Toronto Rap Scene is “Dog-Eat-Dog,” says Rapper Jazz Cartier
In America’s saturated rap cities, there are clear tiers in the hip-hop ecosystem. There’s the elite circle of rap royalty (the household names who only take subways for good publicity), the widely knowns (the ones knocking at the door of the aforementioned’s kingdoms in the rap clouds), and the little guys, who claw each other for a credible cosign.
Thanks to Drake and his OVO regime, the Toronto scene appears more like a band of brothers than a cold-blooded jungle. The 6 God routinely posts Instagram pictures playing buddy-buddy with his native kin, and he’s lately been on a remix kick, flipping songs from hardly knowns in Toronto (most of whom are also shown love every week by Oliver and 40 on OVO Radio). Since he frequently traverses Toronto’s underground, Drake paints a cordial picture of his city’s hip-hop community: even the king is down to kick it with his common folk.
But according to Jazz Cartier, this is a facade.
“Nah, it’s dog-eat-dog,” he tells me. “So many artists [in Toronto] have tried for so long, and before Drake, we never really had a sound. To get love Stateside now, all the music you put out has to be good. If not, then it’s trash.”
Jazz was born in Toronto, then moved to Barbados, Kuwait, and a handful of U.S. cities, before returning to the 6 just a few years ago. Now, the rapper is one of the few giving a voice to downtown Toronto. He’s been at it for a few years, and the 22-year-old tells me that before OVO took over, there existed a stigma dividing American and Canadian rappers.
“The moment you would say you’re from Canada, people would shut you down. Now, because the success of Drake, we have our own little section of hip-hop. It can be communal, in a sense, but at the same time, you have to fend for yourself.”
“It’s like a movie. It’s the race to the top. It’s very ego-based. Everyone wants to prove that they’re worthy of being the next up. Some guys get cosigns, some don’t. The ones that do feel like they’ve made it, while the others feel like they have to prove themselves. It’s really competitive.”
Jazz explains that because Toronto rappers move in such close quarters, there are assumptions that their music will be heard. Over the past few years, Jazz has noticed a common expectation within his city’s rap community and offers some advice to avert the misstep many are taking.
“It’s so small and tight-knit, that if you do put out a song, chances are, a fair amount of people are gonna hear it, especially if you’re starting out. Since that’s the case, stay true to yourself, but don’t expect any handouts. A lot of people reach too much for those handouts.”