Toronto Music Review 2015: The Majors, The Minors & The Newcomers

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It was an incredible year for Toronto music, and whether the world is ready to admit it or not, the city’s carefully crafted sounds have been the backbone to the sonic landscape of 2015. For the first time in a long time, or what may very well be ever, Toronto has become a hotspot for new talent and unique perspectives, marking 2015 not only an important year for the city, but an especially historic year for our artists.

While Drake, P. Reign, Roy Wood$,Tory Lanez and Kardinal Offishall made major headlines with their releases, in 2015 Toronto also became an incubator for the re-emergence of veteran emcees and distinct producer-artist relationships, and the creation of sub-genres reflected in the ‘Toronto Sound.’ As everyone pushes forward with their ‘Album of the Year’ lists, I’ve decided to take a homegrown approach with a list that highlights some of Toronto’s greatest 2015 releases – 19 Albums/Mixtapes & 18 EPs to satisfy your tastebuds.




Tona – Carpe Diem
Just before winning a JUNO with Naturally Born Strangers, Tona started 2015 with the release of his solo project CARPE DIEM. Heralded by the single “Long Winded Road”, the 13-track album features hard line yet harmonious production courtesy of longtime collaborators Lyve and Rich Kidd, as well as Grammy-nominated Paperboy Fabe and Tona himself. Etched with personal tales of self-accomplishment, relationships and hometown pride, CARPE DIEM shows a side of the Toronto vet that has yet to shine. In classic hip-hop bar-stacking form, this album shows growth in content and lyrical maturity that seizes the musical landscape yesterday, today and tomorrow.


Layla Hendryx – Channel 6
Originally from Ottawa, but now calling Toronto home, Layla Hendryx is one of the hardest new spitters to come out of the city – and if you’ve listened to Channel 6, you might tend to agree. Entirely produced by J Mak, the 6-track tape highlights the passion of the Somali rapper, as well as her ability to flip back and forth between R&B and rap, while denoting high hats and trap sensibilities in it’s layered production.


SYPH – Rookie of the Year
With the year almost up, Mississauga’s SYPH boldly released his tape Rookie Of The Year at the beginning of November. After he grabbed the attention of Rowdy Rebel, Belly, Young Scooter and Tory Lanez – all of whom are featured, the ‘Sauga upstart blends trap&B, as well as dancehall and down-right straight spitting to compile an 13-track mixtape well above its rookie title.


John River – The Storm
After coming onto the scene in 2012 with his highly received mixtape The Calm, three years later Mississauga native John River made his return with the September release of The Storm. The 12-track mixture hits notes of positivity and hopefulness, but not without reaching back around to the highs and lows of reality with singles like “BLVD,” dedicated to the late Redway, as well as “Learned My Less” and “Broken Down” which serve as the only assisted singles.


Devontée – District Vibe
Over the past 10 months, Devontée has been steadily making waves and making his name known at home, and across the border. Whether it was his video for “Bare Tings,” spitting “Keeping 6,” being intertwined with the term ‘woe’ (Working On Excellence is his mentality) or working with Boi-1da, the Toronto rapper and producer has caught the ears of many. Devontée’s latest project is an accumulation of what’s already happened, and what’s to come from the young artist. With the exception of one BurdxKeyz and MidKnight-produced cut, the 14-track project is self-produced, and only has two features – Jay Glavany and Joey Bada$$.


Jimmy B – Prince of the ‘Borough: Ch. 1 – The BRiCKZ
Smashmouth Entertainment signee Jimmy B has taken it upon himself to represent his city to the fullest, so appropriately so, this past summer he released his EP Prince of the ‘Borough: Ch. 1 – The BRiCKZ. As the follow up to the 2013 release of L.O.R.D.S., the 7-track EP gets production from fellow Smashmouth members Tay Lewis and M Mac, as well as Devontee, Omari Jabari and RGC. With heavy bass and even louder Scarborough pride, Jimmy B rolls up to “Kennedy Station” with complimentary hits “East Side Ting,” “Olde English” and the street anthem “Scarborough” – which got an even tougher remix.


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Clairmont The Second – A Mixtape By Clairmont The Second
At just 17-years old, Clairmont The Second became a name to know before he even dropped A Mixtape By Clairmont The Second mid-September. Taking on samples like En Vogue’s “Hold On,” Ice Cube’s “Wicked” and even Bootsy Collins’ “More,” it’s hard to imagine that these singles could be re-imagined decades after their original releases, but Clairmont does just that – and also bridges the generational gap in Toronto while he’s at it.


Big Lean – Enough Is Enough
With the watchful eye of Boi-1da behind the boards, as well as production from the likes of Maven Boys, Pro Logic, 2EPIK, Big Lean marked his territory this year with the release of his mixtape, Enough Is Enough. With just two features, Nipsey Hussle and Juelz Santana respectively, Big Lean holds down the fort in the 10-track project. Whether its his title track “Enough Is Enough” or “Everything’s Alright,” Big Lean is definitely a name to watch this year.


Allan Rayman – Hotel Allan
Somewhere between channeling our inner darkest secrets and the highest angelic chords comes Allan Rayman’s Hotel Allan, a 10-track release that receives bulk production Substance. Singles like “Beverly,” “Graceland” and “27” seamlessly flow into one another creating an incredibly mysterious puzzle that isn’t complete, unless you take in the full album and watch the videos, while Allan Rayman’s R&B-meets-Southern Soul Blues creates an enigmatic soundtrack. Hotel Allan may very well be one of the most slept-on Toronto releases this year.


Elcee the Artist – ManeStream
Elcee the Artist is more than just an artist, but also the Toronto representative for Virginia’s JetPacks, as well as the videographer and photographer for Toronto brand Life & Wisdom. With that being said, in February he dropped the DJ Nado-hosted date ManeStream, an 11-song mixtape that aligns itself with smooth vocals, double-time deliveries and dope production. In comparison to the low-level energy that transcends a lot of popular rap today, Elcee gave a project that makes your head bang and your feet sway.


Spekwon – Sofa King Amazing
At the height of Toronto’s ‘future bounce’ movement in 2015 ace Spekwon’s 12-song LP Sofa King Amazine, a project which boasts features from Shi Wisdom, Ian Kamau, Slakh The Beatchild, Lord Quest and bizZarh to name a few. Divided into two themes by alter-egos Marty McFligh and Fox Howard, the first half channels jazzy odes, soul samples and socially conscious lyricism, while the latter tackles heavy 808s, ambient synths and experimental content. Sofa King Amazing marks Spekwon’s first release since his 2010 mixtape, and fortunately, it’s one that stood out greatly this year.


Nyce Brown – Prince of Hearts
Coming in as a new voice in R&B, at the top of 2015 Nyce Brown liberated a 6-track EP titled Prince of Hearts that meddles in smooth vocals and sultry baselines. Contrary to the “alternative R&B” that’s swiped the city, Nyce Brown follows the classic blueprint of a traditional R&B record. Tender vocals and genuine lyricism in tracks like “Lay It Down” and “Epic Love,” as well as production from Kyle Justice, David Neale and AndreOnBeat mark this EP one for the romantics.


Jazz Cartier – Marauding in Paradise
It’s been an incredible year for Jazz Cartier, and if you’ve yet to hear his name, you may be living under a rock. Although he’s previously dropped music, 2015 marked his breakout with the released of his debut mixtape, Marauding in Paris. Completely produced by Lantz, the eclectic but cohesive album fits the gritty streets of the city, while playing to trap melodies and sonic storytelling through songs like “New Religion” and “The Downtown Cliché.”


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VLXL (Via Linez x Lyve) – Trains, Automobiles & Flights
Slept-on, overlooked, call it what you want, but VLXL’s Trains, Automobiles & Flights fall under the category of ‘I Can’t Believe I Missed Something This Great.’ Made up of Via Linez and longtime producer Lyve, this 13-track mixtape balances itself in layered production, boom bap vibes and a maturity only artists like Junia-T, Tona and Tanika Charles can assist with. ‘Old School’ or not, Trains, Automobiles & Planes take Toronto down the “Runway” and on a “77” straight to the core of rap’s greatest elements.


Adria Kain – Island In My Mind
Three years after releasing her first EP Love, Kain, Adrian Kain has been blowing up in the Toronto R&B/Soul community as not just as a Toronto songstress, but also as an artist who brings a unique vision to R&B/Soul. In June, Adria marked her official return with the release of her 12-track album , a blissful (and peaceful) journey into a utopia environment, with the help of production from Nate Smith, Junia-T, Sevn Thomas and Jordon Manswell.


Rashid St. James – The Nightmare In The Afterhour
Four years after the single of the same name was released, Rashid St. James finally released his 10-track tape Nightmare in the Afterhour back in June. With production fromSolid Mas and 4:44, Rashid St. James paints a picture of Toronto’s after-hours scene with lyrical documentation and dark and stormy production.


Jae Ari – Leave Even Better
Perhaps the first weighty release of 2015, Jae Ari dropped a 12-song LP title Leave Even Better at the very top of the year. With production from Burd x Keyz, Nineteen85, as well as Omito who handles the bulk of the project, Leave Even Better balances itself between R&B and rap, as well as smooth production and great energy.


Relic – The 13th Floor
There’s no doubt that the relationship between Relic and Fresh Kils is A1, but on Rel’s spring album The 13th Floor, it becomes more evident than ever that these two work together effortlessly. Appropriately sitting at 13-tracks, there’s no bad luck to be found on this album – with the exception of dark childhood tales that are subsequently balanced by Relic’s veteran approach to music, and career consistency a lot of artists struggle to find.


Raz Fresco – Pablo Frescobar
As a Canada Day celebration, Raz Fresco released a heavy 17-track mixture that featured the likes of Raekwon, Chuck Inglish, Bishop Nehru, Tre Mission, long-time collaborator The 6th Letter, and many more. Encapsulating the ‘screwface’ attitude of the city, Raz hits with hard lyricism and gritty production – which is almost entirely courtesy of his own doing. Whether it’s “Up North” or “Influenza,” Pablo Frescobar introduces Raz more lyrically assertive and bolder than ever.


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Toronto’s newest future sounds artist comes in the form of singer/rapper-producer K. Forest, who was raised on the outskirts of the city alongside fellow introvert Alessia Cara. Blending 80s pop, soul and rap, K Forest puts out his all for the release of his debut project, INTROVERSION, a 4-track EP produced entirely by dF that’s already reached double digits in plays on Soundcloud. And the Toronto mystery continues…


Nick Nikon – Atlantis EP
Serving as a electronic-R&B mash-up EP, Nick Nikon pushed Toronto’s R&B scene into a whole new dimension with the self-produced 7-track EP, Atlantis. Moody, progressive and entirely driven by smooth vocals, Nick Nikon takes listeners on a trip to a lost underwater intergalactic city that shifts traditional lines of R&B into moody waves.


OSIYM – Spirits EP
Toronto duo OSIYM fell through with the release of their 10-track EP, SPIRITS in 2015. Offering an array of bass-heavy, eclectic and industrial soundwaves, SPIRITS celebrates the machine behind OSIYM. Whether it’s “Us”, that pays homage to Charlie’s late brother Nate, the internal struggle showcased on “Do Too Well,” or the club heavy trap singles “Go Down”, “No More” and “Fuckery”, OSIYM showcases a range of content while keeping a cohesive sound and balance as Charlie Black and Nova effortlessly trade bars.


The Goodz – No Time EP
Coming out of London, ON, newcomer The Goodz takes elements from everything from rock & roll to R&B, as well as elements of his upbringing as the son of Motown’s Gary Martin of the legendary Funk Brothers and intertwines them with hypnotic melodies and bass-heavy production. With production from Mikhail, Deli and Fax Cain, as well as a feature from Roscoe Dash, the 5-track EP creates an experience that ties in elements of the London, ON, music scene alongside the dark waves and ambient vibes of Toronto.


Daniel Caesar – Pilgram’s Paradise EP
After a lengthy wait, Daniel Caesar’s highly anticipated EP (and I don’t use that word often) is here. Coming in at a solid 7 songs, Pilgrim’s Paradise serves as an extension of his 2014 Praise Break EP, one that delivers a pure atmosphere and warm R&B vocals and a touch of dark soulful production. Standouts, like “Streetcar,” which plays off Kanye West’s “Street Lights” offer refreshing takes on iconic sounds, while Caesar offers a progressive look into Toronto’s R&B/Soul scene.


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The 20/20 Project – Tapes And Crates EP
Five years after releasing their debut EP Employees of the Year in 2010, Toronto rap group The 20/20 Project is back with their new album simply titled, Tapes and Crates. Laced with boom bap production and cuts courtesy of producer DJ Unknown, remaining members D-Squared and Idrees take a concrete approach to wordplay and storytelling, effortlessly sharing the spotlight, as already shown on released singles “Got It Made”, “Spit”, and “Nevermore”. Throughout the 6-track EP, The 20/20 Project reveal not only their talent as individuals and a group, but reinforce the notion that ‘boom bap’ music will never die.’


Brother J. Vellore – Hip-Hop Soul EP
With the state of social justice in a frenzy, and the feeling of hopelessness a lot of Canadians feel as we continue to read the headlines of our American neighbours, veteran artist Brotha J Vellore took a moment to address it in the release of The Hip-Hop Soul EP. The former lead singer of 90’s group TBTBT marked his return to the game with the 10-track project, produced by Khan Solo and Landscape, projecting his own trials and tribulations on tracks like “Cruise Control,” as well as taking a stance on “Autocoon” and “Officer Down.”


Unbuttoned – Minute Lasting EP
If you’re looking for a full-bodied sonic experience, one equipped with live instrumentation, cinematic production and soulful vocals, look no further than Unbuttoned’s A Minute Lasting EP. Released in November, the group – made up of members Kamilah Apong, Miles Gibbons, Casey Manierka-Qualle and Alexi Orechin, have re-created the essence of the greats – like Sade, for instance. Despite it being just 2-songs, this EP really does leave you wishing these minutes did keep counting on.


Brendan Philip – Cul+ure Power Vol. 0 EP
At the forefront of the alternative R&B scene has been Brendan Philip, a Dine Alone signee who released Cul+ure Power Vol. 0 in October as a follow up to his self-titled EP release at the top of the year. This time around, Brendan blends soul and electronic music with warm vocals and jazzy hooks to create songs like “Ghostface” and “Row,” as well as moving into future bounce with “Way Down” and “Via.” The subtle uniqueness of Cul+ure Power Vol. 0 makes this an EP worth taking time to digest.


McCallaman – Black Pop EP
After making a name for himself as a producer after providing the backdrop to Goldlink’s “When I Die” and “And After That We Ddin’t Talk,” as well as his work with local artists Andreena Mill and the late Redway, McCallaman came to 2015 with his solo EP, Black Pop. In just 5-tracks, producer McCallaman drops a compilation of “Negro Spirituals, Hymns & Lullabies” with the help of Tika Simone, Clairmont The Second and Sydanie. Beautiful sounds throughout this short, but incredibly full-bodied EP.


Korry Deez – Imago EP
Toronto based rapper, and 1/3 of the group IRS, Korry Deez started his 2015 with the 4-track EP, Imago. With funky production from Elaquent, Black Cat, Phat Tony and Quasar, as well as a guest feature from Tona, Korry Deez shifts from rap to singing to play instruments, introducing a layer of growth in his music that is more present than ever.


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VNCHY – Neverland: 001A_0315 EP
At just 19, Mississauga via Ottawa’s VNCHY has captured the essence of his artistry, which he showcased on his Fall EP Neverland: 001A_0315. The 5-track EP, produced entirely by Prezident Jeff, represents a time when people cease to age, and serves as his most personal delivery yet. Trakcs like “Broke Dreams,” which tell the tale of the hunter becoming the hunted, has already massed over 60K listens on Soundcloud, while “New Kings” introduces VNCHY in a new light.


Jimmy Hoffa & The Kount – Glass of Chardonnay EP
With just 4-tracks, newcomers Jimmy Hofa and The Kount released Glass of Chardonnay as an introductory EP to the duo. Released back in March, the EP walks the line of dance and street (is that even a thing?), and boasts a feature from SeT and Terrell Morris on “Smoke Sum’n.” A swift, but worthy listen.


11:11 – 11:11 EP
From breakups to makeups, 11:11 came onto the scene just as Cuffing Season got underway his self-titled 7-track EP produced by Matthew Burnett and Mike DZL. Highlighting the vulnerability of love and pain, 11:11 (which happens to be a number of balance) finds the equilibrium between light and darkness, and solidifies his name with this EP.

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a l l i e – Moonlust EP
Following the FADER premier of his single “Tundra,” as promised, Toronto songbird a l l i e has risen with a new EP titled, Moonlust. Sitting at just 4 tracks, a l l i e offers just enough to get you hooked, and not enough to to reveal the mystery of her soul.


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Keita Juma – Chaos Theory EP
Formerly known as simply KJ, Keita Juma re-emerged in 2015 with a new name, and a new EP. Chaos Theoy is a progressive 10-song EP that combines elements of future bounce, hip-hop and house music to present a self-proclaimed ‘industrial rap’ genre with a ‘jungle’ influence. Dark synths and introspective lyricism drives Chaos Theory into a valuable EP in the Toronto sonic landscape.


Yours Truly T.Y. x Chef Byer – Beautiful Exchange EP
For the first 6 months of 2015, Hamltion’s Yours Truly T.Y. and Toronto’s Chef Byer ran with a marketing campaign that lead to their collaborative 9-track EP , The Beautiful Exchange. Paying homage to the 90s NY rap scene with the soulful vibes from the Midwest, T.Y. and Chef create the perfect space for neo-classic and boom bap sounds to the likes of Pete Rock, CL Smooth and ATCQ. The laid-back melodic project effortlessly flows, while T.Y. and Chef Byer nurture a special producer-artist relationship throughout the EP.


Kayo – Nowhere EP
From St. Lucia to Halifax and back over to Toronto, Kayo has had quite a journey in the past few years. Taking his experiences and putting them on wax, he released his 4-track EP NOWHERE in the fall. With hard-hitting production from YogiDaProducer, Kayo exposes a knack for finding great hooks and ever greater energy, which even transpired over to the Kardinal Offishall-assisted cut, “Nagato.”


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