You’re originally from Toronto, a city whose colossal contributions to the pop charts have helped shape and define the sound of music in recent years. Why?
There’s been these coastal waves in music since what seems like forever. In hip-hop New York had it at first, then the West, and then the South. It’s a natual progression that the North would make its mark. I was a part of In Essence, the first and only R&B group nationally recognized from Toronto. These guys like The Weeknd, Drake, Tory Lanez, and PARTYNEXTDOOR came after us. And I think that in Toronto our perception of things is different with us being on the outside looking in at the music industry. We sat back and watched, studied everyone and every sound. Also a lot of the black culture in Toronto has its origins in the West Indies. From urban and reggae to dancehall it’s a Caribbean feel, and it’s just a natural thing to hustle. All those parents moving here from the islands knew how to create something from nothing and their children represent that. You know, take what you know and mix it with what you now have access to and create something.
YNF is your latest single. Tell us about it.
YNF is an acronym for You’ll Never Find, a 20-year anniversary of the song I did with my group. I went in thinking – ‘Who can I sample from?’- and came up with the idea to just sample myself (Laughs!). The original song samples Mobb Deep’s “Quiet Storm” record, and it went gold off a Funk Flex “60 Minutes of Funk” mixtape. Recently, I was in Moscow on The Voice Russia so I decided to shoot the YNF video there in the streets; came up with a dope concept of me going there to test drive a BMW M8 and I steal the car, then I meet a girl who is stealing from a boutique and on the run from the police. I swoop her up and it turns into a real high speed adventure.
What is R&B now, today, because you’re from the music, the songwriting, the foundation of articulating and composing black love culture that made the genre a global phenomenon?
You’re right, I came from the 90’s era. The rap-sing sound of today is something different, but I’m still always going to draw from my original influence. I’m not going to change my style just to follow a wave. My follow up single is called “Can’t Get Enough” and it has more of a bop to it. Some are referring to contemporary R&B as rhythm and base, my second song may appeal to that general audience without abandoning my core listeners.
Adapting to the current consumer and how they view music more than they listen to it has proven challenging for many then-era artists. Not you. Why?
Touring. I tour a lot, last year I toured Europe for the first time which is something I had to build up to. In today’s market you must tour to stay relevant. You would think with technology and the emergence of social media, online would be enough because of greater access – but instead it’s made people more disconnected. I don’t feel artists like Missy Elliott or Dr. Dre needed to tour a lot because it was easier to reach the masses in a real way. Maybe not digitally but in a tangible way because everything was physical – magazine articles, music videos, CD’s, the clothing line. You touched it. You had to go physically shop and touch the artist. Streaming eliminates that and also adds in too many distractions. They can be watching a music video then receive a text or notification and their attention diverts to that.
We had to conduct this interview by phone due to COVID-19. What’s your take on this outbreak? I theorize it’s a bioweapon improperly contained, hence the worldwide sickness and death – which global governments likely view as collateral damage.
I was thinking something very similar. A man-made problem we’re all suffering from. I know we’ll get through it. Humans are a resilient group of beings who can survive and overcome anything. We can either take what the media says at face value or conduct our own research. As artists we want to dig until we reach the core of the matter, we want the seed of the fruit. What’s dark will eventually come to light in this and all things. I don’t personally see us suffering from the isolation of COVID-19 much longer, hopefully not. I have faith we enter the coping phase soon, where it’s like the flu or pneumonia where you don’t want to get sick but won’t fear dying if you do.