Jazz Cartier is pleasantly surprised. If it weren’t for the large, rectangular frames veiling his eyes, I would have probably pick up on it earlier, but the combination of sprightly strides in his steps and a wide-set smirk says it all.
It’s 3:40 p.m. and just hours earlier, the rising rapper hailing from Toronto made his Lollapalooza debut an unforgettable one. Outwardly confident, he bounced back and forth on stage shirtless, dreads swaying from side to side as he ran through his budding discography like a seasoned vet. And although his set time was quite early for the crowd of festival-goers who hadn’t yet cracked open their first Bud Light of the day, libations weren’t even needed with the energy he served up.
“I’m just thinking bigger,” Cartier says. He’s perched in a wooded area of Chicago’s Grant Park. On one accord he’s reflecting on his performance that was filled with a crowd-pleasing intensity, but can’t seem to shake the one-on-one game of ping-pong he’s dueling himself in, eagerly focusing his eye on the whereabouts of the now airborne orange ball.
While other people simply throw around empty words about making it big in the industry, Cartier is actually doing it. The self-proclaimed Prince of Toronto, better known to the masses as the city’s most promising rapper since Drake, has spent the first half of his youth developing his sound most are beginning to admire him for. The resulting blueprint: A sharp-tongued emcee whose underbelly griminess is balanced with emotive, melodic vibes.
Showcasing that same duality on his debut mixtape Marauding in Paradise (2015) and 2016’s contending follow-up Hotel Paranoia, aided in growing the upstart’s listeners beyond the borders of his hometown. And just like the city of Toronto, the Red Bull Sound Select artist’s reputation of being unstoppable growing force only continues to flourish. Now, after delivering two favorably praised projects, major labels are courting the free agent, who keeps authenticity at the forefront of his brand. “That comes first,” he assures. It’s apparent that for someone who spits like second chances are few and far between, his future is as bright as the golden rings that adorn his knuckles, which still can’t seem to keep steady because of the ping-pong game.
After making his Lollapalooza debut, VIBE caught up with Cartier to talk about his budding fan base, the new wave of Toronto, the authenticity his music purveys and more.
VIBE: You just killed your Lollapalooza debut. How does it feel getting out here, doing the whole festival scene and experiencing it all?
Jazz Cartier: Yeah, I’m traveling all summer. It’s been pretty crazy, you know? It gets exhausting at times, but when it comes to the day of and seeing the fans I wouldn’t trade it for anything. For me to play a 12:50 [p.m.] set with that many people to come out, I was thinking at least 10, 20 probably a couple hundred. So that was pretty good.
How does it feel when you’re performing and you see people reciting your lyrics and are super hype?
It’s really crazy. I never thought this thing through all the way, like how like far it would or could go. Chicago and Toronto are pretty close, it’s like one of those places, where if something’s not popping then people don’t really go. I’m still kind of new so I appreciate all the love for those that choose to listen to me.
Being from Toronto, can you tell me about what the music scene is like right now opposite from the mainstream acts we all know?
It’s just a whole bunch of kids coming out and doing their thing. We’ve all been cooped up in our caves for years, waiting for this moment for the world to give us some shine. And guys like BADBADNOTGOOD are killing it, Tory Lanez is killing it. Then there’s obviously guys like Drake and The Weeknd. So I’m happy to be part of the new wave of guys ushering it in for the city.
Is it a friendly competition because in a recent interview you spoke of having no competition whatsoever and no one being the same tier as yourself.
I said that?
Yeah, in the Toronto Star. Do you have a relationship with Drake at all?
Oh, with Drake? Me and him are cool. The last time I saw him, he like gave me the blessing and told me to keep doing it. 6 God is always watching, you know? But in regards to that comment, I meant Drake’s not even in the question when people talk about Toronto competition because he’s on the stratosphere. I was talking about in general, you know? It’s just like only two really doing it: myself and Tory.
So how’d you get here today, becoming a rapper?
I started rapping in my dorm room. It was freshman year of boarding school. I told people I was a rapper, but I had never rapped in front of anybody before in my life. People heard and then I got pushed into a room with 30 n****s, all on the football team. They were just cyphering. I was the new kid, so I had to do it. I said some rhymes and the whole room went crazy. And after that, I took it seriously. My homeboy Problems, back in school, he’s from the heart of Connecticut, he actually taught me how to rap; and my boys. It was all a slow progression until I started to find my own sound. I actually stuttered when I was a kid, a lot. So once I got over that hump it was smooth sailing.
Speaking of finding your sound, I’ve heard people compare you to Travis Scott. How do you think your music separates you from the rest?
I think the diversity and the content and the effort I put into the songs. No song you’ll hear from me is lazy. I won’t do a song and put it out the next day. I take time with all my records. So I think over time, once my audience gets bigger, I think people will appreciate the stuff that I’ve done now and how I’m moving because they’ll then understand all of the hard work that I put in. I get the Travis stuff, though. I rock with him.
You just put out two really great mixtapes (Marauding in Paradise and Hotel Paranoia) just ten months apart from each other. I’m curious as to what your recording process is like.
If I’m at home, I’m recording everyday. I’m in the studio from 2 p.m. until 8 a.m. Wake up, do it all again. There’s no need for me to party in Toronto. There’s nothing for me to do and celebrate right now. I go out here and there, but it’s like in and out — maybe 15 minutes at most, that’s it. It’s like always working for the bigger goal. From the grace of God, I could die tomorrow and if I’m not working this hard, I have two songs unreleased. But now I have over a couple hundred that I always go back and pick on and keep building. There are some songs that I have ideas for that I’ll just save. I’m like this isn’t the right time. A year later, I’ll revisit it with a clear mind. Go back, mix the song, see where it goes.
That’s one definitely one of the perks of being an independent artist.
I only have a distribution deal in Canada, but I’m in that phase where they’re calling and I’m taking dinners, getting bribes. It’s very fascinating. But I’m going to hold off on it though, until I have some leverage. I mean, I love it. But no matter what way I choose to go, whichever road I take, I’m always in love with the authenticity of my music and that comes first.
For someone who hasn’t heard your music before, maybe doesn’t know much about you, what would be your elevator pitch?
People say I’m a dark artist. I’m not a dark guy though. I just been through some dark times and I think that shows in the music. I think the top three songs that give a good perception of me is “Dead Or Alive,” “Stick & Move,” and third is tied between “I Know” and “Tell Me.”
Aside from traveling and doing shows, what are you doing in the meantime? Can we expect a new project soon?
More shows. But as far as when a project’s coming out, I’m not saying it’s project right now per se. I just have songs that I’m going to be releasing towards the end of the year.
So, what’s the end goal for Jazz Cartier?
I want to be headlining this, and then I want to be doing arenas. Sh**, I want to make a bigger arena so I can perform in that. I’m just thinking bigger.