Meet the new faces of Canadian hip hop
In a post-Drake era, these 10 artists are redefining how the genre looks and sounds
About 10 years ago, Drake did something many Canadian hip-hop artists have struggled to do for decades: he broke through and found an international audience.
That isn't to say that we were void of success before him: Rascalz, Maestro Fresh Wes, Kardinal Offishall, Michie Mee and K-os all helped pave the way for that moment. But Drake helped put Toronto on the map in a myriad of new, larger-scale ways, from becoming a global ambassador for the Raptors to shining a big spotlight on the burgeoning scene of rappers and R&B stars waiting to be discovered north of the U.S. border.
Over the years, Drake has boosted the profile of local artists like the Weeknd, PartyNextDoor, DVSN, Majid Jordan and Roy Woods. But to only look at Drake's OVO roster of signees and his close circle of collaborators is to focus on too a narrow window into a much wider landscape of music still waiting for hip-hop fans around the world to recognize.
Beyond Drake's Toronto, there lies an entire country of artists who are expanding what hip hop looks and sounds like, reshaping the sonic identity that was firmly moulded by just one breakout star. Musicians are using the foundations of hip hop to create new and exciting sounds that reflect the diverse voices that have made Canada a multicultural hotspot.
Below, we've highlighted 10 new or rising voices in hip hop — from select parts of Canada, though we recognize that there are many more talents across the country — that you need to know now. We've included some musical comparison points, to help as a gateway introduction to new listeners, as well as some big co-signs that these artists have gotten from people they've toured with, collaborated with or have lent their music to.
Listen up because this is the future of Canadian hip hop.
From: Brampton, Ont.
More about her: Haviah Mighty, who is also in the Toronto hip-hop group the Sorority, has only been releasing music for a couple of years, but she has wasted no time climbing the ranks. In just two years, she was named one of the 2018/2019 Allan Slaight Juno Master Class winners, has opened for Snoop Dogg, Desiigner and Sheck Wes, and had her collaboration with producer Book, "Vamonos," featured on the third season of HBO's Insecure.
While Haviah Mighty's rapid-fire delivery and astute wordplay are key components of her music, they're not the only weapons in her arsenal. Her debut album, 13th Floor, is packed with a variety of sonic treats, from the reggaeton flair of "Wishy Washy" to the energized kiss-off "You Don't Love Me," where Mighty gets to flex her equally impressive singing skills. The one constant throughout Haviah Mighty's music, though, is always a fierce sense of determination and confidence that slices through everything and hits listeners square in the chest. Haviah Mighty's tunes don't ask for your attention — they demand it.
Signal boost: 13th Floor was co-executive produced by A Tribe Called Red's 2oolman, and the two acts have shared a stage in the past. "Haviah's work ethic and openness for collaboration in the studio is a producer's dream," he tells CBC Music. "While the surface level of Haviah shines bright as the ultra-talented MC that she is, I found during the creation of 13th Floor her passion runs much deeper, and she will surely harness this passion to be a game changer in one of many ways. I'm very excited for the future and in witnessing the blooming of someone special to this class of Toronto alumni."
For fans of: Tierra Whack, Vince Staples.
From: Scarborough, Ont.
More about him: Dark, ambient and melodic, Killy's music has garnered attention within the industry through coverage by outlets like XXL and the FADER, as well as online from countless dedicated fans. While he has been releasing music since 2016, Killy's track "Killamonjaro" cemented his place in the Toronto hip-hop scene when the song went viral. Born in Toronto, the rapper grew up in Victoria, and moved back to his hometown as a teenager, this time to the city's east end. Killy told SOCAN Magazine's Words and Music that he networked his way through Toronto's nightlife scene, immersing himself fully in the culture.
He has a fondness for video game and anime iconography, including his signature Pokémon pendant of Gengar, and similar Gengar tattoo. In the same vein of his favourite ghostly Pokémon character, Killy's haunting music features foreboding production, unique cadence, and an array of eerie synths. In 2017, Killy told VICE that it was "Killy season." Since then, he's started an independent record label called Secret Sound Club, two of his singles have gone platinum, and 2019 saw his first appearance at the Juno Awards, with nominations for rap recording and breakthrough artist of the year. Killy season continues, with no end in sight.
Signal boost: Killy's Toronto homecoming came with a swath of new friends and collaborators. His already popular single "Killamonjaro" was featured on Drake's OVO Sound Radio. For his debut album, Surrender Your Soul, Killy worked with a number of top-notch producers including Boi-1da (Drake, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar), Daxz (Drake, Travis Scott), WondaGurl (Drake, Jay Z, SZA) and more. Currently, Killy is on tour with fellow Toronto rapper NAV, who is signed to the Weeknd's XO label.
For fans of: Travis Scott, Playboi Carti.
More about her: On the surface, Sydanie's mix of electro-house and rap is infectiously fun and tailor-made for the club — but that's just scratching the surface of the Toronto artist's music. Underneath the big flashy beats and production, Sydanie is intent on exploring her multifaceted identity of being "a young Black mom from Finch," as she recently told the Fader. This infuses her music with a unique perspective, one that is often ignored or underrepresented in music (and society at large) but is vitally important. In a city where male artists have taken up most of the media's attention, the work of women like Sydanie, who has strived to carve out a strong, supportive community around her, cannot be overlooked. And with her latest album, 999, you won't be able to.
Signal boost: Polaris Music Prize winner Lido Pimienta first met Sydanie when the latter invited the former to speak on a panel in 2017. Ever since then, Pimienta says she's been following Sydanie and her music, jumping on any opportunity she can to share the stage or hit the road together. "Sydanie has an electric energy," Pimienta tells CBC Music. "She has the power to transform and elevate the space she's in. In her brain is a database of all the many rappers and artists from the scene in the real west end of Toronto, and that is not something many artists of any age in this industry actually care for — knowing your scene, your environment and knowing who are the key players of the art scene that develops in these underfunded, mainly black, brown and poor demographics of Toronto ... Sydanie will continue to rise and we will continue to praise her."
For fans of: Azealia Banks, Missy Elliott.
Just John x Dom Dias
More about them: In 2018, rapper Just John met DJ and producer Dom Dias; Just John had always been working to blur genre lines, and Dom Dias had been mixing dancehall, disco, baile funk and more on the dance floors of Toronto. Together, the two brought forth an inferno of new music including their latest EP, Don III. Blending punk, hip-hop and electronic music, Just John x Dom Dias are unafraid to put forth a new Toronto sound. Aside from music, Just John is one of the founders of Blank Canvas, an award-winning art collective that curates performances, exhibitions, panels and more. This experience is evident in the creation of visuals for Just John x Dom Dias' music, with care placed in everything from their cover art to their music videos.
Signal boost: When Shad released his 2018 album, A Short Story About a War, Just John brought the album to life through a multidisciplinary art exhibition in Toronto. "Those boys are so locked in right now it's disgusting," Shad tells CBC Music about Just John x Dom Dias. "Their music has so much style and it's some of the most exciting sounds we've ever had. It's culture. The latest EP is even more unruly. Dom is twisted and John is too drippy. They have open minds and open hearts and no one is safe. I love the homies. They sicken me."
For fans of: Ski Mask the Slump God, Stormzy.
More about them: The conversation around Canada's hip-hop scene is often centred in Toronto, but B.C. is home to some of the most thrilling voices, from Snotty Nose Rez Kids to JB the First Lady to Missy D. Kimmortal is another important name in that scene, someone whose work stretches from music and poetry to theatre, dance and visuals. Their music is not just hip hop; it's an amalgamation of sounds and influences ranging from R&B to pop. But the driving force behind it all is Kimmortal's voice, which can go from soulfully tender to agile and sharp from one track to the next. Their latest album, X Marks the Swirl, is varied in sound but precise in its message of pushing perceptions of what Canadian music both looks and sounds like.
Kimmortal draws on the specificity of their identity and experiences to create something emotionally resonant and universal. In an interview with Cut From Steel, they noted: "Being queer, non-binary and brown as well as non-black and a non-Indigenous settler on stolen land are facts to keep in mind when framing my story in a system that consciously disenfranchises certain communities." Whether they're challenging patriarchal systems or promoting more inclusive ideas of community while sharing the mic with some of the aforementioned West Coast artists, Kimmortal is helping fuel a lot of crucial discussions that need to happen. Now is the time to join in and engage.
Signal boost: X Marks the Swirl was released on Calgary artist Rae Spoon's Coax Records label. When we reached out to Spoon to ask them why they love Kimmortal's music, they said, "Kimmortal is an artist with extreme talent that grows from their roots. They're community driven with world class music. The best of all worlds."
For fans of: Lauryn Hill, Janelle Monae.
More about her: Whether completely naked in a bathtub or writhing atop a bed of tampons, Tommy Genesis is unapologetically herself. Upon her emergence in 2016, Dazed called her "the internet's most rebellious underground rap queen." Not one to be swayed by the mainstream trends, her music is both uniquely smooth and incredibly aggressive. A track like "Miami" will have you vibing, whereas "100 Bad" will spark an unruly attitude. Even though Tommy Genesis comes from the West Coast, it was Atlanta rapper Father who signed her to the Atlanta rap collective Awful Records. This comes through on the instrumental production of her songs, which have a heavy Atlanta trap influence. Tommy Genesis' music covers a wide range of themes, exploring everything from gender and sexuality to pain and revolt.
Signal boost: Charli XCX first collaborated with Tommy Genesis in Hollywood on the track "Bricks." The pair had creative chemistry from the moment they met, and working together was seamless. In an email to CBC Music, Charli XCX described Tommy Genesis' music as sexy but also hard, noting that "she has such fierce songs and such a fierce image but she's like literally the nicest most gentle person ever." This duality of being sexy and hard, fierce and gentle, is a trait that Charli XCX holds in high regard: "I like that combination. She uses pretty experimental tracks too. One of my favourites is 'Daddy.'"
For fans of: M.I.A., Cupcakke.
More about him: Of all the artists on this list, Sean Leon is one of the most established. In 2012, he started the IXXI Intiative, a "machine that empowers creatives," as he told Kastor & Pollux. Leon's inner circle of frequent collaborators include R&B star Daniel Caesar, producer Wondagurl, Allie, River Tiber and producer Jordan Evans. His skillset stretches beyond rapping: he's also a producer, director and visual artist who is committed to giving fans a full experience, as he did with his 2017 audio-visual project, CCWMTT.
His latest project is Sean Leon (The Death Of), a stunning conceptual album that pushes his hip-hop sound into funk, trap and house territory. Leon's attention to detail and production set him apart from many, and he's not afraid to point it out. In an interview with Now Magazine, he confidently stated, "I'm just better than they are. Like, any of the rappers. I'm better than them. I make better decisions as far as production. I might not have the cool guy co-sign but like, they can't f--k with me and they know that."
Signal boost: Daniel Caesar frequently shouts out Leon's music on his social media accounts. Also, like Haviah Mighty, Leon's song "Matthew in the Middle," featuring Caesar, has been featured on an episode of Insecure.
From: Saint-Hubert, Que.
More about him: Haitian-Canadian rapper Lou Phelps has been longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize, nominated for a Juno Award and featured in the Ones to Watch series. The Montreal-based rapper's music often features infectious and danceable production, with lyrical storytelling that shines through in the soulful melodies and nimble rapping, a contrast that Exclaim! dubbed the "bops-meets-bars formula." Phelps' latest project, 002/LOVE ME, explores the complex, nuanced experiences of navigating relationships, capturing everything from the flirtatious ease of that first meeting to the inability to connect.
Signal boost: Phelps made up one-half of the Celestics, a rap group formed with his brother Kaytranada. Phelps' 002/LOVE ME was executive produced by Kaytranada, and featured BadBadNotGood, Jahkoy, Planet Giza and more.
For fans of: Anderson .Paak, Pharrell Williams.
Snotty Nose Rez Kids
From: Kitamaat Village, B.C.
More about them: Rap duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids has amassed an impressive list of accomplishments in a relatively short period of time. Darren "Young D" Metz and Quinton "Yung Trybez" Nyce's 2017 album, The Average Savage, earned them a Polaris Music Prize short-list nomination, as well as nominations at the Indigenous Music Awards, the Western Canadian Music Awards and the Juno Awards. Recently, they released Trapline, their third full-length album in two years, proving that they're prolific artists who have urgent things to say. Snotty Nose Rez Kids' music is driven, empowered by the history and pain of growing up Indigenous in Canada, and always with the clear goal of pushing conversations forward. Their beats are big and bombastic, often a slick mix of old and new hip-hop sounds, but their words ring even louder.
Signal boost: When Snotty Nose Rez Kids were shortlisted for the 2018 Polaris Music Prize, CBC Music host George Stroumboulopoulos was one of the duo's biggest supporters. In a video recorded for the gala presentation, the host of the The Strombo Show said, "I think you need punk voices, I think you need hip-hop voices, rebel voices; I think you need power to come from those who haven't been listened to, haven't been heard. And I think that Snotty Nose Rez Kids are part of that conversation."
For fans of: Public Enemy, Run the Jewels.
Clairmont the Second
More about him: Meet Lil Mont from the Ave, a young rapper from Toronto. Clairmont II Humphrey, better known by his stage name Clairmont the Second, was a teenager when he first entered the scene. He is one of the most consistent, hard-working artists out of Toronto, with six projects to his name by the age of 21, all of which have been warmly received. When discussing his album Quest For Milk and Honey, he told CBC Music, "My music is pretty much like neo-soul, R&B, gospel, jazz influenced with rap."
A multitalented artist, Clairmont the Second writes, produces and performs all of his music, directing many of his own music videos. In 2019, he was honoured with the Hi-Fidelity Award at the Prism Prize ceremony for "exhibiting a strong visual identity through music video." At such a young age, Clairmont the Second is already reaching for the crown of rap royalty.
Signal boost: Clairmont the Second has toured with SonReal and performed alongside Goldlink, Lil Yachty and Harrison. He has also collaborated with TiKA, Grand Analog, Haviah Mighty and more.
For fans of: Chance the Rapper, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie.