Last year, Lia Liza was crowned the Breakout Artist of the Year at Vancouver’s Golden Owl Awards, and while the B.C. native is getting noticed now, making music has been a lifelong goal of hers.

“I feel like music has always been in my blood, ever since I was young,” she told Mixcloud’s No Fun Radio last year. She describes her dad as an amazing singer, and says that she’s been training since she was nine years old, culminating in a post-secondary education as a vocal major. With all of the skills that she’s acquired, she then did what many Canadian artists before her have done to continue their pursuit of music: move down to the U.S.

Now relocated in Los Angeles, Liza is balancing careers in both music and modelling. For the former, 2018 marked the release of her debut album, Just What I Needed, a collection of gorgeously rhythmic R&B tunes that range from the sun-soaked summer anthem “Roll with Me” to the slinky opener, “The Feeling.” These songs show off a singer who has complete control of her vocals, and knows how to mold them around a solid beat, taking time to unfurl over the course of three minutes. Liza’s modelling has also taken off, with her most notably being featured in Kim Kardashian’s KKW Beauty promotions.

Music and modelling may be Liza’s main foci now, but she has her eyes set on becoming a triple-threat, if not more, in the future. In an interview with High Snobiety, Liza said that she’d like to star in a film or TV series, in addition to one day owning her own organization “that allows me to give back to my community.” So whether she’s dominating the airwaves, the runway, the big screen or the small, Liza’s big ambitions are bound to lead to some extraordinary things.

LoudAfter breaking many records with his first album, Loud strikes while the iron is hot and releases a new album, Tout ça pour ça, Once again, he relies on the talent of Ajust and Ruffsound, two of the country’s most sought-after producers. The Montréal-based rapper has given us the honour of re-visiting the creative process behind each of his 10 new songs.

“Sans faire d’histoire” (“Without a Fuss”)
“It essentially plays the same role that “So Far So Good” had on my first album – which is to summarize the last few months and set the tone for what’s to come. I don’t know why I open my albums that way, but I feel I need to do so. I think it’s interesting to say where I’m at. Some might’ve been expecting something pop as an opener, but I chose to go the conventional route. I wanted it to be clear this is a rap album. As for my recap, it’s obviously quite positive, since it’s mostly about what happened over the last 18 months. I think it’s the beat that led me to something so positive. It sounds like a summer anthem.”

“Médailles” (“Medals”)
“At first glance, this one is a song about accomplishments and success. But if you pay close attention, and when you watch the video, you’ll see I also talk about the other side, of everything that comes with success. Music is a personal choice, and I don’t feel stuck in a deal I’m not happy with. But it’s still a fact that once your project is launched, opportunities abound, and it becomes hard to say “no” and take a break. You get stuck in an endless loop, and you can’t really enjoy your success unless you stop. This song is about the only one where the lyrics came before the music. I had the chorus and pre-chorus in mind, and the guys built the beat around that.”

“Jamais de la vie” (“Not in My Lifetime”)
“For this one, Ruffsound and myself paid a visit to Banx & Ranx to look for a melody. We ended up with a rough draft of this song, and the guys fine-tuned it. The process was quite long, because we knew this was radio material, especially the chorus, and we wanted to make sure we would take it to the next level. It was important to me that the chorus has something universal about it, and I do believe everyone can relate to the idea of being in control of their lives, of not wanting to fit in the mould. In a pop context, it’s basically the job of the chorus to summarize the general theme of the song, even if the verses are slightly more personal.”

“Salles combles (“Packed Venues)
“This is a song designed for my shows, and it has a chorus that’s almost like a call-and-response. The lyrics are about being onstage, and my last tour, but also about the hardships of touring in Québec, and how starting a career here can sometimes be very unrewarded. With LLA [his old trio, Loud Lary Ajust], we played shows where the transportation was so expensive that we basically played for free. And in some smaller markets, you actually end up paying to play. But there’s a level of pride in this story, because ever since I went solo, I’ve had about 100 sold-out shows. I wanted to highlight and celebrate that.”

“Longues vies (“Long Lives)
“This one came from a reflection, and I would even say an angst I sometimes feel: losing my place. It’s an obvious observation, but some things go really, really fast, and don’t always have a very long shelf life. People get tired of stuff that plays everywhere, and too much. So the question that arises in the Québec market is, “How long can we push it before it becomes too much?” It’s going to happen at some point, no matter what… I also mention Prodigy and Nipsey Hussle, two rap legends that recently passed away. That’s why the title, ‘Longues Vies’ [‘Long Lives’] is in the plural tense. It’s not a self-centred reflection, it’s a general reflection on how long one can stay at the top.”

“Sometimes All the Time (with Charlotte Cardin)
“I’m a big fan of what Charlotte Cardin does. We had mentioned our mutual interest in working together, but nothing was concrete until I sent her this song. The very next day, she sent me her verse via voice memo, and we barely re-touched it. The song’s angle was ideal for a classic duo with two verses, where we address each other, and a chorus where we get together. Charlotte related to the song’s subject matter, namely the repercussions of a long-distance relationship, where we’re constantly on the road, or in a hotel room. Communicating becomes complex and often impossible. We end up talking whenever we can, but it’s never optimal.”

“Off the Grid” (with Lary Kidd)
“This is a tip o’ the hat to LLA using another recap-style format. Here, too, the tone is positive, but with a look at the flip side. When all of your time is mapped, and you know exactly what you’re going to be doing at all times, you get this desire to disappear without a warning, to go far away and be free. I’ve always felt that way, as I’ve said before on ‘Hell, What a View.’ I’ve managed to find a balance between what I am and my public persona. I’ve notably managed to set boundaries when it comes to the media and social networks. I manage that the way I want, without seeking too much exposure.”

“Fallait y aller (“Had to Go)
This one came out of the same session as ‘Jamais de la vie’ at Banx & Ranx’s place. These songs make a pair, in my mind. We worked on them there and then I wrote the lyrics on my own. It’s a reflection on my journey, on the fact that I’ve been doing this for such a long time. There were ups and downs, but there were mostly stages that we reached. There was a definite possibility it would all be over after LLA, that nothing that big would ever happen again in my career. But in the end, it was all about timing. When it was time to go, we went all-in.”

“Pas sortables (“Bad Mannered)
“The lyrics are quite arrogant, I’d say. It’s a song you listen to the get pumped up before something… Like a UFC fight. [laughs] We really envisioned this one as a mosh pit song, where the crowd goes crazy, during our show. I just let the energy of the beat take me over. I had to go hard on this one. This is one of the few tracks that were pretty much final before I started writing for it. Ruffsound, Ajust, and Realmind [co-producers of the Loud hit, and 2018 SOCAN Songwriting Prize winner, ‘Touts les femmes savent danser,’ and several songs on this new album] wrote it in a cabin last fall. Even the finale with the guitar and strings was already there.”

“GG stands for “good game” in the online gaming universe. The idea was to come up with a bona fide conclusion where I’d allow myself to get more personal. During the verse, the music becomes so minimalist and subdued that my voice takes up all the space, front and centre. It was an opportunity to be more open about who I am, almost nothing withheld. It’s not something I like to do very often, but in such a context, it felt right. Towards the end, the minimalist build-up culminates with an explosion of live instruments, the type of jam that’s reminiscent of productions by Justice League or Kanye West. We wanted to surprise people with an epic finale.”

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.”