2020 forced us to be decisive with what outlets helped us manage our emotions. Well into 2021 and dealing with 2020’s leftovers of work burnout, low energy and messy boundaries, the universal language of music has been an outlet for many, not just music lovers.
Music masterpieces and the magnetic personalities behind them have long emerged from Canada. In this new year, we’ve seen a rise of Canadian artists, and their achievements have put a spotlight on Canada. Now the rest of the world looks closely to see who will be the next Drake or The Weeknd.
The JUNO virtual ceremony made it easy to spot such talent. The virtual ceremony took place on June 4, and gave us a peek of Black Canadian excellence in its prime. The Weeknd won contemporary R&B recording of the year, songwriter of the year and single of the year. Additional wins were from Brampton rapper, TOBi, who took home rap recording of the year, Canadian producer, Wondagurl, Ebony Noami Oshunrinde, who became the first Black woman to win the Jack Richardson producer of the year award, and Savannah Ré, Toronto-based R&B singer and songwriter, who won her very first JUNO award for Traditional R&B/Soul Recording of the Year for her song “Solid.” Black Candian artists showcased that there’s no hierarchy with impact, whether international or local, music and lyricism is profoundly a gift artists create and listeners receive.
Canadian rapper Drake hit a monumental milestone as he was honoured with Artist of the Decade at the Billboard Music Awards on May 23. His speech delivered the reality of confidence he had in his music and the inspiration he drew from surrounding artists that would be a source of motivation to strive for greater success.
In March, he became the first artist to enter the charts at Nos. 1, 2 and 3 simultaneously with his new songs “What’s Next,” “Wants and Needs” and “Lemon Pepper Freestyle.” These songs are featured on his newest project Scary Hours 2, which was released on March 5. With Drake’s recent noise and touching wins naturally, artists from Toronto’s music scene have been reassured what reality they can create with dreams as big as Drake’s milestones.
A month prior, on February 7, The Weeknd, a Scarborough native, made history as the first Canadian to headline a solo Super Bowl halftime show. Performing his hits “I Can’t Feel My Face,” “The Hills” and “Blinding Lights,” The Weeknd was greeted with support from Toronto as Mayor John Tory declared February 7 as “The Weeknd Day.” The University of Toronto Scarborough tweeted an image of him in 2008, singing for a talent show, and remarked on his incredible journey.
Haitian-Canadian producer and DJ KAYTRANADA took home two Grammys on March 14. His collaboration with Kali Uchis, “10%,” from his 2019 album BUBBA won the award for Best Dance Recording, and the same album won Best Dance/Electronic Album. The latter category made Kaytranada the first Black and gay producer to win in this category since it’s 2004 launch.
“A lot of young kids who aspire to be musicians probably have the same inner struggles as me, being Black and gay just [trying to] fit in,” the producer told Billboard prior to the event. “It could be inspiring to them. That’s why I want to win — that’s who I’m going to dedicate it to.”
That win is dedicated to emerging Canadian artists who are carving out a space for themselves in the Canadian music industry as Black artists who fit the bill of activists. They are creating from a place of passion and allow their fans to feed off of this passion.
The shoes are big to fill, but emerging artists are not worried about that. They are too busy building their platform, enjoying the creative process and vocalizing the issues for which they musically advocate. Here are five artists that need to be on your playlists!
DijahSB is a 27-year-old indie independent artist from Toronto. The rapper’s sound is groovy and upbeat with a taste of electro-fusion instrumentals. Interestingly, the lyricism is the opposite of the sound. DijahSB speaks on the realities of finances being in shambles and navigating dark days. In an interview with CBC, DijahSB said, “I just love to make light of the things that are going on in my life, no matter how deep or dark they are, it’s merely a coping mechanism for me.” DijahSB’s 2020 the Album was paid for by a successful crowdfunding campaign that raised over $3,600 for the project. DijahSB’s online following and Toronto’s creative community are supportive of the outspoken and refreshing vibe the artist brings to the table. DijahSB says there needs to be more of this. In an interview with Xtra, DijahSB said, “There aren’t enough labels pushing out new talent, giving us the means to create and just create, instead of having to work a part-time job to afford to come to the studio.” DijahSB’s upcoming album, Head Above The Waters, released on April 23.
Naya Ali is a 32-year-old Montreal hip-hop rapper with a confident sound. Raised in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, a known arts and cultural neighbourhood hub, Ali kept an eye on community rappers through the community’s YMCA yearly shows. With the dream to become one, Ali started writing poems and rapping but, in her early 20s, decided to take another route and focus on school. Working in marketing with an office job, Ali found a balance and worked on her music. Her 2017 single, “Ra Ra,” got her foot in the door. Fast forward to 2021, Ali received one of the OCAN Foundation’s SiriusXM Black Canadian Music Awards, a Canadian music award that recognizes emerging Black artists. This year, the second part of her album Godspeed is set to be released.
LU KALA is a Congolese-singer and pop star defining her own sound with a mix of pop, rock, R&B, soul and dance. As an artist, she doesn’t conform to the regulated Black girl R&B style and sound but rather makes space for the numerous genres she can tap into. In her interview with Exclaim!, LU KALA said she draws her inspiration from Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and wants to see more Black women in similar spaces. Becoming one of them means radiating raw energy and a fierceness that cannot be replicated. Her debut EP Worthy and the track “Love Shit” echo a reminder of self-love, roller-coaster relationships and acceptance. These themes over an upbeat sound are the perfect combo for anyone who is reclaiming what love means to them.
Dylan Sinclair is a 19-year-old R&B singer and songwriter from Toronto. After finding a place for his voice in church at the age of four, he soon began writing and recording by 15. Sinclair released his first independent project, Red Like Crimson, in 2018. His sound is a blend of R&B, gospel and neo-soul. With a growing fan base, Sinclair filled a room of over 200 people for his first concert in Toronto. Sinclair caught the eye of Grammy-nominated Toronto producer Jordon Manswell, who has worked with Daniel Caesar, Mariah Carey and Chris Brown. Sinclair and Manswell have worked closely together since the summer of 2019. He performed his single “Home” on RNB RADAR for their series R&B UNCUT.
K-Riz is a lyricist and rapper from Edmonton, Alberta. His sound is a blend of thoughtful lyricism, futuristic beats and ’90s-inspired R&B. His way with words sets him apart and sparks needed conversation around Black lives. His EP, The Room, was written when he was recovering from injuries from his June 2020 car accident. It was a reflection of the room he spent his time in and his mental space as a time for reflection and creation. His album, Peace & Love, is set to be released in the spring of 2021. Grammy nominated producer LordQuest, who has worked with Talib Kweli and ScHoolboy Q, will contribute to the project as well as Calgary rapper Lyrique.