In its 39 years of operating, the Montreal Jazz Festival has never had a consistent relationship with hip-hop. Recent memory is a testament to such a statement. In 2016, Danny Brown played to a half-empty concert hall, whilst Anderson .Paak drew upwards of 100,000 people for last year’s closing performance.
This year, the festival have decided to do things a little differently. Instead of brining international rap talent to the city, they took a gamble by letting local acts headline a number of shows. And last night was the biggest showcase of Montreal hip-hop talent, with the likes of Zach Zoya, and Wasiu, and Nate Husser playing. Husser is of note having been interviewed by Gigwise's Steven Kline who praised his "laid-back trip-hop raps with the amorphous sonic swells, textures and big noise explosions of the most emotive and evocative alt-rock."
First up, we caught Zoya at Club Soda for his first major set in the city since he opened for Craig David back in March. Originally from Rouyn-Noranda, a city in Quebec’s far west, the rapper/singer later moved to Montreal and signed to distinguished local label 7ième Ciel. But his career has only begun to blossom in earnest recently. This is thanks, largely, to the viral hit in 'Who Dat'; and a collaboration with High Klassified, a producer best known for crafting Future and The Weeknd’s 'Comin Out Strong' beat.
As for the live set, it was a high octane 20-minute blast that ought to make a lasting impact on those who attended, adding to the hype being showered upon the 19-year-old. Predictably, the cut 'Who Dat' drew the most visceral reaction. Our only qualm - and this comes as a fan of his recordings - was not getting the chance to hear the full extent of his impressive vocal range as he opted to rap some of the best sung parts instead.
Next up was Nate Husser who although was not the evening’s headliner (Toronto’s CMDWN took the evening’s main slot for a less than memorable set), might as well have been. The rapper has forever been conscious of baring a punk essence, through his head and heart, and manifested this last night by insisting the audience belt out a big "Fuck you!" to racism in wake of the controversy surrounding a show at the Jazz Festival titled SLAV, a white-led show inspired by slave songs.
From start-to-finish, Husser threw a true family affair. Dxusgxd, Speng Squire, and hype man Maky Lavender were just some of the Montreal names to join him onstage throughout the show, with each artist bringing their own unique energy. Squire is a true rapper’s rapper, someone who is reliable when it comes to creating the perfect motivational music. Meanwhile, Lavender has the ad-libs and charisma to match that of a young Puff Daddy.
As the set came to a close, Squire collaborator Dirtwork, who is a mentor for many of Montreal’s up-and-comers, placed a crown on Husser’s head and uttered: “Make some noise for Nate Husser, the Prince of the city”. It has been a long time coming for a local rapper to make it big, and after this galvanizing moment in front of all the die-hard fans, we can't help but feel Husser has proven he has the potential to lead the pack for years to come.
Last but not least, Wasiu closed the Place Heineken tent for a fiery after-dark outdoor concert in the muggy heat. Montreal is experiencing the biggest heatwave in years. Similarly to Nate Husser, Wasiu is fond of keeping Montreal artists close together, only his focus is with the city’s producers. Big names such as Kaytranada, Tommy Kruise, and Soulection’s Da-P are just some of the talent he has kept in close ties for his recent MTLiens 2 release. His live show is backed by yet another beatsmith, Dear Lola, who compliments Wasiu’s raps with some raw MPC skills.
As it was a free outdoors gig, the set was less of an intimate family feel that the Husser and Zoya show, but this lack of exclusivity didn't take away much. Mixing eccentric beats and some seriously strong lyrics, it was worth toughing it out in the heat. We heard references to Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def), The Roots, and OutKast, all sprinkled in throughout, making it a hip-hop junkie’s dream way to end the night.
The beat goes on, with the Montreal Jazz Festival continuing until July 7th.