The top 5 R&B artists to watch in Toronto
The top R&B artists to watch in Toronto are making a name for themselves both here in the city and far and wide. Ever since Sandra Pupatello pushed the bill that gutted our internationally renowned rave scene, Toronto has struggled with its musical identity - but around five years ago, Drake brought downy-soft rap to the music charts and also nurtured a wave of artists that would make Toronto synonymous with alt R&B in North America. With the Weeknd as perhaps its best-known figurehead, here are five more Torontonians continuing our brand new greatest musical tradition.
The duo from Jane and Lawrence with the names befitting Tarantino heroines ("Charli Champ" and "Dollar Paris," since you asked) have captured attention with their pastel-coloured internet aesthetic and Badu-worshipping sound. It translates into a similarly heavy-lidded slow roll - as they put it "music you just want to vibe to" - only twice the fun. The two describe bizZarh as "a cosmic musical creation; a gift to them from the universe as a token of their infinite friendship." Although they're still unsigned, their dream-catcher aesthetic and hippie grooves are winning them fans in internet-land, which, presumably, is the source of their power.
From handbook of the Weeknd's marketing department, IvanUnknown has shied away from the press; also similar are his lilting, effeminate vocals, but done well enough to forgive. It's more of a jump-off, anyway, as Ivan explores "dark dub, minimal techno, throwback R&B and soul rhythms" with a raft of local producers, plus a verse from T-Dot staple Saukrates on his late-February release Fickle. Although he's not entirely mute when it comes to interviews, IvanUnknown seems fairly shy, more willing to express himself in song than in wordy interview responses. Download Fickle and be prepared when and if serious press attention arrives and manages to wring a little more from him.
At 16, JesseRay was the tall, handsome half of the rap duo "Bulleez and Nerdz" with a shorter, then less game-having Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd). Their stuff was heavily influenced by N.E.R.D., although you can hear the beginnings of precocious talent. The two drifted apart around the time JesseRay went into grieving for a friend who had died, and while his old buddy went on to fantastic international success, JesseRay took a little longer. Still in Toronto, he's channeled the same languorous pads, prescription-drug references, and girls, girls, girls, onto his recently released EP 1990, which has jump-started a fan following and a suite of videos filmed right here in Toronto.
Rochelle Jordan was born in the UK and has since moved to LA, but Toronto's on her official bio, because that's where she made her name with EPs like Pressure (2012) and a cheeky cover of "Marvin's Room." Recently "RoJo" as she's known got credits on Childish Gambino's suspiciously Toronto-sounding track "Telegraph Ave," and released the excellent "What the Fuss" with Weeknd producer Illangelo. Because of the electronic vibe which has crept into her sound, RoJo's also been called an "R&B futurist."
The best thing about '90s R&B was girly R&B hooks which encouraged a kind of body-grinding that, while not parentally approved, was more subtle than twerking. Native Torontonian Andreena channels the super-sweet '90s songstress, but one who's grown up and gotten a little tougher in the process. An old friend of Aubrey's, she featured on Drake's breakthrough mixtape "Comeback Season" (and its best song, "The Last Hope"), and moved to LA to write and record professionally. However, for her latest release, Naked, which is 22 songs long, she had to leave all that behind, choosing instead to write it here in Toronto where she's closest to her R&B roots.
Writing by Erika Jarvis. Lead photo from Rochelle Jordan's Facebook.