Daniel Caesar: Behind the genre-defying sound and soul

By Will Lofsky

Feature image courtesy Sean Brown and Keavan Yazdani via danielcaesar on Instagram

Toronto’s music scene has drastically changed over the decade from Drake-inspired moody R&B to auto-tuned trap that very few musicians have failed to stand out, with the exception of Daniel Caesar, also known as Canada’s Frank Ocean.

Ashton Simmonds, better known as Daniel Caesar, is the 23-year-old Grammy Award winning songwriter, musician, and incredible vocalist from Oshawa, Ont. He first made his way to Toronto after getting expelled from his Christian high-school and kicked out of the house by his father for selling a small amount of weed to another student.

Times were not easy for Caesar. He worked dead-end jobs and once slept on a park bench in Trinity Bellwoods Park between couch surfing at friend’s homes. “There were low points,” Caesar told Exclaim! “And I know that I could go back home, if it really came down to that.”

Growing up in a religious household that did not support secular music influenced Caesar’s gospel-infused, genre-defying blend of soul, rock, pop, and jazz. Through deep, reflective tracks about sex, love, money, spirituality and longing, Caesar connects to his audience in a way that so many artists cannot.

Caesar first built momentum off of his independently-released EPs Birds of Paradise, Praise Break, and Pilgrim’s Paradise, which featured a collaboration with long-term friend and co-founder of the IXXI Initiative, Sean Leon, and BADBADNOTGOOD, a world-renowned Jazz band formed by Humber College students in 2010.

After connecting with Kali Uchis for his Grammy nominated hit, “Get You,” which now has 75 million views on YouTube and 200 million streams on Spotify, Caesar began performing more regularly and putting together his debut album, Freudian.

Following the success of “Get You,” Caesar prepared for his take-over, “It was kind of like this is our moment,” said Caesar to Exclaim! “We knew that if we put out a subpar project, we could lose all the momentum.”

Once released, Freudian blew up and landed the #1 on iTunes top charts with “Get You” and “Best Part” featuring H.E.R going platinum in Canada and the US. In 2017, Freudian won a Juno for R&B/ Soul recording of the year, and earned two Grammy nominations; one for Best R&B Album and one for Best R&B Performance of “Get You.”

As Freudian continued to take over 2018, Caesar became the first male in history to land his first two commercial singles “Get You” and “Best Part” on the #1 spot of Billboard’s Adult R&B chart. Caesar closed off the year with a surprise single called “Who Hurt You?” a beautiful slow jam with rich harmonies, psychedelic, phased-out guitar riffs, and smooth, raw vocals that sound like you’re in the studio with him.

Now internationally recognized, Caesar’s “Best Part” won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance on stage of the 61st Annual Grammy Awards in 2019.  

While still early on his career, it’s safe to say that Caesar has made a lasting impact on Toronto and will continue to inspire the next generation of singers in the city and GTA.

Opinion: Tory Lanez’s Constant Need for Attention

The Toronto rapper constantly makes headlines with his penchant for starting conflicts

Photo courtesy of Anton Mak/The Come Up Show/Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Anton Mak/The Come Up Show/Wikimedia Commons

By Manus Hopkins

Having a hard time keeping up with all the feuds Tory Lanez keeps seeming to land himself in? You aren’t the only one. The 26-year-old Brampton rapper has earned himself a load of publicity taking shots at some of the biggest names in the industry.

Lanez has been on the music scene, putting out mixtapes since 2009 and has risen to fame over the past 10 years. After being picked up by Mad Love and Interscope Records, his first full-length studio album, I Told You, was released in 2016. Though his music has received critical acclaim, he has still found other ways to continue reeling in attention.

Lanez’ oldest and longest-running feud was with Toronto superstar Drake. It dates back to as early as 2010, when Lanez was just a teenager. It all started with a callout from Lanez, and in 2015 he dropped a mixtape called New Toronto, which some saw as a slight to Drake, the reigning king of Toronto’s rap scene. Drake even name dropped Lanez’ mixtape in his song “Summer Sixteen,” rapping “all you boys in the new Toronto wanna be me a little.”

Though they buried the hatchet in May 2017, the two rappers spent a few years continuing to make vague jabs at each other on their tracks. When the end of their beef became Instagram official, Lanez didn’t waste a lot of time busying himself with other high-profile conflicts.

Lanez’ feud with Drake had earned him a great deal of publicity. For better or worse, it made people notice him and pay attention to him in a way they hadn’t before. With his name in the headlines, he was able to attract more potential listeners. It seems as if getting himself into disputes with other stars proved to be a way for him to stay relevant.

Lanez began using Twitter as a new platform to throw insults at his contemporaries, starting more feuds and gaining more attention. He had short-lived public disputes with artists such as Jacquees in February 2016. Later that year, Lanez also had a fiery dispute with rapper Travis Scott, of which eventually led to an in-person confrontation where blows were almost thrown.

In some cases, the hostility between Lanez and his rivals blew over quickly. Other contentions have lasted longer and continued into the present. A still-ongoing war of words ignited in 2017 between Lanez and Eric Bellinger after Bellinger accused Lanez of trying to steal his tag, twice. By this point, Lanez had become known for landing himself in hot water with other rappers, and he hasn’t failed to uphold this reputation.

Lanez started to step up his game in 2018 and throw more disses and challenges wherever he could. His ego-tripping got him into trouble with rapper Joyner Lucas and another tweet at the expense of Royce 5’9” created animosity between the two. The rifts were settled with a couple of diss tracks and an apology respectively, but Lanez’s more recent feuds haven’t ended just yet.

We’re only a few months into 2019, but it’s already been a busy year for Lanez and his pot-stirring. Not all of Lanez’s contemporaries share the view that he is “The best rapper alive right now,” as he not-so-subtly proclaimed in a tweet.

Some rappers took issue with Lanez’s self-praise, including Mysonne and Don Q, whose accusations that Lanez stole his rhymes earned him a diss track from Lanez, titled “Don Queen.” Lanez has also claimed he could outrap prominent artists: J. Cole, Pusha T and every artist on Dreamville Records.

Maybe Lanez is clever and knows igniting feuds is a good way to keep his name on everyone's lips and doesn’t mind the integrity it costs him. Or maybe he’s just insecure and needs to prove he is the best rapper around for his own validation. Either way, he’s sure to be back in the headlines soon enough with more drama.

Get to Know: Drew Yorke, the Toronto-based creative who works harder than you do

By Will Lofsky

Photo courtesy  mr.koa

Photo courtesy mr.koa

At just 23, Drew Yorke has become a contributing editor and staff photographer for lifestyle and culture publication Sidewalk Hustle, started his own video podcast, The Drew Yorke Show out of the Red Bull office on Queen Street West and completed a joint-degree in media studies and journalism at the University of Guelph-Humber.

What separates Ottawa-born Yorke from most 23-year-olds is his relentless drive to turn his show into a regular press stop for international artists, produce live concerts and video performance segments like BBC Radio 1’s “Fire in the Booth”, and to help cultivate the next wave of upcoming rap and R&B artists in the city - all while keeping up with growing Toronto rent prices.

We got together at a coffee shop in Parkdale to talk about his story, what he’s got going on right now and his plans moving forward. Read the full interview below.

What made you want to get into journalism?

I’ve been a fan of interviews on Hot97 and the Breakfast Club for a long time now. Every day I wake up and I watch all of those shows. Even when I was younger and more into video games I would watch news shows and stuff like Machinima. When it came time to go to school, I went for a multimedia program and focused on journalism later on. I don’t really know what drew me towards it. I think I used to want to be a real, hard news journalist but I quickly realized that I didn’t want to get that serious. I like talking about stuff I care about. Even though hard news is really exciting, it’s exhausting.  

How long have you worked as a photographer?

I started doing that in early 2015. So, I guess almost four years now but I started taking it really seriously in the beginning of 2017.

Do you have management?

No. It gets busy, but it’s not overwhelming. A lot of my work is based in the city. I’ve travelled a little bit for brand stuff, but it’s all pretty manageable. It’d be cool to be at that point where it’s not manageable, but I guess that’s a little scary too. I’m still in the place right now where I think I’m just saying yes to a lot of people.

Where have you travelled to?

I’ve been to Vancouver a couple of times to shoot and write. I know some artists out there like So Loki, ANKLEGOD and Yurmsauce and I was working with a cannabis brand out there called Emerald Health Canada. There’s also a festival in Quebec City that I go to a lot called Festival d’ete de Quebec. It’s a huge festival - they go all out for like eleven days. Last summer I saw The Weeknd, Neil Young, and Future headlining over three nights with a bunch of other acts. It’s crazy.

How’d you get in touch with Sidewalk Hustle?

HYPEBEAST posted a photo I took of an Atlanta artist named Raury at Adelaide Hall and the location tag on the post said it was taken in Toronto. Sidewalk Hustle saw it and DM’d me asking if I was from Toronto and how much I charged. I gave them my rate and started working for them. About a year later they were like, “Do you write?” and I wasn’t really writing about music or anything but my writing had always been pretty good so I said yes. Eventually they started sending me more opportunities and I would write about the shows I was going to as well as photograph them. One day they asked me if I could interview an artist, and I always thought about it, but I had never done it yet. The first one I ever did was with Phantogram. That’s how I got into interviewing.

When did The Drew Yorke Show start to come together?

I’ve wanted to do it for years but six months ago I started thinking that I wanted to take the idea seriously. I don’t really put things on paper, I kind of work them out in my head. The only thing I was missing was a name. I had bought mics, I had a location, I had equipment, I had some potential guests, and a quick format of how I wanted to do it. I slowly worked out all of the details but couldn’t figure out a name for it. I didn’t know what to call it. I think I just got fed up that I had no name and eventually I decided that I was going to call it The Drew Yorke Show. I thought that people were going to think that I was too cocky but people were into it. I was always behind the camera, and that’s the reason why I started doing interviews because I wanted to be on camera and be part of the story.

What’s the plan moving forward?

I really want to do a live performance segment. I haven’t really put the pieces together for that yet but there are so many people that do stuff like “Fire In The Booth” so I want to do a sick job. I want to do live events too. I think that strategic partnerships for live events and for anything I do with the brand is really important. I realized that particularly when trying to promote friends and other artists - I can only put the same cover of a song on my Instagram story so many times. There’s only the same 500 people that are seeing it and that’s not even the best way to reach people.

If I did a partnership with a music festival where I had a little set-up somewhere doing live interviews it would be way better for storytelling. I got emailed today by somebody saying, “I haven’t seen you out at any events since the new year,” and it reminds me of how puzzled I feel by how I’m going to break through and not be a part of my same little bubble. It’s really easy to get trapped in your own little comfort zone, thinking that you’re doing something cool with the same people around telling you how what you’re doing is sick and not moving forward. Toronto’s only so big. I want to be bigger.

For example, there’s a Spanish rapper named Kidd Keo. I really want to interview him. I think he has a lot of potential for western crossover - he has millions of followers and sells out huge venues in South America and Spain. And all I have to do is go to Spain. It’s all in my hands.

Who do you really want to work with in the city?

Do you know Nue? I like his music a lot. I’ve done some stuff with him before and he said he wants to be on the show. When he started to break through people didn’t really support him. The usual people that get behind artists that start to get popping weren’t really into it. I’m not sure if that’s because he signed to an American label so quickly, or because his music is so different, but I like his work a lot. That’s somebody I think I would like to work with more.

LocoCity is one for sure. He’s getting really good numbers and his music is interesting. There’s a new kid named Velow that just finished graduating from The Remix Project. His voice is unique, and I think he has a lot of potential in the US market.

It’s funny. I want to work with more Toronto artists but I also want to get every single American artist that comes to Toronto on my show - and I realize that it’s a process. If an artist is going to New York, they’re going to stop in at The Breakfast Club or Hot 97 or Sway. If they go out to LA, they’re going to stop at No Jumper and Big Boy. It’s a press run. That doesn’t even exist in Toronto. People are going to say “You’re going to Toronto? Are you going to see Drew Yorke?”

For more on Drew Yorke tune into his show and follow him on Instagram @drewyorke.

This interview has been edited by Drew Yorke for clarity in his responses