Iqaluit, Nunavut:  It’s Nunavut Music Week 2.0, and rapper FxckMr is taking advantage of meeting a small group of people from the Canadian music industry, mostly from Toronto, there to learn as much about the remote, stark, beautiful capital city and Arctic community of 7,700 people and the struggles and logistics facing musicians there, as they are from us.

FxckMr – real name MisterLee Cloutier-Ellsworth – performs numerous times, at Inuksuk High School for a CBC q radio special; the Royal Canadian Legion (the only true live music venue); an unprecedented outdoor concert on bone-chilling Frobisher Bay; and at the NuBrew open mic.

He also performs at the Franco-Centre in the daytime, where the informal informational sessions take place, with everyone seated in a circle, talking about what they do and taking questions from the local musicians – designed to provide mentorship for those interested. FxckMr is interested.

“I’ve always been good at articulating my thoughts and new ideas.”

By the end of the three-day trip, he’s won the visitors over, blowing us away with his rhymes, and endearing us with his friendly personality. He’s even impressed a mainstream daily like The Toronto Star enough to cover him. But underneath his smile, FxckMr uses hip-hop to expose the realities of life in the North, one often filled with addiction, depression, and suicide, familiar to so many youth from the territory.

His eight-song debut album, 1997, which includes previously released cuts “Higher,” “PMFWAFT” and “Hunnid Grand,” drops Sept. 20, 2019, on Aakuluk Music, the label started by Iqaluit breakout band The Jerry Cans, via Six Shooter. FxckMr has just turned 22, but it’s taken him five years to land this unique opportunity, releasing a hip-hop album on a national scale with the industry behind him.

“I’ve always been good at articulating my thoughts and new ideas,” he says, standing outside the Franco-Centre. “I started writing poetry when I was about 15.  I might’ve done some more when I was younger, but 15 was when I was like, ‘Okay, I like this.’”

There was no hip-hop scene in Iqaluit, he says. Most of the music is traditional, passed down from the elders to ensure it doesn’t die with the next generation. “Rock bands, or folk singers playing acoustic Inuktitut music, is mostly what people are interested in,” says FxckMr.

“I wasn’t big into hip-hop. There was a Childish Gambino, I was into him when I was 15, and a bit of Eminem, but I wasn’t hip-hop-oriented. I was into electronic and dubstep music in those days, and then 17 was when it started switching.”

At 16, FxckMr lived in Montréal – where his mother’s side of the family is from, and where he now resides – and was introduced to some rap from friends, before moving back to Iqaluit a year later, where he was exposed to local hip-hop artists, like Lekan Thomas, Hyper-T, and Brian Tagalik.

“We started freestyling,” he says, “and there was a high school talent show that was going to be happening, and it happened to be while we were doing a poetry unit in English class, so I was like, ‘We’re doing this.’” He got a good response and kept on writing – dozens, then 100, and now approaching 200 songs.

“I haven’t gotten into producing yet,” says FxckMr. “I’ve been trying to perfect the lyrics first. I will become proficient in the producing, and even instruments. I know I’m going to catch on to the drums, the keyboard, trying to do the guitar. I don’t think it’s quite my thing, but I’m trying to go outside the lyrics a little bit.”

But as important as preserving the Inuk language is, FxckMr always rhymes in English. “I know I could sit down and write an Inuktitut song, but I don’t see it as what’s going to help my career right now,” he says.

Songwriting and composing can sometimes be labours of love, but they’re always hard work, nonetheless.

You have to do some sort of creative work to write a song or compose a piece, and there are as many ways to do that work as there are music creators in the world.

In honour of Labour Day, SOCAN would like to share a few quotes, from interviews with our writer and composer members, about some of the qualities that come up repeatedly as facilitators of their work: persistence, patience, vulnerability, and solitude.

Sarah McLachlan, on the value of solitude in nature to complete her lyrics:
“I have a dog, and I hike every day in the woods… and whatever kernels of ideas I have, I just go into the woods, usually by myself, and just sort of work on the lyrics. I’ve got so much music, a ton of music, but lyrics are the things that are tough, where I have to really turn my brain off; turn all the other things off in my brain to really focus on them. Being in the woods, in nature, is paramount in being able to just relax, and settle in, and do nothing but focus in on that one task.”

Jessie Reyez, on the challenge of writing songs from a vulnerable place:
“The only time it’s difficult is… [when I’m] anticipating my loved ones feeling my pain. Because I know they hurt different, they hurt differently for me. That makes me hesitant about putting things out sometimes. But I do it anyway, and they support me anyway. So I’m grateful.”

Grandson, on the persistence involved in co-writing the 2019 SOCAN Songwriting prize-winning song “Blood/Water”:
“That one in particular was like trying to get a big fish on board… It took a million different forms, sonically, and we just couldn’t crack it… Kevin Hissink and I got it to a place (about 60 percent done) we were excited about, where I had all the lyrics, but finally I came up with what would become the verse melody, and the buildup melody, but we needed something to put it over the top… We sent Chester (Krupa Carbone) the demo, and he built out the rest of it.”

Buffy Sainte-Marie, on the patience required for her songs to reach timely fruition for release:
“I had political problems in the U.S. [in the ’70s] so that I couldn’t get any airplay. But I made a lot of great records during that time, that didn’t get heard. So some of those songs showed up on [her 2015 Polaris Prize-winning album] Power in the Blood… As a songwriter, if you have a medicine, and the flu hasn’t hit yet, it’s very smart to hang on to the medicine until it can do some good.”


Marie-Mai (Photo: Malina Corpadean)

Marie-Mai, on the super-vulnerable songs of her 2018 Elle et moi album:
Elle et moi is an incredibly personal album from beginning to end. Definitely my most personal album ever… This record is like my diary while I was going through all of this turmoil… an open window on my life during these last few years. Each song reveals a little more about me, and I know people will have questions after listening to them. Did she really do that? Did she really feel that way?”

Christine Jensen, multiple JUNO Award-winning jazz artist, on the listening effort and solitude required for her composing process:
“When I start the process of composition, the first thing I look for, or try to get my ears around, is an idea that I know I can develop. That might mean checking out a lot of different music, whether it’s jazz, or world, or contemporary classical, or pop, or folk… Then I need a place by myself, usually, to just process some thoughts and get some seeds of ideas going.”

Nicolas Gémus, 22, on the persistence required to write the songs on his critically-acclaimed 2019 debut album, Hiboux:
“I was 15 when I wrote the first song on the album… A song will happen spontaneously through a chorus or a verse, then I’ll take a step back and find that song’s heart and soul. And then begins the tortuous process of finishing that song. ‘L’amour et la peur’ came out in three hours; but most of the time, I need three hours to write a single sentence.”

Amritha Vaz

Amritha Vaz

Leonard Sumner, on the patience required to create his 2019 JUNO-nominated album Standing in the Light:
“It was a six-year process… Everything from song selection for recording, to the actual “playlist” of track order, to every little detail I went over. It was a super-long process. I had the album title for years before I actually had the songs ready for it.”

Amritha Vaz, screen composer, on the persistence required as she started out in film scoring
“When you start working as an assistant, you might be exceptionally lucky to land a writing gig, but more often, you’re earning your way to that position. Perhaps because I hadn’t formally studied film scoring, I was keenly aware of my huge learning curve, so I was just as eager to learn how to set-up Logic templates and synch video, as I was to soak up musical insights… There was so much to learn!… And there’s the art of graciously letting it all go when what you’ve tried [for a score] doesn’t land, and you’re back to square one.”

High Klassified, Montréal-based hip-hop producer, and Weeknd/Future co-writer, on the value of solitude to focus on writing:
“My girlfriend lives in the Canadiens tower (downtown condo), and that’s a real headache to me. All that noise and entertainment bothers me. In (my basement studio in) Laval, I can concentrate on music and think about nothing else. That’s how I manage to create.”

“I know aficionados of microdoses,” sings Fred Fortin on the title song of his sixth album – the surprise launch of which, at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 23, 2019, had remained a very well-kept secret until that moment. “Microdose was a surprise even for me,” says Fortin. “I wanted new material to bring on my solo tour.” What started as an EP ended up as a full album. When gathered together, those songs, lying in the bottoms of drawers, seemed to go with his new ideas, and resonated like a rough and dirty melody, both current and directly linked to his start… more than 20 years ago.

Fred Fortin, Microdose

Fortin has delivered an album, of which half the songs are with Joe Grass, and the other half with Olivier Langevin, and all of it recorded with Pierre Girard. “We wanted it to be spontaneous, rough and dirty,” he says “I had stuff to get off my chest after Ultramarr, which was a slightly more conventional album.”

His second album, Le plancher des vaches, is the one he feels is the closest to this one. “They share the same raw vibe,” says Fortin. “And there are several language levels. It’s complete nonsense. They’re manifestations of life, sometimes sad and sometimes happy. There’s all kinds of bipolar curves.”

“There are eight songs on the album that were all done at the same time, including this one. I would swap guitars to find inspiration. I recently worked with Diane Tell. That led to me having a lot of fun with bossa nova-type rhythms. It reminded me of bands from the West Coast of the U.S. All those cool, hip people. I started making fun, in good faith, of San Francisco, and people who are too cool. Joe Grass plays on this one, and he said to me with his Anglo accent, “I know what this needs. Flute, this needs flute.” He knows EriK Hove. We called him and he played the flute. I don’t know how that guy sees me now. I really like this music. I wanted to involve the zeitgeist, the microdose, the idea of doing things little by little, that’s what it’s all about. The Mile-End [neighburhood] is Montréal’s San Francisco. I like it, but you can also make fun of it.”

“I considered offering that one to Diane Tell. But my girlfriend and Langevin didn’t want to let go of it. It’s the story of a violent character. I like going to extreme psychological zones. I also very much like characters who don’t have control over what’s going on. When you talk about killing someone, it’s OK in the movies, but when you toy around with that type of fiction in a song, you need to provide a tremendous amount of context in three minutes. I’ve re-appropriated this right to be trashy after Ultramarr, which was a little tamer.”

“Led Zeppeline”
“I added an ‘e’ at the end to avoid any confusion. The analogy varies, according to the verses. There’s a kid’s squabble, like those we’ve experienced during my kid’s teens. My youngest is 14, and he wasn’t too warm on the idea of being featured in the song, but he thought it was super-funny, in the end. I wanted to tell a family story.”

“Cracher en l’air”
“That one also came out of my studio blitz. It’s about someone I’m close to who told me how tough it was. I tell it as if it was happening to me. Jealousy and resentment are feelings that can be hard to express. It’s hard music, but in a different way. It’s a heavier emotional level, and you can hear it in the music. It’s up to everyone to create their own image. The guitar is also heavier on that one. I recorded the guitar and drums first. I was on a tangent of writing about people I’m close to, so the rest all came to me super-easily.”

Fred Fortin, Microdose“King Size”
“I write this for someone else’s album. If you pay close attention, you’ll hear it on another album, but with slight variations. The people around me really wanted me to keep it, so I changed a whole section of chords in the middle when I recorded the other one. My girlfriend, Langevin, and Pierre Girard really liked the melody. They’re my three wives. They decide.”

“That’s an old draft from before Ultramarr. I don’t know why I didn’t keep it. The recording dates back to 2014. I probably figured I had enough smooth tracks on the album. It’s very ‘bare bones.’ I love playing slower, less heavy dynamics. The whole album is all over the map like that.”

“The story is funny. The opening sentence sent me on a tangent. It’s from a Galaxie show. We were playing the Sea Shack, in Gaspésie. Alexis Dumais was touring with us as a keyboardist. It was Halloween and all of us were in costume. Alexis was wearing a Passe-Montagne costume [a character from an immensely popular TV show for 0 to six-year-olds from the ’70s and ’80s on Télé-Québec]. He ended up on the beach, in his costume, at 4:00 a.m. When he got in the van the next day, he was still wearing it. We stopped at Tim Hortons, and he kept it on. He told us: ‘I should swing by my parents in Rimouski, and tell them, ‘Don’t worry, I’m really not well.’ I kept that line. I love being like a vampire with my friends in that way. I thought the image was too good not to use.”

“I got the idea for this one while I was walking up the hill to talk on the phone at my cabin. I actually got the idea on my way back down. The reception is pretty bad at the bottom (laughs). I wanted a horny free pass to defuse the rest.”

“Now that’s an old one! It’s from in between Gros Mené and the rest of my stuff. I had done a version with a real drum, but I decided to do it over as a one-man band.”

“That’s also from the big batch. I’m a bit of a redneck, in a certain way. It’s part of the North American mentality. We’re all slightly rednecks, in our own way. I exaggerated the attitude in order to make a story out of it. I got Mononc’ Serge on to blast the world. But there’s also a conqueror element à la Éric Lapointe, I think.”

“That’s gravel: zero three quarters of an inch. I picked up this old console and I was trying it out at home, while I was having a load of zero three quarters delivered in my yard. Ideally, you have to listen to this one while walking barefoot in gravel. ‘You dream of getting a good run under a grader to wipe off all of your scars.’ I thought the image was nice.”

“That’s an old one. It was a commission I got for an artist who really didn’t like it (laughs). Anique Granger used it on her album. I really liked the melody.”


To listen to or purchase Fred Fortin’s Microdose, click here.