Back in 2014, when 22-year-old Toronto artist Lais shared his Session One project on Hip Hop Heads, a channel on the content distributing site Reddit, he really didn’t anticipate much would come from it. “I wasn’t expecting nothing, I was like, man if I get 100 plays I would be happy as f**k,” he says from the inside of VIBE’s conference room, sporting a backwards snap cap and a stylish black leather jacket he designed himself. “But eventually it got a lot of plays, and I was like ‘What the hell?’ That’s why after it dropped, I was like, ‘What do I do with my sound now?’ Because that was just me testing the waters.”
But little did he know that readiness to wander into unfamiliar territory would quickly propel him to gain some much appreciated fan fare. Without consciously knowing it, he got exactly what he asked for. “Hey HHH, I go by the name Lais. Fresh out of Toronto with no fans yet, I’m hoping to gain at least one today with my debut project, SESSION ONE. Take a listen,” he wrote on the site to go along with the tape. Nearly 128 comments or more racked up under the post overnight, with fans from as far as New Zealand to Vancouver. The Pakistani born-Canadian bred enigma went from being a virtual unknown to becoming a target for producers all over wanting to reach him.
“Damn, I didn’t expect all the love but thank you guys,” he wrote in response, under the username LIVELAISED. “I’m feeling blessed right now like I need to make a grammy speech or some sh** lol.”
Since then, he has taken down Session One from his SoundCloud page and on February 19, swapped in his new seven track EP 114. But before he completely deleted traces of his first compilation of recorded music, fellow Toronto rapper and OVO camp Svengali Drake caught wind of “For You,” and posted it on the second installment of his OVO Sound radio show right before he premiered “Hotline Bling and “Charged Up.” When asked what the Drake cosign did for his current status, Lais offers a simple, short and modest answer: “OVO sound is huge. It definitely helped.”
You’ll get a lot of minimal, concise answers from Lais. He has the demeanor of a silent killer. He doesn’t say much, but is light years ahead of the pack. It doesn’t come off as arrogant, or passive. If anything, he projects an aura of self-confidence, peppered with humility and an ambitious attitude.
Born in Pakistan, Lais came to the U.S. at the age of three, where he spent most of his childhood in Virginia until his family relocated to Brampton, a Toronto suburb. He says moving to the The 6 was eye opening. “Virginia is less multi-cultural,” he explains. “When I moved to Toronto, it definitely helped me learn people’s perspectives, and different cultures. It was a learning experience.”
The move came with other events that perhaps changed the course of his life, one particular being dropping out of school and just “doing my thing,” as he puts it. “Dropping out of school was crazy because I had to adjust to moving into whatever I ended up doing,” he says. “That was kind of like the change of Toronto, just adjusting into an adult life early on.”
During that time he did drugs, was caught in questionable relationships, and was navigating life while still figuring things out. 114 pays homage to all of those experiences. Take for instance “Just Us,” which details not only a failing relationship, but just how deeply consumed he is with it even though he isn’t deserving of his co-subject’s love.
“Girl I know you’re onto me/I know I make it hard to say/But we won’t know it’s love/Cause you’re checking my texts for some clues/I’m hollowing bottles of liquor and booze/I’m caught in this cycle of losing to you,” he sings over a somber, sticky beat.
Amid the heartache, drugs, subdued beats and dark lyrics, he likes to play with different sounds and feels. “Whenever I head into something, I’m very open with it,” he says. “‘Cocaine Rain’ ended up becoming a techno-like track. ‘Remember Me’ has some deep house with all kinds of vibes going on. And if you listen to the EP all the way through, you have a song ‘All I Want,’ which is dark, gritty, hard and then you have ‘Down,’ which is basically sounds like the instrumentation is softer.”
Like any artist existing in the millennial era, Lais intends on being a multi-hyphenate. Aside from making music, he has a deep interest in other creative endeavors like art, film and fashion, with eventual hopes to design a wide array of apparel under the name Lais Lavish.
By the time you read this, Lais’ debut SXSW performance will have come and gone, marking the second time in life he’s ever been onstage. Still, it’s his mission to leave his mark there. “I’m trying to make an appearance that involves me rather than just getting on stage singing some lyrics,” he says. “I went them to go to a Lais show and be like, ‘Did this guy really just f**king do that?’”