Is Québec’s hip-hop scene tighter than ever? Such is the firm belief of the architects of QCLTUR, a compilation produced by the media outlet of the same name that was released in two volumes by Disques 7 ième Ciel.

QCULTURIn total, it offers about three dozen artists – mainly producers and rappers, but also R&B artists such as Barnev, and Nissa Seych, the only female presence in this endeavour. If you add up all of the artists’ metrics, the total is a staggering 45 million plays on YouTube and Spotify, and more than 250,000 Instagram subscribers. Statistics like those are proof, once again, that there’s strength in numbers.

But bringing together so many people, from so many different backgrounds, required a unifying spirit. Which is where QCLTUR comes in.

Led by Koudjo Oni, Benjamin Akpa, and Létizia Exiga, the Montréal-based media outlet has become, in merely two years, a go-to stop on Québec’s hip-hop circuit. Thanks to dynamic and sophisticated videos showcasing successful artists from the local rap and R&B scene, QCLTUR [pronounced “culture”] now has 24,000 subscribers on its social networks (primarily YouTube and Instagram), but more importantly, unparalleled credibility in the community it represents.

“It’s a super-important hip-hop media outlet in Québec,” says breakout artist Raccoon, featured on the compilation. “Their format is uber-modern, super-efficient and totally adapted to our generation.”

“It’s one of the most high-quality and rigorous media,” adds young rapper Nawfal, also featured on the project. “Their videos are straight to the point, and they cover the whole underground scene.”

“It’s a platform created by and for culture,” explains director Koudjo Oni, a renowned producer, who’s made his mark with Kery James, Booba, Souldia, and Sans Pression. “In my 20 years in Québec, I’ve seen the mainstream media take an interest in a few rappers, but for emerging artists, and even many established artists, it’s not easy to get coverage.”

QCLTUR thus gave itself the mission of reversing that trend, with a more neutral editorial approach that strives to highlight all of Québec’s different rap styles. “Everything stems from the name we chose: QCLTUR,” says Oni. “With a name like that, we had no choice but to have a clear editorial line that would make space for all movements, regardless of our tastes and preferences. We’re not ‘Guardians of the Culture.’ but we strive to be authentic.”

And it’s this authenticity that’s given the platform the legitimacy to unite vast swathes of the scene it covers.

The first phase took place in the Fall of 2020, when the media brought together a dozen artists in a major Montréal studio (of the video production company La cour des grands) to produce the video Up Next, an initiative aimed at highlighting the up-and-coming rappers “who are going to make noise” in the coming months in Québec. “The reception from the public and the scene alike was amazing!” says Oni proudly. “From that point on, we felt like we needed to give back to the artists, one way or another. That’s when the idea of putting together a compilation was born.”

It didn’t take long for Disques 7 ième Ciel, one of the two major hip-hop labels in Québec, to signal its interest in the project. “Initially, we thought of releasing it independently, to preserve our authenticity and neutrality,” says Oni. “But after talking with Steve [Jolin, the label’s director], we were convinced that he truly believed in the project, and he would only be there to support us, rather than limit our creative freedom. He totally got our philosophy as a media enterprise.”

QCULTUR’s initial idea was to have established artists collaborate with the 12 up-and-comers on Up Next. All were able to make it except Emma Beko. “Here’s hoping that’ll happen the next time!” says Oni.

“We wanted to put Québec rap on the map. We took the meaning of the idiom at heart” — Koudjo Oni of QCULTUR

Some highly interesting pairings happened, notably those of Gnino and Shreez, Levrai and Souldia, Sael and FouKi, and, on the project’s title track, Raccoon and Connaisseur Ticaso featuring Barnev (Céline Dion’s backing vocalist).

“I kinda see it as a passing of the torch,” says Raccoon proudly, about this collaboration – to which he’d been looking forward. “Connaisseur represents the old guard, I’m the newcomer. We both have a lyrical essence and rigorousness.”

But beyond these inter-generational collaborations, QCLTUR has given itself the mandate to present the diversity of the scene. Between trap, drill, R&B, and Afro-trap, the compilation also draws a representative portrait of the main urban centres of the Québec rap scene. To wit: Souldia represents Limoilou, FouKi reps Montréal’s Le Plateau, DawaMafia represents Brossard, Misa is from Gatineau, JPs reps Laval-des-Rapides… “We wanted to put Québec rap on the map,” says Oni. “We took the meaning of the idiom to heart. Rap has a strong territorial element to it, and we wanted to bring back that aspect of it in our compilation. It stokes a sense of belonging and pride.”

“When I listen to the compilation, I hear the sound of all of Québec’s musical palettes,” explains Raccoon, who represents the sound of the East end of Montréal (Rivière-des-Prairies on the North side, and Pointe-aux-Trembles on the South side). “It made me realize how versatile we are, and how there’s an audience for all genres of rap. We’re all super-different, but super-united.”

A true and organic unity, far from superficial, according to Nawfal. “I think COVID accelerated things,” he says. “We couldn’t go onstage anymore, so that made people want to collaborate more,” says the rapper who represents Montréal’s Ville Saint-Laurent neighbourhood, in the West End. “We’re slowly moving towards a union. An increasingly solid union that draws everybody upward.”