Jazz Cartier is the new darling of Toronto hip hop
The most haunting song on Jazz Cartier's debut album was recorded at 5 o'clock in the morning after Nuit Blanche. The all-night art thing bled into a Kensington house party, which poured into a spontaneous studio session.
"Have you ever felt alone in your skin?" Cartier wonders on the track, numb as the last two Toronto winters. "Ain't no need to take another hit 'cause I can't feel nothin'."
The song, "Feel Something," is plunked in the middle of Marauding in Paradise, a compilation of four years of carefully constructed/deconstructed/reconstructed material from emcee Cartier and versatile producer/friend Lantz disguised as a free mixtape. Cartier, who laboured over the record's sequencing, samples and tracklist, says "Feel Something" was originally titled "Better in the Dark" and recorded a year and a half ago.
But through night-owl eyes and a tipsy haze, the artist revisited it last fall.
"I was definitely out of it. We did two songs before it, but then once the sun started coming up, that's when 'Feel Something' came about," he says.
"You come to a point where you've taken so much of a substance that you want to overdose on it -- not die, but take as much as you can so you can't do anything. Then, what's the point?" he goes on. "That's me channeling the female character and my character in the album, channeling our addictions, whether it be drugs or love."
Drugs --specifically cocaine, according to his verses -- quite literally used to support the 22-year-old downtown Toronto artist. Cartier toyed with the notion of becoming a lawyer; he had studied psychology for two years in university. But his heart and thoughts were always with music; it's the patience he had to learn.
"Everything was on the limb. I used to sell drugs and I had to fuckin' stop because I knew if I got caught doing anything, I'm compromising everyone involved. I'm compromising Lantz and setting everybody back. I had to stop that and save up enough money to put into the music," he says. "This is all I got."
What the Toronto-born, world-raised Jaye Adams has got is the most buzzed-about rap debut to come out of the city in a while.
Marauding in Paradise -- paradise, he says, being Toronto -- is confident, refined, brash and of our trap-rap, genre-cocktail times. Moods and tempos vary; ideas are conveyed through drawls, shouts and Natalie Portman film snippets.
"From everybody that's been hitting me up and what I've seen online, people are saying it's the best thing outta Canada. From an artist's perspective, that means a lot. It's a big statement," Cartier says.
"It's very 2015. It's a product of the Internet. I think back in the day, artists were confined by their surroundings and what they heard on the radio. I look at the Internet as my biggest tool, and I'm inspired by people from every region, so it's very post-regional."
Cartier was eight or nine years old when his mother remarried a man who works for the U.S. government. That's when he began a nomadic childhood: "Idaho, Barbados, Kuwait, Houston, Atlanta, Virginia, Connecticut, Maine," he lists, maybe not even naming all his homes. "Then my family went to Africa. But when they were in Africa, I was in boarding school. I visited two times while they were there."
Each new address brought exposure to a fresh music scene, another spice to dash into a slow-boil gumbo of what would marinate into the Jacuzzi LaFleur sound. And when there was no music to discover, Cartier would take the exploration inward.
"Say, the time I was in Idaho. There's nothing going on in Idaho, so I spent hours on my CD player going through my mom's old collection. Down in Houston, I got exposed to the Slim Thugs and Lil Flips and Z-Ros. In Atlanta, I got into the OutKasts and Goodie Mobs. In Kuwait I got a taste of Arabic music," he explains. "Those places where hip-hop is not as popular, it was me sinking into my own thoughts, being in my head the whole time and thinking about music."
After he graduated boarding school in 2012, Cartier returned to maraud his birthplace, his muse.
"Toronto is like wet cement right now. The whole city. The culture that's happening now, everyone's making their footprints. And in 12 years from now, the kids after us are going to follow the same footprints we've made. Whether it's music or visual art, everyone in Toronto is doing it at the same time -- a lot of us young kids are connected and on the same path," Cartier says.
"It's like this feeling of being part of something way bigger than us. Toronto is the feeling of not knowing what's going to happen--that's exactly what it is."
Canada's rap culture has forever sought approval south of the border (Hey! Maestro Fresh-Wes is recoring in New York City with Diggin' in the Crates! Chuck D gave Michee Mee a shoutout! Lil Wayne hearts Drake!), and Cartier says his U.S. connections give him a leg up on the domestic competition. His American friends now have their whole dorms bumping MIP. And now, with a second album already half-finished and a tour being planned, he's targeting a move to Los Angeles to further his career.
"It's an ego-based genre, and Toronto is a very ego-based city. More support would go a long way to show more unity, but it's dog-eat-dog. That definitely fuels me to go harder. At the same time, that mindset is dragging a bit. It wears on you," Cartier says.
"There's no handouts being given out. So you just have to put in your 100 hours a day. That's what I've been doing, and it's been working out pretty well."
Jazz Cartier performs at the Garrison on May 7th as part of CMW. You can also catch him on May 9th at the Danforth Music Hall.
Give a listen to Marauding in Paradise below.
Writing by Luke Fox
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