Toronto rappers make debut in VICE documentary, 6ix Rising

By: Andrea Josic & Raizel Harjosubroto

Toronto’s TDOT era is coming to a close after rappers like Kardinal Offishall and Rascalz coined the term “T.O.” a decade ago. When artists like Drake and The Weeknd put the city on the map, The ‘6ix’ became Toronto’s new nickname. 6ix Rising, a new documentary by VICE, follows the journeys of the city’s emerging rappers and how they made a name for themselves on the rap scene.

The documentary features artists Prime Boys, Friyie, Big Lean, CMDWN, Jazz Cartier and Pressa. Director Shawney Coney explores their stories, how the city influences their music and how they are on the verge of fame.

It opens with Jimmy Prime of Prime Boys, a rap collective consisting of himself, Donnie and Jay Whiss. A rap collective is different from a rap group because while the rappers collaborate to make music, each artist has their own discography as well. Growing up in the Esplanade, Prime and his friends created Prime Boys and focused on rap in order to stay out of trouble.

Jimmy Prime in 6ix Rising. (Courtesy of Noisey by VICE)

Jimmy Prime in 6ix Rising. (Courtesy of Noisey by VICE)

“I invented the ‘6’,” says Jimmy Prime. “The ‘6’ is a new brand for the city. I felt like no one was taking the city seriously.”

Rapper Friyie was inspired by the different cultures and musical sounds in his neighbourhood of southside Jane and Finch to make music.

A few months after he graduated from York University, Friyie performed his hit single Money Team at the T-Mobile arena before the Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor fight in August.

“It’s crazy how life works,” said Friyie after watching Mayweather working out to his music. “I was a young kid just working and trying to spit motivational music and it was able to motivate a legend like Floyd Mayweather.”

In December 2015, rapper Big Lean lost his close friend, Lotto Max, in a drive-by in Parma Court, a public housing project neighbourhood in Scarborough. Although he lost the partner with whom he created the rap collective Da Degrees, Big Lean stays motivated to pursue music.

“I’m going to go hard for what he wanted and what I wanted,” says Big Lean. “He’s working up there and I’m working down here until we meet again.”

CMDWN, pronounced “come down,” a Toronto rap collective consisting of Fiji and Ca$tro Guapo, was originally known for hosting house parties in a one-bedroom apartment above a bar.

Ca$tro Guapo’s family is from South Jane and Fiji’s mom lives on Parliament and Shuter. Coming from rough parts of the city, CMDWN uses music as an escape.

“Music, to us, is a gateway to freedom to do what we want and live how we want,” said Fiji.

As the duo’s personalities gained laughter from the audience throughout the screening, it’s evident that CMDWN’s chemistry attracts various crowds.

“We’re opening doors for people that are different,” said Fiji. “Our fans vary from hipsters to weirdos, to hood n*****.”  

Toronto-born Jazz Cartier claims the city as his home. He looks down upon artists who leave Toronto for the U.S. to pursue music because when they return, he feels they can’t claim the city as their own.

Jazz Cartier in 6ix Rising (Courtesy: Noisey by VICE)

Jazz Cartier in 6ix Rising (Courtesy: Noisey by VICE)

“Your city has to f*** with you before anyone f***s with you,” said Cartier, in regards to creating music in your hometown.

Despite the respect he has for the city, Jay Whiss of Prime Boys feels that an artist needs to go to the U.S. in order to make it big.

“We get caught, we can’t go to the States,” Whiss stresses the importance of keeping a clean record. “That’s the number one market. So if we can’t get there, it’s useless. There’s only so much you can do in Canada.”

Pressa originates from the Driftwood neighbourhood near Jane and Finch. Pressa has been unable to tour in the U.S. because of a criminal record.

His career started as an opening act on Drake’s Boy Meets World tour. Last May, Pressa’s show in London, England was cancelled due to negative press around his arrest in early 2016.

Pressa in 6ix Rising. (Courtesy of Noisey by VICE)

Pressa in 6ix Rising. (Courtesy of Noisey by VICE)

“I have better things and better plans for my future,” Pressa said when reading his allegations. “I’m just trying to work and have a better life than where I came from.”

While these rappers have gained local attention, they have yet to take their fame outside of the country.

Whiss acknowledges that it’s difficult to break through. “A lot of people in Toronto have a spotlight as if they’re a big artist already,” said Whiss. “The pressure of having to take it to that next level and getting there, it’s hard.”

In a Q & A session after the screening, Coney said that he is looking into making a documentary about music producers who are more established, with 10 or more years of experience in Toronto’s music industry.

The full Noisey documentary can be viewed here.

Artist Profiles: B.C. native Ben Dunnill talks inspirations and new music

This is the first in a new series by CanCulture Magazine, called Artist Profiles. We reach out to underground Canadian artists all over the country to talk to them about their music, inspirations and future plans. We want to give them a voice and recognition for their work in the ever-changing landscape of the music industry.  By: Brooke Houghton

In the province of British Columbia, a new agePiano Man has emerged filling his seaside town with piano riffs and soulful songs.

Ben Dunnill, 18, is an up-and-coming singer-songwriter whose music transcends his classical roots, branching out into modern-day jazzy tunes and indie rock.

(Allan Baedak/Words, Pictures & Music Media)

(Allan Baedak/Words, Pictures & Music Media)

CanCulture had the opportunity to interview the talented Dunnill from none other than his bathtub, the first of many lovable quirks that shone through in his interview. His old school vibe was a refreshing take in a sea of digital artists, not to mention his love for puns. If you don’t believe us, check out his Instagram, @bendunnill. We talked about when his next album is being released, his inspirations and plans for the future.  

Q: What inspired you to get into music?

A: “My siblings were very musical. I started in theatre, both my parents played professionally. As I was growing up surrounded by music I developed a passion, and my dad started seeing this passion. He introduced me to all of these artists and amazing music. I fell in love with the craft, ever since then it was my life goal.”

Q: When did you realize you were starting to gain a large following?

A: “Probably about three years ago when I started playing at a piano bar called Bin 101 every weekend. I got a news article, then I got a magazine cover with my face on it and shortly after I was named one of the top ten musicians to look out for in 2016.”

Q: Who are your main influences when it comes to your writing style?

A: “I love old classical Mozart, some of the 70’s singer-songwriters, anyone who took the art form and made it something special. Personally, I love Jackson Browne because his lyrics really say something to me.”

Q: What piece of work are you most proud of?

A: “My favourite song I’ve ever written is ‘We Are Just Kids’. It's completely different. It’s a song that has no modern pop structure. It’s short but original and I don’t know where it came from, but I hope it can find its way into a top Broadway or on-screen production.”

Q: What do you want to accomplish most in music?

A: "I think the truest artists are those who cannot only create music for record purposes, but those who can transform sounds to create environments and atmospheres so when you close your eyes, you truly feel like you are in a different place entirely. Music is essentially going through changes and strategically using the silences in between, well I’d love for my listeners to close their eyes and feel themselves completely change. I think that’s where the true power of an artist lies; in the ability to make someone feel something different, not just hear it.”

Q: Your debut album was released in 2016. When is your next album coming out?

A: “That’s tough, I’m really critical of my work. Whenever I record something I feel the need for it be perfect, but I’m hoping it will be ready to release by next summer.”

Q: What’s next for you and your career?

A: “I recently got offered to start composing music for a television show in Vancouver,  called When Paintings Come Alive. As I develop my vocal ability, I would love to focus on writing more music.”