2017 was a breakthrough year for Killy. The success of his breakthrough single “Killamonjaro” lead to some major exposure in hip hop. He’s since been working alongside Nessly, 16yrold and many others. Last Friday, he surprised the world with his first single of 2018, “Very Scary.” The young rapper followed it with the release of his debut project Surrender Your Soul on Tuesday morning. He recently joined us for the latest episode of “On The Come Up” where he spoke about his new mixtape, “Killamonjaro” and more.
Killy’s is the next one out of Toronto to blow up. His song “Killamonjaro” helped him blow up to a whole other level. However, the video came at a risk. The rapper explained that he quit his job at Nordstrom and used the last paycheque as his video budget. The move he made ended up launching his career to a whole other level.
“I think that was definitely just the beginning, really. It’s just what I had to do.” He said, “I didn’t really think twice about it. It just kind of happened.”
During our conversation, he also explained the title of Surrender Your Soul, dream collaborations, being an artist out of Toronto and more.
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“There wasn’t really a marketing plan, I just had a plan,” KILLY told XXL last yearabout his breakout popularity. “I’m the type [that] if I was gonna do something I was gonna do it thoroughly… [People] try to box me into the SoundCloud rap shit; that’s a comparison that I get that I don’t really agree with… And they try to classify me and box me in with those other people that dress the same as me, but my music’s very, very different—generally speaking.”
Check out all the lyrics to KILLY’s ‘Surrender Your Soul’ below:
In a city suddenly bursting with breakout rappers, one of the buzziest is Killy.
The 20-year-old Toronto musician’s gift for melody, creative cadences and ability to find unique pockets within twinkling, foreboding production has generated interest from hip-hop fans and major labels around the world.
“Imagine if an alien just popped up in your city,” Killy says over the phone from an east-end hangout where he’s enjoying his last few days of relaxation before a seven-city Canadian tour and the release of his debut 11-track project, Surrender Your Soul (out March 6 via Secret Sound Club and streaming below). “People will pay attention.”
Killy seemed to have come out of nowhere in 2017, with his first four singles – Killamonjaro, Distance, No Romance and Forecast – scoring 68 million streams across platforms and gaining him fans around the world.
Killy’s on a roll, and he knows it. His self-assurance is so potent that it borders on cockiness.
“The reason why I garnered so much attention so fast is because people have never seen something this authentic come packaged like this, be marketed like this, look like this, sound like this,” he says.
That confidence might seem hubristic if its vessel wasn’t so sharply presented. His videos complement his music with flashy jump cuts and manic energy, his Instagram posts are succinct and cryptic, with Killy usually draped in Alexander McQueen and Rick Owens.
His latest trap ballad single, the non-album Very Scary, powered by relentless 808s drums and tremulous hi-hats from producers 16yrold and Daxz, is a hallucinatory display of rugged power. If the so-called Toronto Sound is the aural equivalent of dark nights in a harsh winter, Killy’s music is an energy drink at a loft after-party.
“Look at the state of music right now,” he says. “If you look at music as a whole and see who’s poppin’ and what people are listening to, and you compare it to what I’m trying to do, it’s two very different things.”
Killy gets routinely lumped in with other artists who initially found their start and success through SoundCloud, but he’s quick to dismiss similarities.
“If you look at the people they try to put me up next with, yeah, they have braids, they’re wearing Supreme, [we have] rips in our jeans, but when it comes down to it, it’s about music,” he says. “With music, real will recognize real, regardless of any extra thing: internet presence, memes, how you look, how you dress. The music will always be the biggest drive of anything.”
With the hype Killy has been generating, expectations are sky-high for Surrender Your Soul. When asked what fans can expect from it, Killy is, much like his music, terse and enigmatic.
“Nothing. I don’t want them to know anything. I want them to hear the project and [feel whatever they feel about it]. I want it to be the cleanest slate possible.”
Canadian winters are alienating. Brutal cold sends everyone inside, relationships deteriorate, and sunless days bring into sharp focus the routine that shapes our day-to-day. That separation is what I hear listening to KILLY, a 20 year old rapper from Toronto and one of the city’s most buzzed-about talents. His release schedule is like a polar vortex – infrequent, but memorable each time. He exploded last February with “Killamanjaro” and its music video, shot at a house party for $300, both picking up millions of streams. But KILLY didn’t reemerge quickly with half-baked material to keep the wave going. Instead, he chose to stagger out subsequent releases, trusting the material to create its own hype (it paid off, with videos for “Distance” and “No Romance” at a combined 14 million views). Today, KILLY is pulling back the curtain in his biggest way ever with his debut project Surrender Your Soul, premiering today on The FADER.
Born in a Bajan and Filipino household, KILLY has lived in both Toronto and Vancouver, and over email he tells me how his rap alias was borne from a culture clash in a French-speaking school. “None of the French speaking kids or teachers could say my first name right,” he writes. “‘Khalil’ came off sounding like ‘Kill-ill,’ my friends started calling me ‘Killy Illy’ and that eventually evolved into KILLY.” Now, KILLY considers the Toronto east end neighbourhood Scarborough his home – it’s where he can find “$10 Backwoods, staircase ball ups, and family.”
Once KILLY started writing raps in grade 7, he didn’t stop. A huge inspiration, he says, was hearing Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” on the radio. “I was sitting in the back seat of a car and I never paid attention to the radio but when I heard the first chant of that Kanye track that all changed. I started paying attention to music on a whole different level.” After “Killamanjaro” took off — which KILLY says he could feel would happen before he recorded the song – he began preparing Surrender Your Soul, recording over 100 songs. “The songs picked themselves,” he says.
KILLY rejects “SoundCloud rap” or “emo rap” as a label for his sound, though fans of both will find a lot to love here. KILLY does have a better ear for melody and composition than most artists working in those genres, and his lyrics are distinguished, too. KILLY’s bars are the sound of a final boss battle between natural talent and the voice we all have that tells us we aren’t shit: a cocktail of self-doubt mixed with sauce that you can mosh to. Surrender Your Soul plays out over 11 tracks, with epic production from 1mind, Y2K, and Wondagurl (“a legend,” KILLY says, and promises more music with the producer is to come). KILLY says the project’s title is reflective of his own experience, but doesn’t elaborate. As always, KILLY’s not revealing everything just yet, but with Surrender Your Soul, fans have more than ever to hold them over.
I’ve got a theory. I think it’s actually kind of impossible for Tame Impala to not make music that sounds like falling asleep in the sun on warm sand. It’s an aesthetic that has served the Australian band well, and that has been much missed on music’s typically murky landscape since the band’s 2015 album Currents. And today, they’re back at it with the dreamy beach music, in the shape of “My Life,” a collaboration with electronic musician ZHU.
The track continues on in the vein of the band’s comfort zone of bright, warm sounds, though ZHU’s involvement sends a more minimalist shock through proceedings, and it suits the band well. Kevin Parker’s vocal is layered and low in the mix, while a decidedly more electronic sensibility is a great look, and potentially (hopefully!) a peek of what might be to come from Tame Impala soon.
After bursting onto the scene late last year with his breakout hit Killamonjaro, Toronto’s newest rockstar Killy is back with the wild visuals for his latest banger titled Very Scary. Laced with production from a couple of his go-to producers in Daxz & 16yrold, Killy went ahead and bodied the ambient trap-beat with his piercing autotune that ultimately put him on the map alongside hip-hop’s booming generation of straight turn-up music. Along with that, the David Del Rosario/ WVMR-directed cut illustrates the raw energy throughout the track with mesmerizing shots of Killy mobbing with his gang and sporting some very lavish outfit choices. Coming off a fruitful 2017, you can expect Killy’s name to pop-up even more this coming year, but first, get in-tune with Very Scary below and let us know which Killy song is your personal favorite in recent memory.
Duckwrth is the kind of rapper who could easily coast on weightless, colorful charm if he were so inclined. He’s versatile both within hip-hop, laying down velvety melodies (‘MICHUUL’, ‘BLOW MY MIND’) or rapid fire rat-a-tat flows (‘TAMAGOTHi’, ‘AROUUND THE WORLD’) and across artistic disciplines as well, where he moonlights as a visual artist and designer.
For some creatives with an armful of interests, this allows them to avoid the responsibility of using any of them to dig into anything of particular consequence, but Duckwrth, born Jared Lee, is the opposite. His passion for music naturally snowballs into his interest in fashion, and from there to a conversation about androgyny in hip-hop. Duckwrth is a rapper for the slash generation, and one with substance to boot.
“I can rebrand myself probably a good six times within one year, but it’s advised for me not to,” says Lee. “From logos to like, aesthetic to concept to even fucking sound, my mind is always wanting to dive into just so many different areas and just like, you know, work with new colours and textures and shit.”
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My mind is always wanting to dive into just so many different areas…
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Though dressed largely in black when we meet for coffee in New York, there is a kaleidoscopic quality to his music and general demeanor. The MC was born in South Central Los Angeles, attended art school in San Francisco, and has toured with artists like Anderson .Paak to Rich Brian, proving an ability to adapt to any circumstance while still remaining singular and true to his roots both geographically and in terms of his own identity.
On the walk to various photoshoot locations, he dances through the frigid streets of lower Manhattan, comfortable as the star of the day’s film and not needing to flaunt it too much. It make sense why his DJ, Anthony Dragons, described the polyglot MC as an evolving anime character who may still be discovering his final form.
“Watching Duckwrth evolve from a Charmander to a Charizard has been the best part of this whole journey we’ve been on,” Dragons said. “I’m honestly unsure if a Charizard is even his final form.”
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Throughout our conversation, the idols that Lee brings up are people like David Bowie, Prince, and especially Michael Jackson, who is the subject of his ode ‘MICHUUL’, which is part MJ homage, part confident come-on, and part neo-Neptunes anthem with its blasts of candied synths and spirited percussion. There’s plenty of uptempo funk on An Xtra Uugly Mixtape, Duckwrth’s recently released second mixtape, from ‘MICHUUL’ to ‘THROWYOASSOUT’ to ‘HELLO GOD’, and it’s easy to hear why he thinks the project could thrive on the catwalk of yesteryear.
“A lot of those people within the ‘70s and ‘80s, they were just going for it, but I pinpoint Michael for sure,” he said. “The music I make in general, when it goes to more dance shit, I imagine it being played on a runway, you know? But the style on [the models] I would do, it wouldn’t be the style of a runway today where everyone’s like, super zombie and shit. It’d be more like Chanel ‘86 where they’re like, way more loose and just having fun.”
‘MICHUUL.’ was the lead single off Xtra Uugly, a project that ambitiously balances well-written, richly populated tales of his South Central upbringing with plenty of glossy dancefloor cuts to keep the party moving. Through it all, Duckwrth remains a protagonist worth following and rooting for as he moves between family barbecues, spiritual crises depicted as unanswered text messages to God, and reminiscences of a young summer love loaning him some extra cash for ice cream, all told with humor and charming specificity. “Backyard Miracles” is one of his strongest tracks yet, functioning as both a rumination on his relationship with his parents as well as a celebration of success in South Central told through the lens of his bricolage of an extended family.
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A lot of those people within the ‘70s and ‘80s, they were just going for it…
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“It’s like that’s the time when everyone comes together and kind of shares in all this crazy shit that happens, and I thought it’d be cool to kind of speak on it, but also just being in South Central, just saying ‘Miracles happen every day,’” he explains. “Whether that be stopping a fight—that’s a miracle—or the college graduate who graduates, or the person who becomes a millionaire, you know, saying that they got out of South Central. Like, that’s a miracle.”
Authenticity is obviously crucial to how Duckwrth can flit between subject matter both cosmic and granular without losing his voice, and he says the project is grounded in three ideas: the changing of seasons, waking up, and his continued reclamation of the word “uugly,” which he told Earmilk in 2016 is about “embracing all of my shortcomings and flaws.” But there’s also a sense that he’s still at a stage of unbridled creativity where what matters is simply painting the scenes and asking the questions.
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It’s about getting to know yourself, like, really truly begin to know yourself…
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An Xtra Uugly Mixtape isn’t a perfect project, but it is packed with unique, vivid, and honest moments that point to where he’s heading as an artist and that Anthony Dragons may well be correct when he says there’s a next level for him still to reach. For now, Lee stresses that he wants people to walk away from his most recent record with a commitment to being who they are, however “uugly” that might be.
“A lot of areas in the album are super vulnerable, but it’s not so much like an area of Oh, I’m so vulnerable. It’s like, This just feels right because I’m just trying to be my true self. Empower yourself,” he explained. “Empowering yourself isn’t always about reading a book or going out with a picket sign. It’s about getting to know yourself, like, really truly begin to know yourself, and then from there just be that and certain things will come.”
Chinese rap crew Higher Brothers returned last month with their Journey to the WestEP, bringing Ski Mask the Slump God along for the ride. Keeping their impressive work ethic up, they’ve returned with yet another exciting EP. Type-3 takes something of a different approach to Journey to the West, though, featuring solo tracks from all four of the group’s members rather than a collaborative effort. Plus, it’s all produced by their frequent collaborator, Harikiri.
To coincide with the release of the sleek EP, which flaunts what each member brings to the group, 88rising have shared immediate highlight “Nothing Wrong.” Featuring DZ trying something a little different to what we usually expect from the four-piece, “Nothing Wrong” is a smooth and colorful single full of some gorgeous singing and effortless rapping. It’s also got a CGI video that matches the vibrancy of the track itself, although DZ unfortunately doesn’t turn up in the video itself.
The rest of the group shine on their respective tracks, too, with Melo’s “5:30AM” flipping the tone almost immediately before MaSiWei finds a middle-ground between the two on “Storm.” Psy.P closes out the EP with the funky and manic “AD Milk,” proving that there’s a lot more to Higher Brothers than initially thought.
We spoke to Higher Brothers before they dropped their debut album Black Cab last year in our feature exploring rap around the world, and they had high hopes for their future. Ever since, they’ve managed to thrive and gain a huge audience in both China and North America. “The rap scene is exploding in China in terms of audience and passion for it, and we are the leaders of that movement,” they told us at the time, and it’s hard to find fault considering where they’re at now.
Rich Briandropped the video for his single “Cold” this week, enlisting the viral figure skater Jimmy Ma for an olympic-themed performance. The track appears on the rapper’s highly-anticipated album Amen, and reflects on themes of navigating relationships and newfound fame.
Brian also produced the song and tells Genius that he was inspired by a “weird drum pattern” from a Drake song, prompting him to lay down a beat and melody in FL Studio. The lyrics also touch upon comfort he finds sometimes in being alone and the wisdom he’s gained from his father.
“The best advice that my dad gave me was probably, ‘Don’t feel sorry for yourself,’” he says. “Don’t give yourself too much pity just ‘cause if you put yourself in that victim kind of mentality then you’re not going to get through shit. You’re just going to focus on being like, ‘Yo, this sucks. This is bad.’ Instead of being like, ‘How do I get out of this?’”
Rich Brian, the rap wunderkind behind 2016’s viral hit “Dat $tick,” didn’t get a real glimpse of American life until he visited New York last year.
Brian had his first performance in the U.S. at Miami’s Rolling Loud music festival in May and would later embark on his first tour here, making stops in California, Texas and New York. To him, several of those cities felt like being in Indonesia, until he explored New York City — seeing sights like Times Square and the Empire State Building. That genuine connection to New York’s biggest tourist attractions meant this place was special to him.
Naturally, the packed crowd at Terminal 5 for 88rising’s “Double Happiness” concert tour Tuesday night responded to his story in the best way possible: “USA!” chants. Jokingly, Brian started an “Indonesia!” chant, which the crowd immediately joined in. While he was appreciative of the gesture, the fact is, 88rising’s flagship artist is becoming a global phenomenon, leading the way as an artist mashing East and West cultures with his brand of catchy trap songs and pop rap aspirations.
Rich Brian, formerly known as Rich Chigga, rebranded himself with his full name (Brian Imanuel) before the release of his debut album, Amen, in order to write authentically from his experience of gaining newfound fame. He and lo-fi R&B favorite Joji (real name George Miller) have developed serious fanbases since their last musical projects to be taken seriously.
Artists born on the Internet tend to have shaky performances live. However, these two showed how much they want international stardom, appearing more charismatic in their sets and improving the performances of their well-known songs. They aren’t polished acts just yet, but you can tell with every show they’ve gotten better.
For Brian, highlights were a moving rendition of “Glow Like That” in front of a wave of cellphone lights (“I’m about to cry,” he said afterward), “Introvert” with Joji, and a strong finish of an “unknown” song (“Dat $tick”) that had the crowd pleading for one more. For Joji, his set earlier in the night earned respectable head bobs to his somber songs “Will He,” “Window” and “Demons.” Of course, his comedic side shined through when he would occasionally yell “unblock me, bitch!” during his songs, including in the self-depreciating “Bitter F—.”
This tour marks a first for Chengdu’s four-man crew Higher Brothers, consisting of Masiwei, Psy. P, Melo and DZ Know, as they finally take America after establishing themselves in their hometown’s underground hip-hop scene these past few years. Decked out in Supreme, the guys kept the same energy you’ve seen in their videos, opening with “Flo Rida” and “Why Not.” “Take a crazy chance, do a crazy dance,” raps Masiwei, a line that’ll instantly make you do those things with no regrets.
Higher Brothers continued their unrepentant aggression with “Wudidong,” which references a “bottomless hole,” and those who knew the hook screamed “wúdǐdòng” in succession while newer fans followed suit. “New York, I love you,” DZ Know said affectionately. Their joke about having everything “Made in China” has turned into their most relatable anthem for anyone popping foreign tags. Coupled with their set closer “Young Master,” Higher Brothers proved they aren’t carbon copies of Migos and are presently owning their lane as China’s trap innovators.
Out of everyone from the 88rising roster Tuesday night, Keith Ape is the most established crossover act. After the explosion of “It G Ma” (with a remix featuring Waka Flocka Flame, Father, A$AP Ferg and Dumbfoundead) and making an impact in America with a rowdy show at SOBs in 2015, the South Korean rapper’s dark trap has found an audience here. After running through Underwater Squad favorites “Helium” and “Yamanin,” he organized the posse for “It G Ma,” bringing out Higher Brothers, Joji, August 08, Ken Rebel, iLL Chris and just about everyone from backstage to turn up.
Staying true to the “journey to the West” essence, Ape saved his best surprise for last: Ski Mask the Slump God. When he hit the stage, he took off his shoes and jumped right into their powerful trap banger “Achoo.” The stage cleared for Ski Mask to perform “Catch Me Outside,” delivering on the hype with one of 2017’s hottest rap songs.
The moment was a perfect representation of hip-hop’s global effects across the world. Here you have artists from Indonesia, China, Japan and South Korea mixing with America’s young talent who have promising futures in hip-hop, transcending language barriers to create new sounds. As the East-West gap gets smaller, the Asian hip-hop movement is well on its way for another takeover in the mainstream.
Hailing from China, the Higher Brothers are setting the world on fire right now with their unique style and intoxicating rhymes. At this point, every new release from the group seems to take their incredible wave of energy into a new direction, and with the Higher Brothers’ latest offering, “Trickery” (via 88rising), they decide to take a smooth-bassline and groovy melody to showcase yet another new style for fans to latch onto. This single may not sound like the trap anthems that we have received from the Chinese superstars in the past, but by following its dance-infused sound and unapologetically gifting fans with an anthem for any function, I’d say that this is yet another hit to add to the collection. As if this wasn’t already enough proof that the Higher Brothers are unstoppable, it is also notable that the group just sold-out their first ever United States tour run. With that being said, check out “Trickery” below and get hip to China’s newest stars.
Rina Sawayama is a pop wizard. She has an uncanny ability to take all of the very best tropes of the genre, put them all in an aural blender and emerge with a beautiful smoothie of music. Her latest offering, the seasonally thematic “Valentine (What’s It Gonna Be)” is a similar feast for the ears, and tells a story of fleeting, uncertain love: “Making promises is dangerous / I’m just a phase / I’m just your Valentine,” she sings on the chorus.
Rina’s a maximalist, and “Valentine (What’s It Gonna Be)” doesn’t defer from that path. It’s a track full of hooks and singalongs, and even on a lyrical level (“All I want is everything,” she sings) we’re informed of Rina’s go-big-or-go-home tendency. From its openings, where the bass brings to mind classic R&B slow jams, to its big hitter of a chorus, which eventually soars to a melodic bridge underlined by the electric guitar that has become a Rina hallmark, there’s so much going on here that it’s hard to take it all in on one listen (this, of course, just means you have to play it over and over again, as I’ve been doing all morning.)
It follows, then, that this track is also a reminder of Rina’s magnificent magpie qualities: she has the ability to take influence from and pay tribute to various artists through her music without ever feeling unoriginal, or like she’s copied them. As Noisey’s Daisy Jones wrote last November, her 2017 mini-album RINA is, amongst many other things, a “concise masterclass in reimagining throwback pop influences.” That’s also even true of standalone tracks like “Valentine (What’s It Gonna Be)”—here there are shades of Kelela (who Rina will play a support slot for at London’s Roundhouse next Thursday, February 22), and of 90s boy bands like NSYNC, whose sound I can always hear coming through Rina’s much cooler reinventions. In any case, all of this is to say that if you’ve forgotten to buy a Valentine’s gift for the beloved music aficionado in your life, just send this their way instead: it’s much less cliche than chocolates.
On February 2, Rich Brian released his debut album Amen. It was the culmination of a wild ascension for the Indonesian teenager—he only started working with music software a year or so prior, but Brian learns fast—he ended up providing most of the album’s production.
At this point, Brian’s story is a part of internet folklore—his early Vine career, the “Dat Stick” video and subsequent viral streak—it’s all been well-documented. But on Amen, we heard the story from a new perspective: Brian’s. The tracks are filled with autobiographical details, from early employment (working at his mom’s café, sidestepping goats in his backyard) to his first impressions of America.
It’s all in the Book of Brian, a secret tome that has only been rumored to exist until now. In this exclusive interview, the artist agreed to read a few excerpts for us. So sit back, get a glass of wine, and… we’ll let Brian take it from here. Watch our latest Music Life above, and watch a recap of his biggest moments below.