Even without a city-defining sound, Montreal musicians have seized the moment. Here are 11 Montreal producers you should know about.
This March, producer extraordinaire Kaytranada made history at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards. Kaytra won two awards – Best Best Dance/Electronic Album for Bubba and Best Dance Recording for the Kali Uchis-featured “10%.” He became the first Black and openly gay artist to win the former award.
As a producer from Montreal, Kaytranada’s wins were a win for the city at large. The hometown hero allowed for even more attention towards burgeoning talent in the Canadian metropolis.
Montreal musicians have realized that it is time to seize the moment. The doors have been opened, they must allow for the world to see what the city has to offer. Luckily, most have risen to the occasion. A plethora of talent from the town are having career-best years.
The city has no defining sound, which could be seen as both a pro and a con. This makes it easier for producers to keep on their horse blinders and avoid falling into trends but it also makes it more difficult for the city to move as a collective. Luckily, Montrealers are abundantly supportive of one another, understanding the importance of working together towards a greater good.
While he may be the most notable beatmaker in the city, Kaytranada is far from the only great producer from Montreal. With so much terrific music to uncover, it’s hard to know where to begin. Here are 11 Montreal producers to keep an eye on.
At only 23 years old, Freakey! has already made a deep impact in the international and local scenes alike. His placements have been just as prominent in North America as they are in Europe, working with everybody from Toronto’s WhyG, Belgium’s Hamza, and of course Houston’s Don Toliver, for whom he produced the hit, “Can’t Feel My Legs.”
Freakey!’s debut album, Désolé Pour L’attente, tied all of his nomadic tendencies together. The project features an all-star lineup of francophone features from both Montreal and European artists alike. Clocking in at 28-minutes, Désolé Pour L’attente is an all-accounted demonstration of why Freakey! is one to watch. It is at once extremely present and yet eons ahead of its time. The producer adds his own bounce to the modern trap soundscape while experimenting with how to move the medium forward.
Yama//Sato is able to tailor his sound towards his collaborators’ needs. He does not simply hand over beats — he helps craft songs to a tee.
“Ting Tun Up,” his collaboration with Skiifall, meets at the intersection of UK and Caribbean inspiration, while its video remains unapologetically Montreal. Acts like Jorja Smith and Virgil Abloh have been playing the song on their respective Instagram stories. This only begins to scratch the surface on its cultural impact. The track has also made its way on several UK-based official streaming service playlists and earned Skiifall a performance on BBC Radio 1Xtra. Perhaps most impressively, Abloh selected the tune to soundtrack the new commercial for Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with the National Basketball Association.
“Ting Tun Up”’s success is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the young producer’s capabilities. Yama//Sato has also churned out impressive results as a solo act. His debut release, Promenade, is a laid-back listen that lets its production speak for itself.
Planet Giza having been holding it down for nearly a decade. Tony Stone and DoomX began as a duo, The North Virus, later inducting fellow producer Rami B. The three credit Artbeat Montreal for helping them gain both exposure and experience. Artbeat was a local event in which the city’s best aspiring producers gathered to showcase their talents (think of it as a Montreal precursor to Verzuz).
Since their 2013 incarnation, Planet Giza have come a long way. The triumvirate thrive in their collaborative nature, having blended their talents with Mick Jenkins, GoldLink, and longtime friend Kaytranada. Giza’s production style works seamlessly with the aforementioned rappers, their bounce blissfully complimenting the MC’s dance-like flows.
Planet Giza’s recently released Don’t Throw Rocks at the Moon shows the trio dipping their toes into various flavors. The album’s opening track, “Icarus,”feels like a spiritual cousin to Kendrick Lamar’s “Wesley’s Theory” while “When the Moving Stops” sounds like an updated version of The Neptunes’ minimalistic yet hard-hitting sounds of the early 2000s.
DRTWRK has been an important figure in the city’s hip-hop scene for well over a decade, lending a hand in some of the biggest local hits. When he and Magnum released “Expos Fitted,” in 2010, it felt as if the world had stopped spinning. The track even got a “Mega Mix” treatment, à la The Game’s “One Blood.”
In 2018, everything changed for DRTWRK. After years of building, the producer at long last got his first major placement, working on Lil Wayne and Travis Scott’s “Let It Fly.” Since then, DRTWRK has served as a frequent collaborator of both Boi-1da and Timbaland. He worked with the latter on Saweetie’s recent “Back to the Streets” and, perhaps most notably, Kanye West on “Use This Gospel,” off of Jesus Is King, and “Jonah,” which is on Donda.
High Klassified first made waves globally with a co-production on Future and The Weeknd’s multi-platinum hit, “Comin Out Strong.”
“I send a lot of beats to the Weeknd, but I wasn’t expecting Future on it. I only found out on Tuesday. I was doing my groceries when I found out. I was fighting a big hangover because it was my birthday weekend, then I got a call saying it was going to be on Future’s album, and my hangover was gone.,” High Klassified detailed to Vice on discovering he wound up on Future’s HNDRXX album.
The producer is a resident of Laval, a suburb just 40 minutes north of Montreal. Klassified is so proud of his hometown that he even took liberty in branding it, creating the “Laval ou rien” (Laval or Nothing) clothing capsule in 2015. Aside from producing for household names like Future and The Weeknd, High Klassified is also holds his own as a solo act. He is signed to Fool’s Gold Records, co-founded by fellow Montrealer, A-Trak.
After a considerable hiatus from solo releases, Klass returned this year with Law of Automata: Valid. The five-song EP flexes his expendable versatility. On the project, there is everything from bossa nova to trap flavor found. Despite his continued success, High Klassified continues to live in his mother’s basement. However, he fully renovated the space to include a state of the art studio.
Nicholas Craven is a lord of the underground. He was born in Gatineau, a Quebec town minutes away from the Ontario border. The producer may not have as strong of a following in the city itself than others on this list but his beatmaking is a marvel among rap purists.
His approach to street rap is how The Irishman is as a mob movie: It respects the integrity of the genre while finding a mesmerizing method to add new value towards it. (Conveniently, his Styles P collaboration is in fact named after the Scorsese flick.)
New York hip-hop heavyweights like Benny the Butcher, Sheek Louch, Roc Marciano and Westside Gunn are some of the names in his impressive rolodex.
Chase.Wav’s professional career began at the heels of winning the 2016 Battle of the Beat Makers in Toronto, impressing judges T-Minus, Boi-1da, and T-Minus with his sounds.
Chase has made most of his waves in the Montreal scene, producing for local heavy hitters like KALLITECHNIS, Naya Ali and Loud, the first Montreal rapper to play the Bell Centre local arena. Wav’s beats feel like icing on the proverbial album cake. His inclusion in a given project gives it the opportunity to go from good to great. His ear to the Montreal scene is sure to serve him well; Wav is the type of producer with a strong ability to develop and prosper alongside the local up-and-comers he locks in with.
Zach Zoya’s “Feelings” is a classic, 2000s-inspired R&B track, in which Wav’s production allows Zoya to get in touch with the sound that made him fall in love with the genre.
What is “Powerfunk,” exactly? Just ask Montreal producer Shash’U. The subgenre, which he created, fuses funk and disco from the past with trap and electronic aesthetics of the future to present a potent sound for the present day.
Shash’U is a favorite of one Bad Gal Riri. Rihanna integrated the beatmaker’s “Man Down” remix into her 2016 Anti Tour, which would soon become a fixture of Navy stans as well.
Like many in his field, Shash’U is doing his best to keep the party going during the pandemic. He recently teamed up with the Montreal Canadiens for an exclusive pre-game DJ set via their official Twitch account.
Shash’U has released projects through both Fool’s Gold and Joy Ride Records, the latter label a powerhouse for Quebecois rap music that he helped incubate. With 43,000 SoundCloud followers and counting, it’s safe to say that Shash’U’s cult following will soon evolve into worldwide acclaim.
Lunice first stepped onto the scene in the late 2000s as a member of the Turbo Crunk collective. Soon after, he would meet Scottish beatmaker Hudson Mohawke and form the duo TNGHT. Their work was praised by many and caught the attention of Kanye West, who flipped their “R U Ready” track into the brilliance that is “Blood on the Leaves.”
Kanye is not the only major artist who Lunice caught the attention of. In 2015, Madonna asked the beatmaker to open up the European leg of her Rebel Heart Tour. Lunice’s DJ sets are just as energetic as his music. He doesn’t just spin a record, he becomes it. There is never a still moment, with Pierre bouncing around the stage the entire set.
In 2017, Lunice hit the world with a one-two punch, dropping both his debut album, CCCLX, and Moving Parts, a collaborative EP with The Alchemist. The producer has been relatively quiet since then but whenever he does drop, his music is always worth paying attention to.
Jamal “Jamvvis” Davis positioned themselves in the local scene from an early age. During their time in CÉGEP (a Quebec-only two year university preparatory collegial system), Jamvvis was already opening for big shows across the city, including TOKIMONSTA and Ekali.
The closest thing to our very own J Dilla, the producer’s style is rather sparse. Less is more with Davis, leaving room on their musical canvas for their audience to paint the rest of the picture.
Jamvvis has been open about their struggles with mental health and says that working on music can be very therapeutic to them. “To be honest, it’s very hard to realize that you are depressed in the moment.,” Davis explained in an interview with VICE. “It was only after [a depressive state] was over that I realized that I had been genuinely depressed since I was 12.”
Earlier this spring, Jamvvis released a deluxe edition of their VAGAB0ND mixtape with rapper DO, the Outcast. The pair make the underground sound more accessible — its music for introverts that you can play around your friends.
Rap Keb is an anomaly in and of itself. The subgenre is exclusive to the province of Quebec (Keb = Quebecois), blending together the “franglais” (anglais-français/english-french) dialect of its citizens. When it comes to the French side of Quebec’s rap culture, VNCE Carter is one of the most dominant forces on the production end. The beatmaker is a longtime affiliate of Dead Obies, the South Shore fivesome who arguably spearheaded the Rap Keb movement. The group’s notoriety seeped into the US market last year, when they received a profile by the New York Times.
Carter’s production style is comparable to the club-ready aesthetic of US counterparts like Tay Keith or Mike Will Made-It. He is Montreal’s answer to the sound that is currently impacting American airwaves. VNCE is considered a unifyer in the city who works just as intently with the francophone side of the scene as he does with anglophone artists. When COVID-19 isn’t in the air, Carter regularly hosts a club night titled VNCE & Friends where he groups together some of Montreal’s most exhilarating artists for evenings of live entertainment.
Banner Graphic: @popephoenix for Okayplayer
Mr. Wavvy was born and raised in Montreal. Legend has it that his ghost still haunts the city’s Olympic Stadium, waiting for the day that the Expos will return. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.