How love and basketball and grief shaped Lindasson, one of hip hop's most exciting new voices
The rapper has emerged as a rising star of the Ottawa hip-hop scene
Beyond the 6 is a CBC Music series that highlights hip-hop artists and scenes across Canada, beyond Toronto. This month, we talk to rapper Lindasson, who's making a name for himself in his Ottawa hometown.
Written by Del Cowie
Canada's capital city has a bold new voice in rapper Lindasson. In a few short years, Lindasson has established himself as a multi-talented presence in the Ottawa hip-hop scene, initially gaining attention as a producer but now commanding attention as an artist in his own right.
The cover of his self-titled 2020 debut album features the artist as a baby sitting for a photo with his late mother, and the 10 taut tracks boast trap-inspired beats and melodic delivery. The album has helped to position Lindasson, whose artist name is a conjunction of Linda's son, as a key figure in the new generation of hip-hop artists coming out of Ottawa.
"I feel like now people are starting to claim Ottawa ... before it wasn't really like a cool thing to do," says Lindasson referring to Ottawa's current cohort. "But now more people are doing it so it is kind of inspiring to people around them."
It might not have the high-profile history of Toronto as a hip-hop haven, but Ottawa is no stranger to producing hip-hop talent. In the early 2000s, for example, the city produced DL Incognito, whose wordplay over several consistent albums earned him two Juno nominations. Eternia was also born in the city, yet she gained most of her attention living in Toronto and New York, earning significant critical acclaim and respect from esteemed MCs as well as Junos nominations and a place on the Polaris Music Prize long list. Belly also kicked off his career in Ottawa in the 2000s as a solo artist and is now a key influencer and songwriter in the Weeknd's camp. While the music of all three of these artists are distinct from each other, the one thing they have in common is that they all eventually left Ottawa to pursue their rap careers.
But Lindasson is part of a new generation of Ottawa hip-hop artists who are cultivating their careers and fan bases at home. Among them is City Fidelia, an established artist who returned to Ottawa after spending some years in Toronto, and who has assumed duties as program director at Ottawa campus radio station CHUO-FM and opened the Real House of Ensemble, a creative hub for hip-hop artists in the city.
Another key figure is Night Lovell, who recently dropped his new album, Just Say You Don't Care. In fact, Night Lovell and FTG Reggie are part of Lindasson's current collaboration, "A Lot." The track is demonstrative of the power of collective scene unity, having tallied more than two million views on YouTube since it dropped in January.
Given this amount of attention being paid to his music, Lindasson seems poised for success in hip hop, but this wasn't always the case. Before he was Lindasson, the 25 year-old artist was known more for his basketball skills instead of his rhymes and he went by his given name, Shymar Brewster.
'Caldwell was a perfect fit for me'
"I was one of the first people from my community, my high school, to go to junior college in America on a full ride Division 1 scholarship to play basketball. It was never really a music thing," says Lindasson. Citing the high costs of studio time compared to the relatively cost-free option of pickup basketball, Lindasson asserts that plying his trade on the courts at the time was a no-brainer for him and friends in his community. "Music just started coming around four years ago. More people started to make it and just figured it out, because a lot of kids didn't know."
Hailing from the Caldwell area in the west end of Ottawa, Lindasson credits his Ottawa Community Housing environment with shaping his outlook on life for the better.
"It's very multicultural," says Lindasson, referring to the significant presence of families originally from Somalia, among other countries, in the neighbourhood. "I feel like Caldwell was a perfect fit for me, because they gave me the time to appreciate other cultures and learn from other people and be accepted and not really look at people's skin colour, or people where they're from as a way to judge people. Caldwell is very, very opening and welcoming. It's really family oriented. It's really a community. When my mom was there she took care of the neighbours' kids and the neighbours took care of me. In Caldwell, there's families that are going through a lot, because it's [a] subsidized rent [area]. So, predominantly, people look at Caldwell as a bad area because of poverty. But more so, I look at it as a neighbourhood where people grab the grind and work double time as hard to get halfway as somebody else that comes from a different environment. It is hard times. But there's also a lot of good times and a lot of times to cherish."
Lindasson's mother, originally from Barbados, moved to the area and as her son grew up she encouraged him in everything he did, persuading him to persevere with motivational conversations — like when he wanted to quit playing basketball. "She was really like my anchor and just helped me get through things," says Lindasson.
Tragically, while Lindasson was away playing basketball at a college in Casper, Wyo., he received a phone call that his mother was in a hospital ICU unit, having suffered a brain aneurysm. She passed away in February 2016, a few days after Lindasson returned from the U.S. Back in Ottawa, in the aftermath of this traumatic event, Lindasson focused on looking after his sister. While basketball was still part of his life as he attended Algonquin College, music was increasingly becoming a focal point that would eventually overtake his on-court focus.
It was hard to find people that were doing the same thing or were open to it, especially in Ottawa because there wasn't really a music scene.- Lindasson
At first his interest in hip hop was strictly from a production and engineering perspective. Inspired by producers like Lex Luger and Metro Boomin and artists like Young Thug and Future, Lindasson figured out how to use production software like FL Studio by watching countless hours of tutorials on YouTube. Lindasson was keen to augment his online education by reaching out to engineers in the Ottawa area.
"It was hard to find people that were doing the same thing or were open to it, especially in Ottawa because there wasn't really a music scene," says Lindasson. "So it was one of those things where I tried to figure it out and make it work. And that's what I did."
Creating a makeshift studio in his kitchen, Lindasson was behind the scenes, recording and engineering hip-hop artists but wasn't thinking of becoming one himself.
"The artist thing happened randomly," he says. "It was my cousin who talked me into recording from my house because I have a mic in the studio. And he was Iike, '[You're] wasting [your] own time' if I'm not just playing around with it myself. And I was like,'You know what? I'ma start mixing my own shit too and see how it goes.' I started making music and it came about just like that. And I was like, 'Yo, I want to make music more so than play basketball.'"
'Vibes are better than words sometimes'
As an artist, Lindasson affirms that mood is instrumental to his melodic approach. On songs like "PNQ" and "Ted Talk" he touches on his mother's influence, his personal drive and his wariness of those outside his close circle of friends. And Lindasson's latest track, "Sick and Tired," which is not featured on his album, deals with the disillusionment around a failed relationship over a catchy acoustic guitar riff.
"You might not be able to understand everything I'm saying, but you might feel what I'm saying from the music and like, the melodies that I'm using, or like the flow that I get, the vibe of the song, and that's my big thing," says Lindasson. "I'm not gonna be too judgmental on me being clear about everything I'm saying. But as long as I get the vibe across, that's my whole point. Because I feel vibes are better than words sometimes."
Lindasson is dedicated to working on his craft daily, and has developed a forward-looking strategy for releasing music over the next few months to stoke his burgeoning career, drawing on his battle-hardened experience. "See, a lot of people don't know about athletes, especially if you're a hard-working athlete: you grow, you have got to learn how to work hard. And then with whatever you do in life, you want to compete, like I'm a competitor. So, I want to compete. So, I want to play good music, not just music. I want to try to put out what I can do that people are gonna like, instead of just putting out whatever music is used to escape to another time in your life. And I want to make something that has more longevity, has its own unique sound to it. And that's why I'm like, 'Yo I gotta be myself with the music and being myself, nobody could be me.'"
It's a stance that he feels would have resonated wholeheartedly with his mother.
"She would have been my No. 1 fan," says Lindasson. "I'm just gonna keep going. If the basketball thing didn't work out that's cool, but I'm gonna work and try to save up money, take care of the house, 'cause it's only me and my little sister now. And music became a hobby and now I have an opportunity to make it into a job. I never knew this would be possible."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.