Photo by LA MX$E
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raw yarn it’s Montreal like Tams on a Sunday.
Montreal rap is booming, and I’m not writing this just because of my hometown hype. For the first time ever, it feels like local talent has access to an infrastructure that can elevate artists to sustainable careers, i.e. everyone from autotune crooners in English to punk rap hybrids, to underground samplers, pinball machines are making waves, both locally and internationally. For my money, one of the city’s most vital incubators is NBS, a youth-focused community studio on the city’s west side best known for producing Skiifall, but whose impact goes far beyond a single standout, helping to polish a who’s who of artists on the west side of town.
Rapper/producer Jai Nitai Lotus serves as a mentor and director at NBS — when we teamed up, he was handling the space’s FL Studio licensing — but listened Know the shades, his latest release, it’s clear he’s learning so much from the studio’s 11-18 demographic that he teaches. Take lead single “Backword” – the drums hit like classic underground hip-hop, but the arrangement accentuates dark atmospheres with up-to-the-minute electronic flourishes and the flows change in no time, incorporating post-autotune distortion is a natural way. This sense of balance – between the old and the new, the electronic and the organic – is the great preoccupation of the disc, not only stylistically but also thematically, as Lotus passes Know the shades examining the algorithm-fueled polarization that grips politics and discourse, and the subsequent imbalances that polarization produces.
It might sound like the recipe for a heady, introverted record, but to Jai Nitai Lotus’ credit, Know the shades always emphasizes musicality first and foremost, transforming its underground lyrical concerns into contemporary sounds that go hand in hand with MTL’s most accessible hip-hop fare. Take the instrumental “Aqua”, in the hands of most rappers, it would serve as a template for a standard anthem, but instead Lotus hides some medicine in the music, further exploring false binaries and their impact on our psyche. Meanwhile, “Still Ppl,” co-produced with rising Montreal super-producer (yes, I said it) YAMA//SATO, marries a bright Dub sample with a hazy flute line, creating a perfect canvas for ruminations. from Lotus. This series of pivots, from trap tempos to 90 BPM grooves, culminates in “The Beloved” and “A Way Out”, beautifully haunting self-therapy sessions over ethereal harp plucks and muted chords respectively, rewarding deeper listenings.
For all the excitement surrounding Montreal’s youngest rap talent – local media still misunderstands the genre’s journey and only focuses on the superficial – Jai Nitai Lotus’ combination of new streams and adult male concerns proves that There’s more to MTL Hip Hop than a population boom. Instead, with Know the shadesit expands the possibilities of the city’s rap scene beyond boxes like ‘underground’ or ‘turn up’, because why choose?