Montréal’s Club Soda was at maximum capacity on Saturday, May 11, for the release of FouKi’s second album, ZayZay. The 22-year-old rapper offered a vibrant performance – one of his best so far – to his (very) young audience.

His show was visually exceptional. Behind him, and his loyal sidekicks QuietMike (on the laptop) and Vendou (backing vocals), stood an immense cardboard house made to look like it’s on fire. It was designed by the show’s stage director Felipe Arriagada-Nunez, along with cartoonish projections that mirrored each song’s theme: plates of spaghetti for S.P.A.L.A., money falling from the sky for Gwap, and so ion. Three times during the show, dancers from the 360 MPM company brought an additional level of energy to the show with their endearing choreography.

“Seriously, we had so much fun,” FouKi says a few days later when we meet him, still riding on Cloud Nine. “It was stunning that people knew the lyrics that well. It felt like the album came out a month ago, even though it came out barely a week ago.”

To be honest, though, FouKi’s songs are easy to memorize. Simple but not simplistic, catchy but not sappy, they benefit from the talent of beat-maker QuietMike, one of Québec’s most talented producers of his generation. And when they’re played in a super-charged Club Soda, those earworms literally become anthems, sung in unison. They’re hymns about positivity where the rapper pours all of his sincerity. He never tries to project an image that he doesn’t identify with.

“I’m mad, sometimes, but 95 percent of the time I’m very positive,” he says, asked if he sometimes gets angry. “I’m more inspired when I’m happy. I think this comes from the fact that I listen to a lot of reggae. Although the themes can sometimes be dark in that music, the groove can always change the vibe.”

He more often than not raps about his love of “kankan” (as in cannabis) and his love for his girlfriend, but FouKi’s lyrics are always a reflection of his current mood. He is front and centre in Québec’s rap scene, which couldn’t make him happier.

Songwriting: A Question of Vibe
FouKi needs a quiet environment to create. A “kankan” spliff in his hand, a QuietMike beat in his ears, what the rapper strives for above all is a catchy vocal melody. “Once I’m in a good vibe, I look for simple hooks,” he says. “Something even a toddler could sing. As soon as I find one that sticks in my mind for a few minutes, I know I’m on to something, and that’s when I start writing lyrics.”

His path was wasn’t exactly rough, but it was strewn with doubts, especially when it came to school. On his song “Papillon,” he raps about the difficulties he had obtaining his high-school diploma. “École pour adulte, mais regarde-toi, faudrait peut-être faut tu commences par en devenir un/J’coulais tout l’temps en français, mais quand même dans les 10 auteurs de Radio-Canada ” (Adult school, but look at yourself, maybe you need to become one, first/I was flunkin’ all the time, but I still made it yo Radio-Canada’s Top 10 list of writers). That last part is about the recognition bestowed upon him by the French CBC radio literary show Plus on est de fous, plus on lit ! in 2017. Sweet revenge.

“Our school system isn’t made for everyone,” says FouKi. “And what I’ve noticed is that it’s often the ones with the best grades who are the weirdest ones,” he says, laughing. “School can make you better, but it can also make you feel imprisoned. Ultimately, maybe I just wasn’t working hard enough, but whatever the case may be, the school environment didn’t fit with what I wanted.”

By the age of 15, his head was already on devoting his entire life to rap. Inspired by the new wave of Québec rap spearheaded by Alaclair Ensemble, Koriass, and Dead Obies, he formed Ségala with friends and befriended a classmate and future extremely talented beatmaker: QuietMike. A few years later, in 2016, the now inseparable acolytes released their first mixtape, Plato Hess, via Bandcamp, and it would become the spark that ignited the “rap gentil” (literally “kind rap”) movement: a hedonistic and spontaneous hip-hop style similarly subscribed to by L’Amalgame, Kirouac & Kodakludo, and everyone else in the mega collective known as La Fourmilière (the anthill).

Since then, FouKi and QuietMike have made giant strides in the local rap scene, and completed seven projects in a mere two-and-a-half years. They’ve become synonymous with “productivity.” “I never force myself to write, that way I never get writer’s block,” the rapper says when asked what his secret is. “I wait until an idea pops into my head and the lyrics just flow out. A great example of that is ‘Tjrs raison’ (‘Always Right’). My girl and I were in Québec City and we were arguing. In the end, turned out I was wrong, and she said, ‘See, I’m always right!” I started mocking her, and in some ironic way, it turned into a song. I rap that song as if I was my girl.”

It’s not that ironic, though. FouKi has never been so confident and self-assured, sometimes bordering on pretentious, than on this second album – where he’s constantly bragging about the merits and fallout of his success, while slaying his haters. “J’mets toutes les fuckboys qui parlaient, dans mon dos/ Maintenant, on m’paye comme du monde pour rocker des shows/ Mais j’ai su faire mon chemin, j’ai pas regardé les autres” (Fuck all the fuckboys who spoke behind my back / Now I get paid well to rock shows / I made my own path, I didn’t look at others), he raps on the scathing “Faut c’qui faut,” a collaboration with Brussels’ Isha and Paris’ Lord Esperanza.

“Like it or not, there’s always people who hate on people who make it,” he says. “They spend a large portion of their time trying to find your flaws, and cursing you from their living rooms. As funny as it sounds, that negativity inspires me.”

All too aware that his relatively instantaneous success has become a hot-button issue in a rap scene that’s grown used to the same headliners for years, FouKi still fully embraces the enthusiasm he ‘s generated over the last few months. Yet, his relentless touring schedule almost got the best of him recently.

“I went through a solid crash, all of a sudden. I almost gave it all up, one week… I questioned myself, and ended up realizing that I was way better off giving everything I have to a job that I really like, than working in any other job that I’m not passionate about. I’m really busy now, but I have no intention of releasing an album and touring every year. I’m afraid I’ll turn 26 and be fed up with this!

“I do plan on taking breaks and working on side projects. I’m more and more interested in acting and voice acting. I also want to improve my studio and work with other people, give them advice, guide their creations, help them find hooks and flows… I feel like becoming a public persona can open doors, doors I would never have had access to without a diploma, or experience.”