In the past five years, no other cities have taken a definitive 1A and 1B position in the “hip-hop/r&b capital of the world” conversation than Atlanta and Toronto. The ways in which the music scenes of these two cities differ dive deeper than just a discussion of their characteristic sound; whereas Atlanta has been known to birth the artist with the eccentric personality and a penchant for making as much music as possible, the Greater Toronto Area is home to the more reserved type, artists who strive to keep their music first and any and all drama last. Yet despite the fact that Toronto also serves home to the biggest name in music right now, the genre which he represents still has years to go before it is praised altogether by his native land.

Nathan Miller‘s “Northside” documentary offers a glimpse into the forced-independence of Canadian hip-hop and r&b acts, as the Canadian radio, press, and music industry overall has for years done very little in support of them. Hearing music on the radio from artists outside the OVO and XO camps is rare, soliciting venues to perform for loyal fanbases is invariably a struggle, and funding to develop and promote the artistry is for the most part nowhere to be found. Yet what has brought Toronto to the top and linked it alongside Atlanta in terms of the “hip-hop/r&b capital” rankings is the limitless talent which its artists seemingly possess. While the success of the artists in the OVO and XO camps has undoubtedly opened up the realm of possibility for potential stardom, acts like Sean Leon, K. Forest, and Jimmy Prime remain on the forefront in the struggle to gain recognition for the brilliance flowing out of the 6. While 40 has been an integral piece in cultivating Toronto’s hip-hop/r&b production, producers like WondaGurl, dF, and Eestbound have continued to map out and evolve the distinctive sound which the city is known for.

Amongst the GTA suburbs of Brampton and Mississauga is a small “collective” with three known music acts as members. With the co-sign and possible backing from Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings (who has without a doubt the best ear in the league), r&b singer-songwriter K. Forest has been steadily rising and cultivating his fanbase since releasing his INTROVERSION EP back in 2015. Forest has shown zero signs of slowing down since Travis Scott’s flip of “Guidance“; he and fellow Brampton native dF have proven to be one of the more potent artist-producer duos the GTA has to offer, as they now gear up to release Forest’s most highly-anticipated project yet, Forest Fire II, this coming June.

Every team need a uniform.

A post shared by Shabazz (@11.shabazz) on

Forest’s childhood friend and Sauga City native Shabazz rounds up this “collective”; back in October 2016 the Sudanese rapper released his debut EP, Alma Sola, with dF as the lone producer and Forest as the lone feature. Laced with 8 tracks, not only does the project see impressive storytelling from Shabazz, but also dF’s versatility as a producer, as the potential of both acts appears to be massive. Rather than exploring the West Indian roots that Toronto artists have been known for, the two elected to take up a different route, one inspired by popular Netflix crime drama Narcos, which follows the story of Pablo Escobar’s rise to infamy and lasting impact on Latin American drug cartels. The Latin theme is heavy throughout Alma Sola, as Shabazz’s dive into the culture doesn’t stop at just the title. From the interpolation of the hypnotic Narcos theme song on “Bandido” to the multiple references to Escobar’s government-ordered prison throughout “Club Medellin“, the project sees Shabazz carving out his own path of the ever-growing genre known as Latin Trap.

It’s been over a year and a half since Alma Sola arrived, and over a year since Shabazz has released any music at all. But after speaking with him it’s no question that whatever he and dF decide to return with will be worth the wait, theme or no theme….

In your hiphopcanada interview you said that you’ve been working on music since high school? Is making music something that you always wanted to do growing up or did you kinda just end up in it?

Shabazz: I’ve always had a love for music so naturally I eventually gravitated towards writing music and using that creative energy I felt I always had. Once I found music as that channel for my creative energy there has been nothing I’ve desired more.

Who were your biggest musical influences growing up or even today?

Shabazz: Growing up I was always listening to Nas; the way he paints you a picture and sets a scene with his lyrics was amazing to me. I was also listening to a lot of Mos Def; that Black Star tape with him & Talib Kweli remains one of my favorite albums of all time. Tupac is another artist I’ve always studied and admired, as well the Bad Boy era, from Biggie to Total to 112 to Mase. They just had that bounce in their music like no other.

I was looking at the Alma Sola production credits and every single track was produced by dF, and the same goes for a majority of K. Forest’s catalog. What is it about df that makes him the go-to guy?

Shabazz: I’m a very detail-orientated person and realize the smallest of things can make a gigantic impact, and when it comes to the production side of things dF is the same way, very meticulous. Most people find that frustrating but we take it as part of the territory, so I can trust if I want something done and done right. dF will deliver without a doubt, I trust his instincts and his input, and the ear for music is there.

Could you speak on your relationship with Forest? I think I read somewhere that you’ve known him since like the fifth grade or something?

Shabazz: Forest, that’s my bro, that’s my brother, he got my backing and support 24/7. We came up making music together, pushing each other with the craft and it’s gonna be like that till the casket.

What are the the chances of us getting project from just the three of you guys? Like an EP of you and Forest solely over dF production?

Shabazz: I don’t see a single reason to object to that idea, timing is everything and maybe when the time is right we can look into that. But I’ve met no one as talented at what they do than those two and if the time is right I’d have no hesitation.

You’ve said before that you’re a perfectionist, what do studio sessions usually look like with you?

Shabazz: The process is never linear; the in-between may change, but at some point there will be some crazy production playing on a loop while I’m pacing around mumbling flows and melodies.

I noticed that you guys haven’t been heavy into visuals like that, does that stem from a desire to let the music to speak for itself?

Shabazz: The music most definitely speaks for itself, but that’s not reason. Timing is everything, when the time is right it shall be. The time came for “Link”, the time came for “Reverse”, and the time will come for many more to follow.

Gin N’ a whole lotta juice

A post shared by Shabazz (@11.shabazz) on

I don’t know if you’ve seen Nathan Miller’s “Northside” doc, but at one point Sam O’Connor (music editor and A&R) speaks about how Canadian radio doesn’t play Toronto artists. To what extent is that true? Was it a real surprise to hear “Club Medellin” get radio play?

Shabazz: I agree in the sense that the Canadian market is so small in comparison to the American market; Canadian radio often ends up relying heavily on mainstream content to reach as many people as possible, which is why you end up with five radio stations playing the same top-40 song at the same time. Once a Canadian artist gets that mainstream appeal (like Drake, The Weeknd, Alessia Cara etc.) there is a greater chance a listener will know it, like it, and stay tuned. But this mindset fails to realize the hotbed of talent that the GTA is, and the floodgates are now open and the eyes of the world are starting to look at Canada for their music and the demand for our artists is growing.

That being said there are stations that are conscious of this, G98.7 being one of those of course (shoutout R. Chung & 100% Canadian for playing “Club Medellin” it was definitely an honour). In that program, you can see that they have an awareness of the talent around them.  Also Vibe 105.5 in Toronto, they’ve always been supportive of GTA talent and I salute them as well.  Stay the course and they will thrive. Canadian talent will make sure of that.

What do you think it’s gonna take for you and other Toronto artists to get the more widespread recognition that you guys deserve?

Shabazz: Keep doing what we do, and continue to progress and get better. There is definitely a growing awareness of the sauce we got here in the North, we just gotta keep the pressure and keep pushing great music, don’t let up.

Are there any other artists and producers in or out of Toronto that you’d like to work with someday?

Shabazz: I need a beat from Kanye & Timbaland before I leave this earth, outside of that, I’m non-discriminatory. The music is all that matters, the energy you coming at me with in the present is all that matters to me.

It’s been over a year since you’ve put out any music so what’s been the delay? Is it because there’s a project that you’ve been working on or is it just life shit that’s been getting in the way of things sometimes?

Shabazz: Timing. I don’t think its possible to understate the importance of that with music, but I’ve spent the time working and progressing professionally and mentally. I’ve put out only a single verse since that last release, but the new year coming just feels right.

Lastly, how do you feel about the third season of Narcos? At first I was a little hesitant to watch since Pablo’s gone and all but I heard that they’ve made the new season super live with the Cali cartel and all…..

Shabazz: To be honest the only thing I miss about the previous seasons is the narrator. Pablo’s story is well known and crazy, but the 90’s drug era is filled to the brim with madness so the action ain’t going nowhere. On a side note, season 2 of El Chapo was super dope.

Eyes low, still observing

A post shared by Shabazz (@11.shabazz) on

Check out Alma Sola via Soundcloud below and iTunes here, and be sure to follow Shabazz on:

Twitter  |  Instagram  |  Soundcloud