Sarah Jay’s Picks: Top 40 Up-And-Coming Canadian Rappers & Rap Crews of 2016
Calgary, AB – As we head in to 2017 at HipHopCanada, I decided I’d kick off the new year proper by delivering my list of the Top 40 up-and-coming Canadian rappers and rap crews of 2016.
Every year, these lists come out. And every year rappers get really butt-hurt when they’re not ranked on these lists. This is my own personal Top 40 list, and it reflects the artists I listened to and I f**ked with in 2016. There are definitely guys who I’ve slept on. And there are guys that I may like, who you hate. And vice versa. And I know some of you are going to catch feelings, regardless of what I write.
The purpose of this list is to give you my own personal ranking of up-and-coming Canadian rap talent. These are artists who are still very much on the come-up; the artists no one knows about, the artists getting slept on, the indie label newcomers, the unsigned rappers, the newbie major label signees, etc. I’ve retired Tory Lanez and Jazz Cartier to veteran status, which is why you won’t see their names on this list. Last year Jazz Cartier nabbed the top spot on my list, followed by Tory Lanez in second place. Both of these guys have phenomenal years and I think it’s safe to say that they’re no longer considered up-and-comers.
Also note that this is a list of rappers; not R&B singers. Because that warrants its own separate list. A lot of people tend to group all Canadian urban artists together into one lumped “rappers” category. But that’s not really accurate. Some of my favourite artists of the year were JAHKOY, 11:11, K. Forest, Roy Woods, River Tiber, and Daniel Caesar. But you won’t see them on this list because they’re not rappers. Okay?
40. Troy Joe
One of my favourite finds from 2016 was Toronto artist Troy Joe. The guy ultimately made the decision to pursue rap instead of playing ball overseas. His Rich Nobody EP was a very catchy body of work, with some great little records like “Bounce” and “Growing Up.”
I got to see Dijah live in Toronto over the summer during NXNE and she won me over because she’s such a delightful, self-deprecating, hilarious human. She dropped a tight little EP titled Manic Luxury over the summer on some soulful, lyrical throwback tip.
38. Lou Phelps
While most people know Lou as “Kaytranada’s brother”, he’s actually one of the dopest artists coming out of Montreal right now. He doesn’t have a huge discography to back him up at this point, but I got familiar with his spitting when him and Kaytranada were The Celestics duo. One of my favourite tracks of the year was Lou’s “Rent Is Due” collaboration with Key! because that record slaps. Hopefully we see more from Lou in 2017.
Keffaleng is a very recent discovery for me but I’ve been playing his Still Shanti EP on heavy rotation for the last month. He’s on some dark, sexy after-hours tip. He’s a very melodic rapper and I find myself listening to Still Shanti a lot late at night.
36. Ty Senoj
Ty Senoj makes weirdo trap music that I really enjoy. His music makes me very uncomfortable sometimes and he always experiments on the production side of things. But that’s partially why I am so fond of the guy. A lot of his stuff can be hit-or-miss. But when he hits, he hits hard AF. “Who Put It?” is a phenomenal song.
35. Melvy Pockets
Young Brampton up-and-comer Melvy Pockets is one of my favourite humans in the Canadian rap game right now. This year he really diversified himself and trial ran a few new sounds like the Kriss Kross reworked “Sex Pistol” record. He also branched out into the feels a bit more on “Love and Sex”, and gave us one extremely aggressive shot fired on “Paper Boy.”
My favourite artist in Alberta is Edmonton-based K-Riz. This year marked the release of his masterpiece project Fresh Air. The 14-track project is a fusion of rap, soul, and R&B. It’s a very uplifting brand of music, and a very good look for the city of Edmonton. K-Riz really localizes his work by working with an Edmonton executive producer (JDats), and getting his mixing and mastering done by Nato at Up In Arms Studios. Even his features put the spotlight on Edmonton artists. K-Riz also happens to be one of the most charismatic humans I have ever come across in the rap game. And he puts on an amazing live performance every time.
33. Jimmy Brickz
Formerly known as Jimmy B, SmashMouth Music Group artist Jimmy Brickz dropped a great EP this year titled Return of the JiGGY. Jimmy has always put on for Scarborough and he’s always come through with killer singles. For this project though, he dove even deeper into the introspective side of things. I mean, “Ro$e Gold” was catchy AF and it was also a record entirely about Jimmy’s daddy issues.
32. Johnny Darko
Johnny Darko did a lot of drugs and rapped about a lot of drugs in 2016. I’ve become really fond of Johnny as an artist because his commentary on addiction is actually mad heavy. He’ll drop these party tracks about getting f**ked up and all that debauchery, but there’s this between-the-lines undertone of sadness in his music. He doesn’t necessarily glorify his drug use; he just kind of tells it how it is. He also dropped a sweet little EP with Jake Bluez titled Broke On Instagram (B.O.I) that you should listen to ASAP.
It’s taken Nixxon (formerly JesseRay) so long to get over the whole fame-by-association thing; because he founded Bulleez N Nerdz with The Weeknd back in the day. I think for a while he was really trying to replicate the XO sound in order to appeal to that kind of fan base. But this year he started to branch out a bit more. He dropped an EP in the spring titled For No Good Reason. The EP went a lot more in-depth with Nixxon; featuring songs about his break up, his split from his manager, and more. One of the best songs on the project was “The Woods”, which Nixxon legit explained to me as “an uptempo ‘Trust Issues’.”
30. Smoke Dawg
Smoke Dawg collaborated with Skepta this year for that track “Overseas“. Which was a big deal. Especially for me, personally. Because Canadian rap and U.K. grime are my two favourite musical sub-genres. That is pretty much why Smoke Dawg made this list.
It’s been said before… in fact I think I’ve said it before… but ShaqIsDope is dope. Dude stayed so consistent this year. The guy dropped so many singles and videos, and a brilliant new Black Frames mixtape. The tape had some great production credits courtesy of FrancisGotHeat, Pitt Tha Kid, J-Wiz and more. The focus of the tape was on “moral integrity” and “temptation”. Because of course ShaqIsDope would do that. And I felt like that made for such a great listen. I honestly couldn’t keep up with everything the guy released this year. But I loved everything I heard.
28. Flex The Antihero
Flex The Antihero finally returned from his hiatus this year to bring us his Born Rebels project. Artistically, Flex is so far into his own lane that I don’t even think Canada knows what to make of him. I know everyone is doing the rap-R&B fusion thing, or the trap-soul fusion thing. But Flex is on a whole other level. The guy is too punk for rap. And too rap for punk. Born Rebels was a very dark project and it hit me right in my heart. There was an undertone of loss, and sadness, but also (surprisingly) a lot of hope. I always find myself coming back to records like “Pray” and “The Bed I Lay In”. Those hit me hard.
Montreal artist GrandBuda is one of the most diverse artists in the Canadian rap game right now. He’s actually got a jazz background so that comes through in most of the work he does. His sense of musicality always impresses me. The way he structures his records and puts things together is so different from most of what I see guys do. This year GrandBuda dropped an amazing 17-track album this year titled If It Happened To Me. And that album had one of my all-time favourite tracks of the year on it: “When U Find A Girl U Love.”
26. CJ Flemings
He didn’t drop a project this year, but Montreal artist CJ Flemings did drop a bunch of great stand-alones like “Pleasure,” “Connections,” “Wanted Forever,” and more. He’s really honed in on his songwriting structure so every track he drops has crazy replay value. It’s hard for me to peg a description on to the guy’s sound because he seems to borrow from so many different influences. Some of his songs are more on that trap soul kind of tip, while others have much more of an electronic-dance vibe to them.
TripSixx kicked off 2016 by releasing his debut EP entitled We Own The Night. His M.O. is dark, lightly auto-tuned sadboy bangers. He makes after-hours music; but not the sexy kind of after-hours music. He makes literal after-hours music about everything that goes down late at night when he’s out doing savage shit. TripSixx has a sound that’s very “Toronto”; but he sets the standard. I compare guys trying to replicate the “Toronto sound” to TripSixx.
24. Dope Piece
My favourite rapper out of the East Coast is St. John’s artist Dope Piece. He’s honed in on his signature lo-fi faded cloud rap sound. I’ve been following him for years, now. And I’m at the point where I know I’m going to love everything he does. This year also marked a major milestone for the guy because he just dropped a tribute track to mark the four-year anniversary of his homie’s death. Dope Piece is one of my favourite party track artists. But I loved seeing something on more of an emotional front from him.
Remember when $ha made a grime track and it was arguably one of the best moments in 2016 Canadian rap? That was tight. The guy is so diverse that he can just make a one-off grime track that’s lit AF.
Devontée released District Vibe at the end of 2015 so 2016 was a quieter year for the guy. He kicked off the year with a video drop for “Hunger Pains” which kind of implied that he was a hungry rapper about to go in to 2016 with a hungry mindset. But he didn’t deliver a ton. He followed up with a single release titled “For The Cause” and a couple of collaboration tracks. He finished off the year on a strong note by landing a feature on CJ Fly’s new FLYTRAP project. The record is called “Get It Done” and it’s one of the best best tracks off the album. Even though he didn’t release a lot in 2016, Devontée still gets the co-sign here because he always makes me feel some type of way when I listen to his music.
21. Drew Howard
Also known as the “You’re Not My Mans” rapper, Drew Howard is one of those guys who should be a lot more popular than he is. I think a lot of people think he’s just a one trick pony because of “You’re Not My Mans.” But the dude also dropped a disgusting good EP this year called Social Suicide. Low key, “K.I.M. (Keep It Moving)” is the song he should be known for. Also part of the reason why I put Drew on this list is because I keep coming back to his 2015 Music to Soothe the Savage Youth project with Birthday Boy. I know… that’s not really fair. But that project is too good.
20. The Posterz
The Posterz are a crew that are so important for the next generation takeover of Canadian rap. The Montreal based trio had a major year in 2015 with the release of the Junga EP. This year they dropped another EP. And even though it didn’t get a ton of shine, the three-track Bored In Canada EP was mad cool. The guys made an EP with three tracks (“Bored”, “In”, and “Canada”) that either reworked Boards Of Canada songs or used Boards Of Canada samples.
Even though he’s not originally from Vancouver, Vancouver based artist Immerze is the poster boy for Canadian West Coast vibes. This year he dropped his Before I Go EP and it was one of my favourite projects of the year. It was a classic summer soundtrack; especially that record “Tropicana.” Immerze was also very smart with his roll-out because he dropped almost all the EP’s tracks as singles before he actually released the EP. And so I got to do some heavy, in-depth Q&As with the guy this year. I loved when he dropped “Gucci Vandross” because that so sums up his M.O.; he mixes the turn up (Gucci Mane) with the softer feels (Luther Vandross).
Our West Coast team at HipHopCanada – Kira and Kass – do such an amazing job at covering their region that I often find myself sleeping on a lot of guys out in BC. But Brevner is someone who I really started bumping in 2016, especially after the release of the Brevner EP. I have so much respect for how Brevner conducts himself in his scene, and how he’s put on for Vancouver for so long. It seems like he finally got a bit of due shine this year with the EP. And “All We Know” is definitely one of the best Canadian rap songs of the year. Dude is also an insanely talented producer.
17. Van Hill
The year started off a little slow for Brampton’s Van Hill. But he locked in a couple of amazing loosies including “Prove That”, “Stay Low” (featuring Bane), and “Global” (produced by DBLCRSS). Then Van wrapped the year by releasing his five-track Sad Day at Wonderland EP, which was a very important sadboy EP. Using a combo of minimalistic drum-lined beats, and emotive lonely rap bars, Van created a masterpiece project. It’s rare that I come across a project that I so strongly associate with an emotion but Sad Day at Wonderland is straight up sadness.
16. Night Lovell
2016 saw the release of this Ottawa artist’s monstrous Red Teenage Melody project. Which was a mad brilliant follow-up to 2014’s Concept Vague. Because instead of doing more of the same, or completely trying to switch up his sound, Night Lovell just fine-tuned the sound he’s always had and added a few more feelings into the mix. The way I see it, Night Lovell has honed in on a more digestible approach to dark turn-up music. He’s got a signature deep voice delivery, and an insane roster of producers backing him up (Dylan Brady, Blank Body, glocque, etc).
This Brampton newcomer flew right under my radar last spring when he dropped his video for “Bipolar.” But I didn’t really keep up with the guy afterwards. This spring he did a massive roll-out for his Until Now project and that’s when I really started paying attention. As the year has progressed, I still find myself returning to this project and pressing play. It’s got so many stand-alones on it that I’ll just listen to over and over and over again: “Broke$”, “Hand Wave”, and the female worship anthem “WESTENDGIRLS”. One thing that really sets EverythingOShauN apart is that he’s practically a duo with his brother Xpress (aka DJXP). The two of them have this ridiculous artistic chemistry that’s responsible for the EverythingOShauN sound.
I literally just moved Ponders all the way up on this list because he just dropped Acid Reign and it’s the best project of his career. Maturing away from the excessive drug-drenched bars and unapologetic auto-tune usage, Dillan has started to reach deeper into his artistic depths. Acid Reign tells a lot of the Ponders life story that we’ve never been witness to before. It’s always just been about the drugs with Ponders. Now it’s about growth, and industry commentary, and friendships, and life on life’s terms. I am so proud of Ponders on this new album. This is such a major progression.
2016 was a quieter year than I would have hoped for from Wasiu. The Montreal based artist dropped his debut MTLiens project back in 2015. And since then I’ve been waiting for the release of MTLiens 2 to surface. It hasn’t come yet. But we did see the roll-out for a few new loosies and video. And Wasiu did finally get some overdue mainstream shine this year following the release of his track “P.K. Subban.” That record became a Montreal anthem.
12. Ramsay Almighty
Ramsay Almighty is probably one of the most consistent artists in Canada right now. His roll-outs aren’t huge and he doesn’t get near as much shine as he should, but the guy has had a massive year. Ramsay’s track “Miami” was one of my all-time favourite tracks of 2016. It dropped at the very beginning of the year and I still listen to it almost every day because it’s such good vibes.
11. Tasha The Amazon
Tasha The Amazon is such a force, and a very important voice in Canadian rap. Hands down my favourite female rapper in the country this year. And most of that is based off A) that one song “Picasso Leaning” and B) the rest of the Die Every Day project. She gets the M.I.A. comparisons a lot with her flow. But the girl is way over in her own lane. Aside from being a mad talented lyrical spitter, the girl also showcased her producing abilities this year by co-producing the entire Die Every Day with Bass and Bakery.
10. City Fidelia
It wasn’t actually until I put this list together that I realized how heavily I’ve been listening to City Fidelia this year. City is an artist who low-key always manages to infiltrate my daily playlist. Especially with his 2016 released FreeDumb EP. That project is front-to-back brilliant. It’s just very listenable rap, no matter what mood you’re in. I love “Lately”. I love “Self Conscious”. I love “L&H”. I love “Freedom”. Just that whole project is too good.
VNCHY took a much different approach to his craft this year with more of a focus on singing, as opposed to rapping. Last year I hailed him as the dude with the grizzly Dr. Dre flow. This year he’s shown us that he’s low-key got the voice of an angel. For a while I was convinced that he should just make a full transition over into being a singer. But then he hit us with “Black Diablo” and I realized the best outcome from VNCHY is when he’s singing and rapping. That was one of the best tracks I heard out of Canada this year. And he’s got a new project slated for release VERY soon.
8. Derek Wise
2016 was an important year for Derek Wise because he beat his charges and finally started dropping more music on us. Surprisingly one of my favourite things Derek dropped this year was the record “Had To Wake Up” because it was a very vulnerable look at the implications of Derek’s charges. Ultimately he lost a lot of friends and had to realize who his real friends were. I’m not used to seeing Derek open himself up like that. So for me, that record was so key. Then he finished off the year strong with two new video singles: “Ryan Glamsling” and “Beyond The Pines.”
Probably one of the most slept on artists of this list, Brampton youngin’ Nēgu$ (of the LSC collective) is one of the artists I am most excited to watch in the next few years. I don’t know anyone in Canada right now who is making music like this guy is making. It’s an ambient, atmospheric kind of sound. Dude always sounds like he’s rapping in a dream. Nēgu$ only releases “playlists” as opposed to projects. So basically he just puts a bunch of singles up on SoundCloud in a playlist as a body of work. And then he periodically goes through and deletes his older work. Which he needs to stop doing.
I slept on ninetyfour. for way too long. But I kept seeing Kira write about him on the site. And then homie Jayme McDonald hit me up to recommend the dude, too. So I finally took in It’s Yours about a month ago and I’m slapping myself for not getting on to it sooner. ninetyfour. is a Canadian West Coast artist but he’s got a sound that’s so distinct that I can’t compare him to any particular Canadian regional sound. Sure as hell he doesn’t sound like he’s from Vancouver. He makes emotional, atmospheric trap ballads. It’s the kind of music that’ll get you caught up in your feels, and simultaneously wanting to turn up.
Despite the fact that EMP only has released two records as a group, they’re already such a force on the scene. Last year Eestbound was on my list of Top 20 Producers Of 2015 and Milly Manson was on my list of Top 40 up-and-coming rappers. What I love about EMP is what they represent. The Brampton-Toronto supergroup is the new generation of Toronto/GTA raps. They’re not on some OVO replication tip. And they’re not trying to recreate any of the regional U.S. sounds. They’ve simply combined one of the best Canadian producers (Eestbound) with one of the best newcomer Canadian rappers (Milly Manson), and one of the bossest female vocalists around (Pree).
4. Clairmont The Second
I’m not sure how many people took the time to take in Clairmont’s summer released Quest for Milk and Honey project. But that album was a game changer; it was a perfect fusion of rap with gospel and neo-soul. Clairmont is the torchbearer for Canadian soul-rap right now. And even though he gets the Chance The Rapper comparisons way too often, I think he’s found his own lane. He came up as a beat-maker and that influence is very evident within his work. Every song Clairmont drops is a song; all senses engaged, and stuff.
3. Derin Falana
Brampton artist Derin Falana has had such an exponential rise in fame this year and it’s been such a gift to witness it. He released his highly anticipated Live From Rocky Mountain project earlier this year; and that project still stands as one of the best Canadian rap projects of 2016. A lot of artists have a certain type of sound or beat that they like to stick with. But Derin really diversified himself this year by working with a slew of different sounds and producers. That’s why LFRM was such a masterpiece. There was chill-out summer music (“Summer Vibes”), songs about the come up (“The Pick Up”), songs calling out the fakes (“Bet”), and everything in between.
2. Sean Leon
Sean Leon is so brilliant that I think it’s going to take us all a hot minute to even begin to comprehend the guy’s vision. Sean was actually going to quit rap this year to do behind-the-scenes stuff. But then Jazz Cartier threw shots at him and The6Track called it out. And so ultimately Sean decided to continue rapping. So all praises due to the The6Track because Sean Leon is so necessary for Canadian rap. He’s the anti-industry, anti-bullshit hero that Canadian urban music needs, but doesn’t necessarily want. That, and he’s got a stacked team of producers backing him up (Eestbound, WondaGurl, Bijan Amir, and more).
My all-time favourite discovery from 2016 was TOBi, a Brampton-based artist who’s carved his own lane for Canadian rap-funk-soul-R&B fusion vibes. His FYi EP is already a classic. I love every single record on that entire EP and I listen to that project pretty much every single day, still. The guy so effortlessly slides between singing hooks, and spitting these emotive melodic bars. His go-to producer Nate Smith is a mad genius on the beats. Part of the reason why TOBi has such a standalone sound is probably because he exclusively worked with Smith as the producer for the FYi EP. Huge shout out to Brenden Hewko (from SMMG) for putting me on to TOBi earlier this summer. I appreciate you.
Written by Sarah Jay for HipHopCanada
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not neccesarily represent the views of HipHopCanada, its affiliates or associates.
Tags: $ha, Brevner, City Fidelia, CJ Flemings, Clairmont the Second, Derek Wise, Devontee, DijahSB, DillanPonders, Dope Piece, Drew Howard, EMP, EverythingOShauN, Flex The Antihero, GrandBuda, Immerze, Jimmy Brickz, Johnny Darko, K-Riz, Keffaleng, Lou Phelps, Melvy Pockets, Nēgu$, Night Lovell, ninetyfour, Nixxon, Ramsay Almighty, ShaqIsDope, Smoke Dawg, Tasha The Amazon, The Posterz, TripSixx, Troy Joe, Ty Senoj, Van Hill, VNCHY, Wasiu