Our resident hip-hop blog that offers interviews and glimpses into the Montreal hip-hop/rap culture.
Billy Eff Le Chef is a rapper now, but his background is in punk rock, emo, poetry, and expensive sounding food. He’s actually a chef, if you didn’t know. They’re all uncomplicated and happy memories that bring a smile to his face. His eyes light up as he lists off his favourite poets, artists, and potential dishes he could serve to guests if he ever felt compelled to host a party for 20-odd guests.
A polenta dish with seven-year old cheddar, a 65 degree poached egg and Albert truffles shaved on top. Mizuna micro-greens and sherry vinegar. Beef wellington as part of a main course and a St. Honoré cake to finish off for dessert. There’s obviously way more to his dream menu, if given the opportunity, but the lavish and decadent items may have already caused one to drool on their plate prior to service.
“I’m a big fan of simple things that are just very well executed,” Le Chef said, an approach that he feels also applies to his music.
After spending time as a hypeman and performer for the band Ragers, who fuse hip-hop and electronic music with synths and rock music, Le Chef is about to drop his solo EP, Why I’m Not Where You Are, jumping feet first into hip-hop as a solo act for the first time.
“I’m done taking this shit as a joke,” he said. “I’m never going to take myself too seriously but this isn’t a joke for me anymore.
“I’m going to try to be a rapper now, to the best of my ability. This shit’s going to happen.”
The journey to rap began as a kid, dancing to Michael Jackson and Spice Girls songs with his sisters, but around the age of nine or ten, a friend’s older brother introduced Le Chef to Jawbreaker, a punk rock band set in New York City. Le Chef began as a lover of punk rock and emo bands such as Screeching Weasel, The Promise Ring, and American Football, which helped him with songwriting and poetry, amongst other influences.
“I got into Bukowski when I was very, very young,” said Le Chef. “I was a big fan of Poe and E. E. Cummings, so that’s really what shaped my career as a lyricist.”
After taking part in numerous punk rock bands, Le Chef admits he didn’t get into hip-hop until he joined Ragers, where he brought his screaming and energy from his punk rock days, while developing his ability to rap, to the group.
Soon after, he went from looking at rockers to rappers. He found newer contemporaries such as Chance the Rapper, Pusha T— Le Chef even spat his own version of Pusha T’s “Millions—”and Action Bronson, who also began as a chef before becoming a rapper.
Why I’m Not Where You Are will feature “Tribes,” a track that will be on Ragers’ forthcoming project as well. Le Chef says most of the album was recorded over the span of a few months in Los Angeles, but trouble disturbed him, stemming from a breakup with his longtime girlfriend.
“It’s kind of like the soundtrack to what those few months were,” said Le Chef. “Starting from [having] the best girl in the world and ending, ‘what the fuck, what do I do now? I’m alone, I have a pretty great life but I still have all these problems that I need to deal with.’”
The breakup ate him up from the inside. Le Chef resorted to drugs and alcohol, and suicidal tendencies that he initially believed were behind him, returned. Not long after, he tried to commit suicide for the first time in five years.
Le Chef’s material for the EP could have primarily focused on the depression he fell under, but he removed some tracks because he didn’t want it to be “too heavy.” It’s still an underlying theme, however, along with recovery and rising above those dire situations, throughout the project.
“I don’t think that’s something that gets talked about enough until the rapper kills himself like we saw with Capital Steez,” said Le Chef. “You never get to hear it from someone who actually came pretty close to dying.
“By the time we had started recording the album, I was definitely at rock bottom,” he continued. “As we kept working on it, I was gradually getting better.”
Suicide is a touchy topic for most people, but Le Chef isn’t looking to run away from it, and he’s open to discussing the subject and his own personal setbacks. It’s a subject that matters to him.
He visits a psychiatrist and takes medication to treat his depression. He’s told friends about his situation and he was surprised at the amount of friends who confided in him about their own personal stories. While depression hasn’t completely left him, most of the darkness is past him, and he’s become appreciative of the people around him.
“I have to move because I have obligations, I have responsibilities that I have to deal with,” he said. “I’m very happy that I have an outlet, a lot of my friends who suffer from depression don’t have that outlet.”
Video by Hélène Bauer
The Link sat down with Montreal duo THe LYONZ to talk their origins, music and more in this episode of The Scratch.
—Produced by Nikolas Litzenberger & Julian McKenzie
A Link exclusive to our Montreal hip-hop blog, The Scratch, Green Hypnotic lets go of a track, “Bangin’”
Written by : @GreenHypnotic
Recorded by : Green Hypnotic at “Midori’s Palace” Laval, Quebec
Mixed & Mastered by : Green Hypnotic at “Midori’s Palace” Laval, Quebec
“I’m Taigenz. I make art because that’s what’s going to grow my reaches and enable what I’m going to do with my life.”
Taigenz was born Tamfu Terry Ngala in Côte-des-Neiges, the son of Cameroonian immigrants. His childhood was normal, his parents a banker and a government employee.
Reserved but funny, he played basketball and hung out with friends, until music became a focus. Initially, his interest was in techno, and some alternative punk—until he discovered Eminem at age 8.
“[Eminem’s] performance of ‘Forgot About Dre’ with Dr. Dre, that was the first time I really sat down to watch a rap performance,” Ngala said. “From then on I was just on it. Ask any of my friends—when I was eight, nine years old, I was just memorizing all of his lyrics.”
Today, Ngala is a full-fledged rapper. His music plays like a mix of Yung Jock and early Ye; hard gospel influences infused with flowing jazz, contemporary classical, and electronica, with beats alternating between trap bangers and grimey soulful ballads.
His flow is thick with Montreal’s accent, a staccato sense of rhythm that starts and stops without breaking stride. With 5 full-length releases and a litany of videos under his belt, Taigenz is definitively on the cusp. His beginnings, though, were humble.
“I started writing when I was 11. My first performance, I was 13 years old,” he said. “At the end of the year, there was a variety show put together by the school. I figured I’d try my hand and see what it’d give me.”
Ngala says this sentence often: “see what it’d give me.” Throughout his life, the Montreal rapper seems to take what’s on his plate for the sake of the experience.
He’s excited to learn, never trying to put himself into a box as one thing or another. Even when asked to describe himself, he shuns words like “rapper” or even “artist.” Instead, he simply “[makes] art because that’s what’s going to grow my reach.”
So, at age 13, he tried his hand at music, crushing his variety show with an original track he had written just days before. Despite a dodgy opening, punctuated with some awkward silences and forgotten lyrics, he got more comfortable quickly. By the song’s end, he was dancing around, commanding the stage.
“It was a go since then,” he recalled, laughing.
By the time Ngala hit Concordia University, he was hungry for more. Looking for new insight, he enrolled in FFAR 398B, Hip Hop: Past, Present, Future.
Taught by Yassin “Narcy” Alsalman, better known as The Narcicyst, Ngala credits the class, and the professor, as a huge encouragement for his work.
“I took the class, and it engaged me in a way that creatively got me better. He himself is just an amazing artist, out of this world in terms of what he does,” Ngala said of his professor. The class may have allowed Ngala to tap into his own style and energy.
“A lot of artists, when they start off, sort of emulate their influences,” Alsalman explained. “But [Taigenz’s] project resonated as genuine, it was definitely him.”
By 2014, Nagala had joined the Concordia Student Union. Though this form of public service might seem unrelated to an interest in music, for him, it was a natural progression.
“Already what I do is kind of public service, in terms of music. You’re serving the public by helping them escape their world and enjoy what you have to offer,” he said. “[But] I decided to try my hand at the CSU and see how things worked.”
After a year and a half as a councillor, though, Ngala left university to pursue Taigenz full time. Now, making it is his fulltime job.
“In the next year or so, I see myself at a higher level in terms of where my brand and name are perceived, and the art just getting better. It’s a process.”
It’s Friday night at the skatepark, a graffiti-littered hotspot called TRH-Bar, and there’s loud music blaring. A few skaters congregate near the skate bowl.
There’s graffiti, marks of paint, and tags on almost every wall and crevice in the establishment. The event is at a bar in Montreal, but the city of Laval is largely represented.
The night is dedicated to Laval rapper and producer Green Hypnotic, who is celebrating his then-yet to be released album, Emotions.
He is accompanied by High Klassified, a 22-year-old producer signed to Fool’s Gold, a record label headed by Montreal native and legendary DJ A-Trak. He’s a young producer, but he’s already received high praise.
“High Klassified is the Drake of Laval,” said fellow producer and Laval-ite VXNYL during the party.
Both artists can be perceived as gatekeepers for the Laval music scene for different reasons.
High Klassified has the star power, with his connections to artists across the world, despite his age. Green’s rise has been a “slow grind”, but he’s well respected within Laval, and even wants to be involved in more executive producing gigs with fellow Laval artists. Following the release party for Emotions, Hypnotic was seen having a lengthy conversation with another Laval rapper, Jei Bandit, about producing future material.
Klassified, born Kevin Vincent, is regarded as one of the more notable faces of the LVL Ou Rien movement, which looks to put Laval on the map as a veritable destination for hip-hop. But he admits Green was the reason he got involved in the first place.
Hypnotic, born Oliver Oray, has been rapping since he was a teenager and has released a number of projects including 2012’s INC.O.A.S.T.NITO and 2014’s COASTAR. He also doubles as a mixing producer and has been jumping at any opportunity to produce material. The rapper was only 16 years old when he began rapping alongside Klassified’s brother, Chibbi, just for kicks. Klassified’s cousin also got involved with their music and he simply joined because he didn’t want to feel left out.
“They started doing music and I really wanted to be involved,” said High Klassified, who originally took up rapping before downloading the Fruity Loops software and got into beat making.
“We were just freestyling and trying stuff and we were just having fun,” said Hypnotic. “I wanted High Klass to be involved in something with the team so I just showed him the basics on how to produce and he just took a little bit of that knowledge and blew up.”
Klassified has blown up, collaborating with a number of artists including 2 Chainz and Mick Jenkins. He’s done tours across North America, Europe, and Asia, all the while documenting his touring and life experiences on Snapchat for the world to see. He’s also just released a new EP called Kronostasis, released this past October.
All the while, he’s still taking classes at College Montmorency in computer science. He almost didn’t continue pursuing music because he wanted to focus more on school, but his manager, Didier Hilaire, kept pushing him to continue. Soon enough, his profile raised, and he caught the attention of many DJs and producers, including Montreal producer Lunice, who played a track of High Klassified’s during a set. Then one day, he received a fateful email.
“[It was] some random email I got by A-Trak [that said] ‘I really fuck with your shit,’” he said. “He’s like a hometown hero.”
It’s been a slower time for Green, as he sees artists such as Klassified find success at a younger and faster rate, but he’s more than happy to see them thrive. Plus, he feels he’s closer to a breakthrough now than ever before.
“It’s motivating, man,” Green Hypnotic said. “I’m not a jealous guy, I like to see people win.
“It’s good energy, especially when you’re in a crew,” he added. “Everybody motivates everybody, so it just kept me moving and it kept me focused and it’s a slow grind but i’m good with it. I’m patient with it.”
It’s the afternoon after the party and both artists are sitting, waiting for a ride home from Montmorency metro. Klassified’s phone buzzes and he answers. He’s talking to his brother, Chibbi— also a rapper—about when he’ll be picked up. The two engage in conversation for a few moments before Klassified ends his conversation with “Laval,” as if it were custom to end discourse.
The setting soon switches to Klassified’s basement in Fabreville, a district in Laval. Green and High Klassified take seats in chairs as we’re surrounded by red walls, speakers, a laptop, and gym equipment. Chibbi is on a large black sofa in the basement playing video games just a few feet from where they’re sitting, not too far from a large plate of chicken wings—mostly devoured by Green.
While some rappers may discuss the lack of unity between Montreal rappers on the island, there’s seemingly far more togetherness on the northern island of Laval, which was once seen as a corny land with virtually no street cred. Now, one can now purchase “LVL ou Rien” apparel at streetwear boutiques such as Off The Hook.
The slogan “LVL ou Rien” was supposed to be a sarcastic and funny statement from Klassified, before Chibbi loved it and it soon took off, and a brand, hashtag, clothing apparel, and movement was born.
“We made it hot,” Green Hypnotic said bluntly.
Unlike Montreal, however, Laval doesn’t have a popular club where rappers can congregate and enjoy themselves, which explains why bars and clubs in Montreal are often the scene for Laval rappers—although Centropolis is a spot you can go if you want to be fancy. However, Laval has another alternative.
“We make house parties,” said High Klassified. “Everything happens in my basement.”
Klassified has played host to parties in his basement on numerous occasions. He reminisced on a time when Laval taxis “cashed out” by driving around most of his party goers, some from Montreal, to another time where people danced and gyrated on white walls at another party, to the point that body sweat and colour of people’s jeans dirtied and stained them by night’s end.
While Laval doesn’t possess as many venues as Montreal, and the two will still hold parties in there, they acknowledge there’s a certain magic in the parties they take part in their home city, a place that they will represent above all else.
“People from Montreal want to come down to Laval and feel the chill vibes,” High Klassified said. “Laval is about good vibes.”
Video by Elysia-Marie Campbell