'I am striving for longevity': Montreal rapper Skiifall wants to make his fast rise to fame last
This emerging artist's music has already been featured in ads by the NBA and Louis Vuitton
Beyond the 6 is a CBC Music series that highlights hip-hop artists and scenes across Canada, beyond Toronto. This month, we talked to Montreal artist Skiifall, who has just returned from touring with BadBadNotGood and is building up his international fanbase.
Written by Antoine-Samuel Mauffette Alavo
In the span of just a year, rapper Skiifall has gone from attending an after-school music program to seeing his songs played on BBC Radio One and in ads for the NBA and Louis Vuitton. He began constructing his unique sound, which melds his St. Vincent patois flow with Montreal-style ephemeral beats, in high school, and now his sights are set on the global market.
"My ambition is greater than what it was initially," Skiifall says now, when asked about managing expectations in the face of his rapid rise in popularity. Much like the depth of his song's lyrics, the young MC (born Shemar McKie), showcases an impressive maturity by thinking long term about his budding musical career: "I know how lucky I am, to get a kickstart in this industry. That's why it is important to take my time, work hard and not rush to get to the level I want to reach."
Community studio NoBadSound, located in the heart of the Montreal borough Côte-des-Neiges, is where it all started for Skiifall, who learned to record and perform in this popular neighborhood hangout. His talent and dedication were quickly noticed by director Jai Nitai Lotus as his work with producer Yama Soto was creating a style of rap that was standing out for its catchy and impromptu nature. The studio is also where Skiifall had a career-changing meeting with Master Zibbs, who carried Montreal's long tradition of musical improvisation and style fusion with him.
Working with Zibbs, a multi-instrumentalist, percussionist, poet and fellow Caribbean-born Montrealer who McKie describes as a mentor, is part of what keeps the artist grounded. "We talk everyday and he is in the studio with me almost every session," McKie says. "We do great music together but we also discuss political issues and history. I am blessed to have such rich conversations with an OG."
McKie mentions that Zibbs will be reciting his fiery spoken word on an epic seven-minute song the two are currently recording for his upcoming album, one of three projects the young Côte-des-Neiges artist is currently developing. "I am striving for longevity in the game," he explains. "I do not want to be hot for one year and then fizzle out. That is why me and my team are being strategic when we are putting our music out."
The strategy seems to be paying off as Skiifall's local management team, NSVG, which also handles Montreal artists Freakey! and Planet Giza as well as U.S acts Mick Jenkins and Noname, has yet to falter in creating momentum with each single released. His 2020 debut single, "Ting Tun Up" (a track that has amassed more than two million streams on Spotify), was followed by the release of a remix featuring U.K. rapper Knucks three months later, amplifying the track's reach across the pond. DJ Benji B spun that remix on his prime-time slot on BBC Radio, which prompted Jorja Smith to repost the track alerting her 3.5 million followers to this burgeoning talent. After some more successful singles, a small 2021 EP, The WOIIYOIE Tapes, caught the attention of late Louis Vuitton creative director Virgil Abloh. Abloh made the EP cut "Lost Angeles" the soundtrack to a special collaboration between the NBA and the fashion house. And earlier this year, Skiifall's latest single, "Bloodclaart Business," premiered on trendsetting YouTube channel Colors.
"We do not want to flood the game with music," he explains. "I would rather wait so they hit proper!"
Such was the case with "Break of Dawn," a single with experimental trio BadBadNotGood that came out last December, which also announced the start of a tour where Skiifall opened for and learned from the genre-bending Toronto ensemble. "They are such an inspiration!" he says. "From how to prepare for performances, to optimizing time on the road and harnessing creative impulses, I learned so much from them."
Travelling has allowed Skiifall to explore new markets, musical influences and to collaborate with various fashion brands such as Billionaire's Boys Club and Montreal's own JJJJound. "Ever since I was a youth I was always best dressed at family gatherings," McKie proudly recalls. "It was key for my mom and for me, it's the same pride I feel when wearing such creative and long-lasting brands. It inspires me to work harder and puts me in the right mood to be creative."
Following a noticeable SXSW performance two months ago, it seems like Skiifall has quickly become an ambassador for the Montreal sound. His hybrid modern beat selection mixed with his old-soul perspective and thought-provoking lyrics made opening for Miami rapper Denzel Curry for his U.S. tour a perfect fit. Skiifall also finds his name on the bill of major festivals this year, including Toronto's first edition of Rolling Loud and Washington, D.C's Something in the Water.
"I am doing it for myself and my people," he says. "No one else can build it for me. I am going to show my true artistic self on this next project and keep on believing in my vision."
With how well handled his career has been so far and how meticulously he works in the studio (and without a hint of pun intended), the sky's the limit for the promising Skiifall.