Words by: Abdul-Jabbar Obiagwu
Canada is often hailed as a hotbed for multi-cultural intersectionality. Stemming from their fairly reasonable immigration policies, they have created an important environment that lets creative energy thrive. The artists that populate this list are evidence of that. From indigenous talent to people in diaspora, there are natives and immigrants here who have made a difference to the soundscape of the country and we recognize and applaud the diversity it took to create that.
Ajax Ontario’s Joël Lobban doesn’t make your run of the mill, sultry R&B slow burners. The songs are often conversational but he holds the line between interpersonal and confessional lyricism. He specializes in synth controlled melodies and exquisite chord progression. His latest EP Grunge Gospel, is made up of a B side that reflects the entirety of the A side. It is as hopeful as it is spellbinding, it is as dark as it is bubbly. This is an artist well versed in the ways of duality and it is very clear from the body of work. With his slew of singles, Joel is placed to carve his niche and flourish.
Singer/songwriter Shay Lia has been making beautiful music since 2014. With production credits ranging from Sango to OVO’s French producer Stwo to her friend and frequent collaborator Kaytranada, you would be forgiven for expecting her to have a far more extensive catalogue than she does. This is also clearly reflected in her live performance history. Her first-ever stage was the prestigious Coachella one in 2017. Asides from that her guest appearances are also strewn with groundbreaking artists including Kojey Radical, Buddy, and once again Kaytranada on her debut album.
TiKa is the onstage persona for not just an artist but possibly one of the most prolific creative forces out of Toronto in recent history. She has done everything from curating art to promoting shows and managing the Known Unknown event series. And that’s just the stuff we know about. Her triumphant return to releasing music came after a 6-year long hiatus, (which hardly seemed like it because of everything else she was participating in) with the release of Some Things Better Left Unsaid. Her use of jazz backed, electronic production is jarring but it provides an unlikely backdrop for her occasionally raspy vocals to flourish.
Rochelle Jordan is a British-Canadian singer/songwriter and actress whose work has been ongoing since her debut EP RO JO, when she was 19. She has since gone on to release four more albums since then to critical acclaim. She moved from Toronto to L.A. in 2013 to break free from her comfort zone and expand her horizons. You could call the move a success. She has since toured with Jessie Ware and collaborated with Donald Glover/Childish Gambino, Chance the Rapper and Erykah Badu. The Aaliyah comparisons are not so far-fetched; sonically she taps into the early noughts and the eras that immediately precede it. Visually, she is just as stunning. Her latest effort titled Fill Me In is produced by her longtime collaborator KLSH and seems to be a precursor for a new project in the works.
Nigerian-Canadian rapper/singer TOBi has been in the scene for roughly 3 years now, trying to etch himself into history. With top-notch lyrics and delivery, he grabs your attention from the get-go, his subject matter is varied and thoughtful at every turn, be it personal or not. There can only be so many reasons why a veteran like The Game would extend a feature to an artist who is still on the rise. His debut album “Still” was an immense body of work, with the deluxe edition repackaged as a visual album. He primarily addresses issues he has experienced with being a member of the African diaspora community and his unique perspective earned him the critical acclaim he so richly deserved.
Tanika Charles is an exceptionally talented singer and songwriter from Toronto. Her style is markedly retro to some, but that simply is not the case. You might hear hints of an era reminiscent of Motown, but her soul is firmly in the present. She writes music that is evident of that fact. Upside Down is one such example where she highlights what the #MeToo movement means for different women. Her lyrics are poignant and articulate on her latest effort, “Gumption”. Her display of emotion over such a broad range is hard to come by in modern times. She tackles self-care after an intense but ultimately futile relationship, on Since You Been Gone, in a manner rarely heard, by self-admonishment. It is no surprise at all that her first project was longlisted for the Polaris Prize and a JUNO in the same year.
It is fair to refer to Jahkoy as a seasoned contemporary R&B singer. The Ontario native released his debut EP, “Foreign Water” in 2016, and followed up closely with a slew of singles including the distinct trio Hollywood V3, Tough (produced by Wondagurl), and Downtown. Soon after there were whispers about Def Jam preparing a deal for the 24-year-old crooner. He moved to L.A. within the year and he delivered his next mixtape, Forward Thinking II. His “SoMuchFun” EP had a feature from TDE lieutenant ScHoolboy Q and was more of the same from Jahkoy. He has since gone on to open for Kehlani on her world tour and received cosigns from Pharrell and Zane Lowe.
Filipino-Canadian R&B songwriter made his name penning hits for everyone from Justin Beiber to Chris Brown and One Direction. Then he pivoted to his solo career and has never looked back. With his debut effort getting the prestigious nod for a JUNO for Best R&B Recording, the sky is truly his limit. With predominantly 90s R&B production on his first effort, he has shown a lot more range on his latest singles, with everything from dance-oriented pop sleepers to duets and heartfelt ballads.
Toronto based singer/rapper Adria Kain has a couple of things going for her. One of them is that voice. On De(COM)pressed, she barely utters full sentences, but you are captivated by the few words she does speak. Then you actually hear her sing for the first time and it is absolutely worth the wait. Cuts like Sunrise allow you to feel that same restraint she exercises, the peace she so eloquently sings about, and the pain that is ever-present. The vulnerability she posits on every record feels brand new every time. Then she switches gears smoothly and is delivering 64 bars with a confident cadence.
Arguably the greatest R&B duo of the decade, dvsn is the OVO backed pair of Nineteen85 and Daniel Daley. They have come a long way from their debut single and album that came out back in 2016. Two singles uploaded to Soundcloud and not as much as a press release. That was all it took. The two singles in question Hallucinations and Too Deep became the lead singles for their debut album, Sept 5th. Fans did not have long to wait for a sophomore. They released the next project titled Morning After about a year later. Both these albums were released to critical acclaim and generally positive reviews. Their pop-oriented approach for their third album has been derided by a few, but the results are undeniable. Dangerous City is arguably the duo’s biggest song until date, and it hasn’t been out a full year yet.