The Catch Up is Anupa Mistry's monthly look at Canadian hip-hop and R&B that deserves more attention. This month, rounding up all the solid R&B and genre-bending R&B distracting us at the end of the year.
According to Drake, “shit is hot up in The Six right now.” If you haven’t been paying attention to the rapper’s SoundCloud, that’s shorthand for “things are pretty nuts in Toronto these days.” On the song “6 God” Drake attributes this to his influence as a rapper and cultural figure. And it’s true, between the Toronto Raptors hard-earned winning streak, well-received new music from Junia-T and Jazz Cartier (who performs at The Garrison this Friday as part of Wavelength & Dalton Higgins' "culture clash" NICE series), and the announcement of an upcoming collaborative album between BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface Killah, shit really is hot up in the six right now.
I bring all this up to say that it’s been an unusually jacked fourth quarter. Distracting even. PARTYNEXTDOOR played his first solo tour, starting in Montreal and travelling throughout the States before a penultimate hometown show, to barely a peep. And there’s been a grip of solid R&B and genre-blurring hip-hop that’s come out in the past month and a half that’s building on the strengthened scaffold of the new, Canadian scene. Here are six soulful new releases – from the Six and beyond – that you should know about.
Merna, The Calling
There’s a lot of catharsis on the new record from this R&B singer, who was known around town as Ayah until very recently. On The Calling – executive produced by A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad – she’s returned to her given name and a slick, darker, guitar-led sound that musically riffs on her Arab roots. She’s got a smouldering, high drama voice and shows impressive range on “Better Run,” striding confidently toward the kind of big budget diva pop exemplified by early ’00s icons like Tamia.
Falana, Things Fall Together
Canadians have connects all over the world and some of our best musicians have found success when they start off recording elsewhere, like Feist in Berlin or Zaki Ibrahim in Cape Town. Victoria Falana recently returned to Toronto from Cuba where she put together Things Fall Together, an exquisite five-track collection of Havana soul and folk pop. Her sunny vibe sits somewhere between Quadron’s Coco and Lianne La Havas, but on my favourite song “To Bernard,” she reminds me of another brilliant Canadian, Maylee Todd.
Dawn Pemberton, Say Somethin’
Vancouver’s music scene might seem more beards and bros than big-voiced soul, but Dawn Pemberton has found a groove on the West Coast. Backed by Canadian indie label Do Right Music, Pemberton’s packed a decade’s worth of performance skills into Say Somethin,’ a tight, energetic and wistful debut album of throwback soul.
Rochelle Jordan, 1021
A couple of years ago, Rochelle Jordan’s dusky voice and the stuttering, minimal beats on her debut release P R E S S U R E landed the Toronto singer comparisons to the late, great Aaliyah. On her latest, 1021, Jordan pumps out even more delicate, late night R&B confessions, but this time around she’s got new friends helping broaden her sound, like Toronto rapper/producer/jokester Rich Kidd who flexes on the slow jam “Good One.” But the best indicator of Jordan’s future potential is a new non-album track, “Slow,” where Vancouver’s Cyril Hahn nudges her out of her comfort zone and onto the dancefloor.
Vontaylor, V O N T A Y L O R
“All these fuckin’ winters made a bunch of winners,” growls Toronto’s Vontaylor on “The Wild,” the first, bars-heavy single from a new eight-track EP. A singing rapper in the vein of Ty Dolla $ign, Von crafts songs about cold weather and coming up in a distinctive, mellow, squeaky-voiced flow, occasionally trading bars for wistful, choral hooks. See also: “Inna Heights” where he raps about rap, without being corny.
J.u.D., St. Flower
Finally, there’s Montreal’s J.u.D., a smart young producer, who takes a structured and thereby riskier approach to the digital dancefloor on his new EP, St. Flower. Building on the groundwork of fellow Canadian beatmakers like Ryan Hemsworth, Kaytranada and Elaquent, J.u.D. goes a step further, introducing songwriting elements and working with live instruments and singers to add HD texture that’s clearly inspired by Toro y Moi and Teen Daze. I love the proto-cumbia rhythm of “Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.”