My new album Parallel World is out now! Around this time a year ago, the idea of making a new album was far from my mind. I was under lockdown here in Toronto during the early part of the pandemic and everything about life felt uncertain. Touring stopped. I was scared to leave the house. Thinking back to that time, there was an uncanny quality to day-to-day life. Was this really happening? I had just been at the Banff Centre where things felt relatively normal until suddenly they weren’t. Hand sanitizer stations started springing up around the centre but back then, no one was wearing masks yet. I borrowed one from my friend Peggy for the flight home.
Last spring, I reflected a lot on the past. I started writing a book about my career. I had time to think back to when I first started making music. Rapping at open mic nights in Edmonton as a teenager. Making beats in my mom’s attic. Dropping out of university to follow my dream. Combing through all those memories, I realized that being under lockdown wasn’t so different from the circumstances that inspired my first album. It felt like I was back at my mom’s house again: researching music, nerding out, going down internet wormholes and eventually, creating my own personal language for communicating with the world.
When I was younger, I was an early adopter of online platforms. During last year’s forced second childhood, I had a chance to catch up with the changing media landscape after a few years of tour-based neglect. I started my Bandcamp page in May (!), this newsletter in October and a Twitch account this January. Tending to these new outlets, writing my book and going for jogs up to the 401 in the grey stillness of Canadian spring was my life.
When I heard about Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, I thought, “That could have been me.” I started to jog with him in mind. Breonna Taylor made me think about my two sisters. George Floyd was a rapper. In the Summer of 2020, it felt like an unrelenting wave of dread was rising above me like a tidal wave, a surging torrent of black pain. But the weirdest part was that it didn’t feel lonely. In fact, far from it. In response to the protests that summer, racial justice was suddenly being prioritized in the mainstream media. Basketball players had civil rights slogans on the backs of their jerseys. Last summer’s protests changed the global conversation about systematic racism. All these inequalities that I frequently thought about over the course of my life were suddenly being openly discussed.
Shows, films, books and articles by black artists were helping to give people the vocabulary to talk about these issues. I read Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge over the summer and her brilliant way of explaining complex systemic issues in accessible terms made me think of how I could do that with my music. The urgency of Dave Chappelle’s 8:46 inspired me to tap into the present moment and create something with some immediacy. I loved how ambiguous the form of that special was. I wanted to show truth in jest and wrap hard truths in humour like he does. And Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You blew me away with how singular, uncompromising and fully formed her creative vision was.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, I saw people crowdfunding for different organizations on Twitter. I put together a remix album and raised some money with it for the Canadian Association of Black Journalists. The response to this got me thinking about what other ways I could use my platform for positive change. How could I further emphasize advocacy in my music? I hit the studio in July and the ideas were just flowing out. Cases were low at the time and I was determined to finish an album before everything got shut down again.
I was inspired by classic albums that balanced a political message with funky music: Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Sly & The Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, The Clash’s Combat Rock. I wanted to speak truth to power like Public Enemy, Nina Simone, Gil Scott-Heron and Linton Kwesi Johnson. I wanted to rage against our political leadership about the inequality that was growing rapidly as the pandemic raged on. I also closely examined contemporary albums that all have their own well-defined, distinct sonic worlds: Mac Miller’s Swimming, DAMN by Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean’s Blonde, JAY-Z’s 4:44, Yeezus.
I finished recording Parallel World near the end of December and now it’s here! It all came to me in a sudden burst of intense energy that I hadn’t planned for. But now I’m so happy that I’ll have a time capsule to remember this unprecedented moment in time. Let me know what you think of the album! Drop a comment or reply to this email. Dying to hear what everyone’s favourite songs are! Next week, I’ll be posting some deeper analysis of individual songs so keep your eyes peeled for that.
I had an incredible conversation with Vish Khanna on his podcast Kreative Kontrol where we discussed Parallel World at length. It’s a great primer for the record. I always look forward to chatting with Vish, he’s an open-hearted, empathetic interviewer. If you check out anything related to my album, make it this podcast
Here’s a particularly in-depth interview I had with Teresa Xie for Stereogum where I got the chance to talk extensively about how I made the album, this very newsletter and why I started it in the first place
My old MTL pal Mark Slutsky has a really interesting newsletter he does called Something Good where he recommends a thing, occasionally with the help of a guest. I’m on there this week talking about something that I’ve been extremely passionate about for many years that deeply influenced my album: UK rap!
I spoke to Melody Lau at CBC Music about 5 songs that changed my life
This Saturday May 1st at 7 PM EST on Twitch I’m throwing a virtual album release celebration where I’ll play the album and other tracks that influenced the record. It’s gonna be a very fun time, I’m even gonna get dressed up
Parallel World is now available anywhere you listen to music! I’ll be posting about each song on the album starting Monday. I’ve got some interesting bonus materials coming for the paid subscribers in the coming weeks so stay tuned