UNCHARTED is Chart Attack's showcase of independent Canadian artists we think you should hear. This month, Jazz Cartier discusses the "downtown Toronto sound," the art of patience, why you should always be looking ahead, and why Idaho is the worst place in the world.
Jazz Cartier has been planning his "out of nowhere" breakout for years now. It's easy for critics to credit his success to an after-effect of Drake, but he's been orchestrating it himself since he was a teenager. And he's in a whole other part of town.
Jazz Cartier has been calling his music the sound of "downtown Toronto," but if we want to get specific he hails from Kensington Market. Not the Kensington Market of drum circles and didgeridoos and Al Waxman, but a grittier, more debaucherous side of the Market where in the last few years, if you were lucky enough to get invited, you probably heard the name whispered: Get Home Safe. Living in a party house dubbed The Palace, the Get Home Safe crew represented the downtown hip-hop underground to Aubrey Graham's opulent Uptown.
But, even while contributing to The Palace's reputation (and immortalizing it in a Weeknd video), Jazz Cartier has been planning his solo turn, releasing attention-stealing singles and painstakingly crafting and re-crafting his debut mixtape Marauding In Paradise. Tired of being "famous for being famous," the 22-year-old rapper has taken his right-hand producer Lantz and set out on his own.
If you have a fucking straight hip-hop album that's all bangers, it's not gonna travel well, there's no substance to it. And the hardest guy in the world still has emotions.
It's a career in an album, but, as Jazz Cartier tells us from his place in Kensington, it's really just the beginning. The reason Marauding In Paradise came out when it did is because he set a deadline: he had to have it out before he turned 22, and he just barely made it. He's been calculating every step: when to release a single, when an intro would work better as a transition, when to rage and when to bear his soul. He thinks widescreen, not bangers but albums.
And he has big plans. I caught Cartier just before he entered the studio for his second project, which he says is almost halfway finished. And, before he even plays his release show for Marauding (at The Garrison tonight for CMW and opening for Joey Bada$$ on Saturday), he's already released a new non-album single, "Always Up To Something." It's hard to predict where he'll go next, but he probably knows.
Chart Attack: At the listening party for this album, you called Marauding In Paradise your "life's work." How many years did you put into it?
Jazz Cartier: About three and a half years, almost four.
So how does it feel to finally get it out into the world?
It feels great, but at the same time, being me, there’s so much that I wanted to put into this one project. I knew I had to space everything out, so while we were making this, I already have the second project almost half done. You have to exhibit room for growth, you know? And if you go out swinging on the first project there is no where to build from that. I think once I realized that, I just did whatever came natural to me, and so far the response has been overwhelming. I’m pretty happy about it.
So do you feel like you're already moving past this, then?
This is the introduction to me. I feel like I'm telling a story and people are just checking up on little things that speak out, and I think that's something I am going to build off of, and incorporate into my style. The next project depending on how I'm feeling can either go really dark or really light. But for now it sounds really different from Marauding in Paradise.
Just the bars, you know. Like, at the end of the day I can brag about everything under the moon for as long as I want, but the bars and the artistry are definitely going to be a big part of the second project, as well as the production.
The Get Home Safe crew was kind of synonymous with Kensington Market. What draws you there?
Kensington is like the last, last ungentrified neighbourhood in downtown Toronto. And I think what we did in the last year and a half/two years, was give it that urban identity it never had. We gave it a new flare. You know what I’m saying? And yeah, it was fun while it lasted, but none of us live in the house anymore and Get Home Safe's over.
Do you see that Kensington scene as over now too?
That chapter is over for me. I have no idea what they’re all doing, and I wish them all the best. As far as Kensington I think it will always have a place for me in my heart. Just cuz all of my most transformative years happened in the market, you know what I mean? All these great experiences happened in the market.
Being a rapper from Toronto, Drake always looms large. So it seems like you've purposely set yourself in opposition to him, telling The Fader, "I'm from Downtown Toronto, and Drake's from Uptown, so that's a totally different mindset." How do you characterize your downtown Toronto mindset or sound?
I mean, well, I think that it’s a given at this point that every interview I have people are going to ask about Drake. But that interview that I did, that was totally taken out of context. Like, that didn’t need to be the headline. I get it, that's the situation that I'm in right now.
But as far as the downtown sound, I just feel like everything happens downtown, whether you're throwing a party, throwing an event or meeting with friends. This is the core of what's happening and the pulse of the city. And I think I exhibited a lot of the emotions that downtown gives me, whether it’s super chaotic, or the Toro Y Moi stuff where you go super light, summer time and vibey, or moody. Downtown Toronto is a pot mixed with a whole bunch of cultures and vibes.
And you've lived all over the world, too, so that represents you, too. Where have you lived other than Toronto?
Barbados, Kuwait, Idaho, Connecticut, Virginia, Houston, Georgia, Maine. Umm... I think that's it.
When you look back at this album, given how long you’ve been working on it, do you see those places contributing to your sound?
Yeah, for sure. I always keep my past in the side of my mind. I think I started to get on Toro when I was in boarding school in Maine, a friend of mine put me on him. Even when I was living in the South, my Mom would always play "Blackberry Molasses," which is the end song in the intro.
Yeah, and you have that line about being the only black kid in Idaho.
Ugh, that place is fucking hell. Idaho is not the best place to be at all. I would never go back there.
How long did you live there for?
I was there for six months but still it sucked. It was literally hell.
When did you move back to Toronto?
I graduated boarding school in 2013.
Is that when you really started getting into being an artist? Or did it start before that?
I came back here and I had goals set in my mind and I knew I couldn’t start putting stuff out immediately because I had this idea in my head that you have to gain the love from the streets first, the people in your community, before you can do anything. I spent like a year and a half making music, I just didn’t put it out. So there’s this mystery lingering in the air where I'm making music but no one heard anything, and I think my timing was perfect. Everything's like a work in process.
Some of these songs on the mixtape have been around for awhile now, right? Did you have misgivings about releasing them now?
Most of the songs on the mixtape are relatively new, the older songs were just skeletons. There were three versions of Marauding Paradise that never came out, and we scrapped all the versions. The whole project was the same in theory, but I reworked on a lot of other things, but everything is new in the last six or seven months.
Why scrap the other versions?
That’s me being a perfectionist, and I knew that it wouldn't have made the impact that it did now.
There's sort of a throughline in the album of relationships falling apart and so there’s a storytelling aspect to it. Do you think of this as a concept album? Or did that weave itself together after the songs had been done?
It was always a concept album. I always try to keep it as personal as possible. I watch a lot of movies, right and that’s why there are a lot of clips throughout the duration of the project, and in every movie whether it's comedy, action, whatever, there’s always a love story. I had to put personal experiences in to it and bring in that character and just make it as cohesive as possible.
Because if you have a fucking album, a straight hip-hop album that's all bangers, it's not gonna travel well, there's no substance to it, and the hardest guy in the world still has emotions, so...
It seems like you've mapped everything out in a lot of ways, so are you thinking of the future, always a step ahead?
Yeah, pretty much. I grew up on the internet, you know. I also grew up in the time before the internet, so I know how marketing strategies work. I'm very strategic in what I do for a reason and patience is a very big thing. There are moments where I'd probably want to break down on Twitter and Facebook about my frustrations of not being out there where I want to be. But then when you do that to yourself you become a liability and no one likes a liability, so I think once you've mastered the patience thing, everything else just falls into place. Everything is planned out, everything is done for a reason.
So why now?
I feel like now is the time. I have this thing where i want to do things before a certain age, and I was turning 22, so I was like I need to have something out while I’m 21, and that’s how this happened.
You wanted to have it out before you turned 22?
Yeah, I just had this sick feeling in my gut, it’s like the older you get, the less time you have. And the younger you are, it just shows that there's more growth to go.
So do you have other similar goals to do certain things by certain ages?
Yeah, I do. I have a lot in my head. I can't say them out loud, because if I say them out loud then they'll never come true.