have opted for a rather foreboding, almost industrial vibe. Combining Higher Society's melancholic synth filters and Tha Smash Broz' piercing strings, the villains' sound can comfortably be described as an aural extension of Clint Mansell's Requiem for a Dream score.
Higher Society is not only Robert Henry's production alias, but also a standard he firmly holds himself to. Since acing an inspiring high school music assignment, the Zimbabwean instrumentalist has cultivated an ambitiously comprehensive "future vintage" maxim. Striking an artistic balance between past, present, and future, Henry utilizes guitars, deep basses, and ominous synths to simultaneously span rap, dubstep, and R&B genres. As much as he loves late night studio sessions with the rest of the VA clan, Higher Society also sees producing partnerships and film compositions in his coming days.
Though their brooding atmospherics lie very much in line with Henry's, Tha Smash Broz' approach is rooted in the realm of pop/rock more than anything else. Influenced by the likes of Timbaland, Nirvana, Dr. Luke, and Dark Child, the songwriting trio of Zac Morris, Maine, and Remus effortlessly caters to a wide auditory spectrum. From 2011 on, The Smash Broz have worked between Toronto and Los Angeles, but are presently concentrating on DeLorean Black's debut. Expect a sinful, hallucinatory fever dream led by a Kurt Cobain-tinged single.
2012 has proven to be a tremendously prolific year for Adrian Hogan. Giving feature king 2 Chainz a run for his money, the Mississauga native has delivered no less than four instrumental albums since July. From the street corner-inspired TheFirstSuite to the ethereal Celestial Soundz, each endeavour has experimented with varying musical terrain. Whether channeling Jamie XX on Blue Funk's cinematic "Sarcasmo Pt. II" or custom tailoring YachtmusiK's "City Night" for a Ricky Rozay boat cruise, Hogan has undeniably harnessed mood establishment.
The producer's fundamental desire to explore the vast range of human temperament was instilled in him through the works of Beethoven. In studying music theory and creating sample-based arrangements of his own, Hogan continually strives to emulate the master's control of emotion. Consciously or not, Adrian claims this to be the case ever since sitting down for his first piano lesson at the age of four.
Although this past year saw him focusing on his own vocal-less solo career, Adrian Hogan is now setting his sights on collaborating with like-minded emcees, locally and worldwide.
Follow him on Twitter: @AdrianHogan1
Rich Kidd is a Canadian staple. Even if you think you're unfamiliar with him, you're probably wrong. Take k-os's O.C. theme -sampling "I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman" for example. He produced it. The NOW Magazine newsstand you walked by on your way to class? He covered it. That Toronto Star "Top 5 indie emcees" list? He topped it. Nonetheless, such distinction didn't magically appear out of thin air. On the grind for years, the ubiquitous Ridgeway representative has delivered a total of six installments in his We On Some Rich Kidd Shit mixtape series. In the process, he's collaborated with a diverse lineup of international rap, dancehall, and soul artists, producing for legends Raekwon, Sizzla, and Cutty Ranks, as well as up-and-comers Pac Div and Daley.
In truth, global recognition appears to be a running theme at this stage of Rich Kidd's career. Like all staples, he's become a leading export. First came a tour in England and Australia. Then the props from one of hip hop's most respected minds, former Def Jam and Roc-A-Fella A&R, Young Guru. In an interview with iStandard, Jay-Z's long-time tour DJ and audio engineer uttered Rich Kidd's name before anyone else's when asked about his favourite new beatmakers.
Still, no trip or compliment could compare to hitting the studio with not one, but both of rap's so-called "saviours." Sadly, unless you're married to Beyonce, you'll probably never get to hear Rich Kidd's work on Jay Electronica's oft-delayed Roc Nation debut, but Kendrick Lamar might soften that blow. In only a few days, eager listeners can check out new beats from the Canuck producer on K-Dot's potentially groundbreaking good kid, m.A.A.d city. The much anticipated LP, overseen by Dr. Dre, will also include production from Toronto's T-Minus. Not bad for a city with a history of low self-esteem.
Follow him on Twitter: @richkiddbeats
AlexanderTHE of Times Neue Roman
Alexander Punzalan Junior doesn't shy away from describing his work as avant-garde. As an admirer of the city's local art scene, why would he? The Philippine-Canadian musician is unapologetically playful, paying no mind to hip hop's rulebooks. Instead of fostering a signature sound, AlexanderTHE prefers hopping genres. Same goes for live instrumentation over sampling. Such a nonconformist approach may prove alienating to rap purists, but adventurous ears are sure to take notice. Like Arowbe's, for instance. Bored and frustrated with the stagnant soundscapes of the late 2000s, the solo emcee instantly gravitated toward AlexanderTHE's frenetic style. Forming Times Neue Roman, the duo vowed to push boundaries with their own brand of "Nintendo-punk deco rap."
Time Neue Roman's non-sequitur discography occasionally conjures up illusions of a revolving roster, but their songs never fail to excite. Early fan favourite "Music and Math" displayed an upbeat electro-house influence, while the Rhodes-heavy "Way Way Down," could easily be confused for a psychedelic pop tune straight out of the '60s. AlexanderTHE's wandering mind never envisioned a more stirring composition than the jazzy "Sade Is in my Tapedeck," however. Driven by a thumping baseline and sax-reliant refrain, the hypnotic drop-top anthem paid homage to the ageless queen of soft rock, with flair and elegance to spare. Perfect timing, considering it's the lead single off their forthcoming full-length on DAPS Records.
Bronze One of Notes to Self
A long time ago, in a land not too far away, rap groups ruled the hip hop realm. For years, illustrious crews like Wu-Tang and Tribe seemed indestructible, until one day, a plague of ego broke out. Decades later, Notes to Self are one of the last left standing. And they're damn good, too.
Led by co-founding rapper-producer Bronze One, the grizzly outfit has already developed quite the impressive resume. In 2009, they linked up with British label Barely Breaking Even for the release of their first record, A Shot In The Dark. BBE was, of course, also home to two of the aughts' most celebrated cult classics, J Dilla's Welcome 2 Detroit, and Foreign Exchange's Connected. Since '09, Notes have toured the country and collaborated with Californians Dilated Peoples and Blu. Fashawn would eventually join the fold, following Evidence's comments regarding Bronze being the best rap producer in Canada.
On top of supplying a boom bap, true school backdrop for his group's entire catalogue, Bronze has also single-handedly recreated the Starter™ gear era with NTS branding. Boasting a degree in Design, the imaginative beatmaker fashioned an entire line of Notes to Self hats and streetwear to accompany the music. But there was more to come. Bronze One's most brilliant marketing idea of all came from a bunch of old rap video recordings sitting on a dusty shelf. Compiling, editing, and directing endless VHS footage with filmmaker friend James Reid, and fellow Note, Swamp Donkey, Bronze was instrumental in earning "Nobody" 77,000 YouTube views and a Vimeo award nomination. A year has passed, yet it's still utterly mind-boggling as to how the trio managed to perfectly sync the aging visuals with unrelated lyrics.
At the moment, Bronze One continues to ready a Notes to Self follow-up, in addition to working with partner Bookworm, and R&B singers Estelle and Brandy.
From high school on, Deezy, Jama, and Paco have formed like Voltron. The producing tandem's musical stylings, mixed with their manager's business acumen, have worked wonders for the team across multiple geographic locales. Based out of both Toronto and Atlanta at different points in their career, Showboiz have picked up an array of regional influences and eager collaborators.
Blending DJ Premier's East Coast grit with Organized Noize' southern brass, Deezy and Jama have manufactured a hybrid sound desired even by the West. LA rapper Dubb's 2 Dope Boyz-featured mixtape, The Layover, credited Showboiz with a total of three productions, kicking off a productive summer of 2012. A month later, 17-year old Mississauga native John River shared "I Don't Wanna Be," a Showboiz-produced antidote to the recent wave of gun violence in Toronto, Aurora, and Chicago.
Omari Jabari of The Knobodies
Omari Jabari is yet another artist on this list who admirably juggles both rapping and beatmaking duties. Alongside Knobody Triston Maurice, Jabari has found a niche in Toronto's hip hop arena, left vacant by his contemporaries. Admittedly, this may be a misleading statement, given that the void is more of a product of Omari's ingenuity than a deficiency in his peers' skill sets. But, in any case, his infusion of eerie electro-rock flourishes has produced a murky "prog rap" sound for The Knobodies to champion as their own.
Rival TFHOUSE has certainly taken notice, going as far as allowing Jabari to produce his trippy new single, "Play Your Part." Besides persuading friendly competition to work in partnership, Omari Jabari is also looking forward to dropping The Knobody's first mixtape, MNDBTTLNG. Look for the "Mercy"-esque "Wake the Town" to leak any day now.
Follow him on Twitter: @KnobodiesOmari
Writing by Marko Orlic
Illustration by Alex Sheriff. From left to right: Omari Jabari of The Knobodies, Arthur McArthur, AlexanderTHE of Times Neue Roman, Adrian Hogan, Bronze One of Notes to Self, Rich Kidd, TFHOUSE, Higher Society & Tha Smash Broz of Villain Anonymous, Zodiac, and Showboiz.