The Artist Spotlight series aims to celebrate creators at a time when art is being consumed the most.
This week, Rapper, Singer and Music Producer Flowzus shares some insight into his 10 years in the industry and how he’s able to continue to create despite the pandemic and being home full-time with his wife and young daughter. You can check out his music available on all streaming platforms, including one featured on his specially curated playlist of all Hamilton- based artists and musicians recently featured on mood.
Q: Can you share a little about each of yourself and your background in the creative field?
I’ve been putting out studio-recorded music for about 10 years, but I started off as the frontman for a pop-punk band. We put out a small project in 2011, and since then I’ve made the process of creating albums an inseparable part of my life. I started producing hip hop instrumentals in 2012 while falling in love with the genre, and started rapping in 2013 to accompany a friend of mine (rapper Hilroy) on his first mixtape. I didn’t intend on branding myself as mainly-a-rapper back then, but after 4 projects of my own in the following years it was pretty clear which direction I was headed. Last year it dawned on me that I could be pushing myself way harder. There are artists with half as much content making twice as much noise – what’s stopping me from becoming a fixture in the local scene?
Q: Is there a quote/ mantra you live by, if so, how has this shaped your practice?
“Have the best time, and others will join.”
I spent my first few albums in my head about what people wanted from me as a rapper. You’ve got this VERY self-reflective platform wherein you’re dumping hundreds of words of very personal content into people’s ears; it’s hard to not put everything you do through a filter of “what other people want.” The more I thought about it and reflected on what makes me different as an artist and what seems to compel people, the more I realized: I have the skill (and privilege) of making positive rap music. Not comedy rap, to be clear, but rap with a sense of humor and awareness. My life is full of levity, and I like to share that. If people want to talk to you at a party because you make them laugh, why can’t you also do that in a rap album? I realized I don’t need my music to be fraught for it to be valuable.
Q: Your new *album with Vinnii A is dropping very soon, congrats! Can you share a little about the creative process?
When the pandemic really set in, a lot of local artists flocked to the internet to find a networking outlet. I’ve met upwards of thirty local artists through Instagram – Vinnii A is one of the hardest working guys in the city. I’m constantly scheming around my music, like every single day, so I typically only work this closely with people who can match that pace. Vinnii and I have written and recorded damn near 15 tracks in the 4 or 5 months since we met, so I think this collab album was inevitable. We recorded our parts in different studios, but we’ve linked up a few times to plan things out and we’ve both been involved in the mixing process, so it feels pretty focused. We each have one production credit on this album, and a local producer called Nomai shows up on here a couple times too.
Q: You have a lot of other great collab’s with other Canadian artists and producers like WVVY MATT(NOT CDN) along with your friend HILROY. How did you go about making these connections?
Hilroy is part of why I started rapping to begin with – I’ve known him since I was like 8 years old. That’s gotta be my oldest musical relationship. I produced most of his debut project in 2014, and then him and I planned to work on a collaborative album. We never stopped planning that, it just took 6 years to materialize. It was a foregone conclusion that we’d be rapping over my own instrumentals, because Hilroy almost exclusively raps over my production (and it gave us the most control over how the album came out). Usually, I like to rap over my own beats as well so I can build the track around what I’m writing, but I also love collaborating with beat producers because it challenges me in ways I don’t expect.
The majority of my networking happens on the internet. I’m a studio-head and I like to spend most of my time with my family – I’ve only ever done a single rap show to-date (alongside Hilroy). I met a lot of my collaborators (HENRI VICTORIOUS, D. Edge, and WVVY MVTT) from reddit’s hiphopheads forum, after it migrated to Twitter in 2013ish. I’ve only adjusted my lens for the local scene over the last year.
Q: (How) Has the pandemic and physical distancing measures affected you and your family/your work?
I create 95% of my output from the comfort of my home, so the pandemic didn’t have an immediate negative impact on me, creatively. In the months before the pandemic, I had just started to seriously invest in my online presence (establishing an image, learning to use video editing software and incorporating higher quality visuals into my brand), so it wasn’t the worst timing for me when the whole world went digital back in March. I was at least prepared to maintain my trajectory as an artist, and I didn’t lose anything central to my process.
Now that I’m in the “developing promo material” phase for this album with Vinnii A, I am starting to feel the impact of physical distancing / isolation measures. It’s much easier to make an album from different places than it is to develop coherent marketing material from different places. Every weekend me and Vinnii have been grappling with questions like “can we link up at all?” and “if so, how can we turn a 20-minute physically distanced smoke sesh into useable promo?” It’s damn near impossible, but we’re finding ways to figure it out while still following guidelines.
Q: How do you envision the future of in-person/ interactive events such as live music shows and art exhibitions given physical distancing measures and reduced capacity of indoor spaces? Is the future all digital?
I think one small victory from Covid is that it’s really giving accessibility a leg-up. Prior to this I think the events industry was dragging it’s feet with things like venue accessibility, digital access, and a host of other things that could make live shows more palatable to people (if done right). Online shows (or at least online options) mean more reasonable ticket prices, less risk of overcrowding, easier access to the arts, etc. I don’t think the future is ALL digital – you can tell that people are itching to have real-life experiences again – but I think the digital imprint that Covid is leaving on our world will help usher in a new era of engaging with the arts.
Q: What do you think companies/collectives/local organizations need to be focusing on to address ongoing systemic racial inequalities in the arts and culture sector?
Make grants, resources, and monetary support more accessible to lower income brackets and new artists. Every municipality wants to brag about the thousands of dollars they’re giving out to facilitate artists. None of them want to explain why those grants are buried behind 5 pages of terms & conditions PDFs and impossible pre-qualifications. That isn’t accessible, it’s discouraging to all but the most experienced of “amateur” artists. Funding the next album of somebody who has to prove they’ve moved 20,000 units of their last album isn’t a pledge to new artists – it’s just a safe investment in somebody who has already gotten their start.
The result, from what I’ve seen, is the same handful of (often white) “seasoned musicians” frequently being propped up instead of new artists getting a chance to emerge, or even getting a foothold. You wanna talk racial inequalities? Hip hop is – by the numbers – the world’s favorite genre, but most cities in Ontario are still pouring grant money and media limelight into middle-aged rock acts and violin trios. Why is that? Because young artists, hip hop artists, and artists of color making rap music in their bedrooms aren’t seen as equally legitimate by the institutions gatekeeping the resources. You’ll get your start on YouTube as a rapper before local public art institutions will throw you a bone. The best answer most cities have for under-equipped new artists is: “you can book studio time in the library.” It’s a start, but it’s not enough.
Q: What are you up to right now? (can be work, personal, self care, creative, home life, literally anything you want to share!)
I have three projects in the works right now, as Flowzus. The collab album with Vinnii A is dropping on Dec 18th. My own upcoming solo album is called LOCUST and will be the “darkest” installment in my discography, but that’s a ways out. Somewhere in the mix I also have a collab project with New York rapper D. Edge coming out.
When my wife and I aren’t chasing our daughter around the house, we’re working on an album outside of the hip-hop sphere, too. It’s very catchy pop-oriented music that we’ve been polishing for a while.
I also have a Spotify playlist showcasing Hamilton musicians that I’m trying to get off the ground, because I firmly believe a LOT of these artists deserve more attention. It’s amazing how much talent and diversity is bubbling in Hamilton right now. To check out his playlist, “ok this Hamilton” featured in our mood series, click here.
All images courtesy of the artist.