Keeping up with the Alaclair Ensemble constellation of music isn’t easy, with the release of 10 official albums as a collective, and of some 60 solo or sub-group recordings over a two-decade period. As the musicians celebrate the 10th anniversary of the release of their first album 4,99 – an essential piece of Québec rap history – we endeavour to trace the family history of Alaclair Ensemble and its multifarious releases, with the assistance of band members KNLO and Eman.
Along with their colleagues, these two rappers recently went through the tedious process of trying to draw up a full list of band member releases. “Afterward,” Eman admits, referring to the poster, “we realized that we’d left a lot of things out. It shows how big a project Alaclair really is. There are so many branches that even we can’t keep up.”
Originally, Alaclair Ensemble was just one of the myriad projects launched over the years by Eman, KNLO, and Maybe Watson – along with Mash, a rapper and producer who played a key role in the band’s creation and musical direction, before moving to the distant lands of Upper Canada a few years ago. “Mash used to say that we were the best three emcees he knew,” Eman recalled. “He’s the guy who brought us together, calling us the ‘Alaclair Allstars.’”
After 4,99 came out, Vlooper replaced Mash as the band’s DJ and main producer, while Robert Nelson started playing a larger role onstage, despite the fact that his contribution to the album had been somewhat limited. The same went for Claude Bégin, who housed the band in his mythical apartment studio at 1036 Cartier Street in Québec City.
In between the collective’s (numerous) releases, each artist was doing his own thing, without any concern that the band might risk imploding. Instead, each new solo venture fed the group as a whole. “We never had a closed approach to the band,” KNLO explains. “We’re all strong and independent people. Basically, we all came from different backgrounds, so everyone has always contributed what he wanted, even to Alaclair tracks. I guess it’s a kind of freedom. Everyone’s motivated by his own personal grace and passion.”
What about inspiration, then? “There were times at first when I was afraid it might be running out, but that was never the case, as it turned out… I grew up in a religious family where everyone was screaming all the time. Whatever phase I’m going through, or project I’m working on, the vibe is still the same. The challenge is more a matter of technique, of finish,” says KNLO.
This is precisely where the band’s powers fit together, some members being guided by a more intuitive approach to music, and others being more analytical. “When I get stalled on a piece, I can send it to Claude, for instance,” the rapper continues. “We all have our own individual strengths and tastes. Some are more roots/soul/funk people, like me, while others are more electro/house/techno/trap oriented.”
Over a 10-year career, the band has touched on every possible rap style, and flirted with funk, folk and electronic music, and pop ballads. “We’ve never been afraid of moving all over the map,” says Eman, who’s just released a solo album (1036) that took everyone by surprise.
KNLO: “That was the start of an adventure that’s now supporting a bunch of children. It’s pretty edgy on a musical level, but on a social level, I’m proud of what this represents for us. It’s a great brain bubble.”
Eman: “It’s an introduction to a lot of things, an opening to brand new musical forms with the help of my friends – who, to this day, are the greatest musicians I’ve ever dealt with. That album was an education for me. It’s my college graduation.”
Musique bas-canadienne d’aujourd’hui (2011)
KNLO: “We wanted to make a triple-album featuring all our different vibes, a bit like OutKast did. It shows we don’t give a damn about labels, and that Alaclair can be anything we like. You never know what to expect.”
Eman: “I feel a very strong connection to that album, to that patchwork. That was back in the days when Ogden and I used to chill together a lot. We used to brainstorm at his place during the day, and when Claude was through recording with Karim [Ouellet], we went to his studio to record.”
KNLO: “That was Vlooper fucking around in the studio. He’s a bright guy. At the time, he was inspired by Madlib, and the idea was to make an album very quickly, in a single day.”
Eman: “It’s partly a remix of Le roé c’est moé (one of the three Musique bas-canadienne d’aujourd’hui volumes). You have to view this as Vlooper playing a videogame.”
Dans l’south du Bas (2012)
KNLO: “It’s a small rural trap awakening, thanks to “Vire de bow,” among other cuts. It’s one of my favourite album covers.”
Eman: “We were trying to use somewhat slower BPMs (beats-per-minute). To be honest, I don’t remember much about it. It coincided with the time Vlooper used to chill quite a bit at 1036 [Claude Bégin’s apartment studio on Cartier Street in Québec City]. It’s a bit random.”
Les maigres Blancs d’Amérique du Noir (2013)
KNLO: “It was the first time we felt we were really trying to blow it to bits with an album. Prior to that, it was more like natural, everyday chilling. I’m still not sure how successful we were.”
Eman: “We wanted to make something consistent, but it’s still pretty much like a pizza with lots of different flavours. It was our first experience being together in a songwriting cottage.”
Toute est impossible (2014)
KNLO: “For Les maigres Blancs, we’d been pretty much on fire, but this time, the mood was more ice-cold. We were all a bit more inside our own heads, caught up in our adult-life torments. The energy was somewhat less in overdrive.”
Eman: “I wasn’t the most cheerful guy in the world when we recorded that. I had become a dad, and I was less available to the band psychologically. When I came out of the cottage, let me tell you, I wasn’t too sure of the outcome.”
Les frères cueilleurs (2016)
KNLO: “The machine was well-oiled. We were hungry. All we had to do was repeat the same recipe we used before, but using all of our experience this time.”
Eman: “That time, we really felt like blowing it to bits. I had just released XXL on 7ième Ciel Records, so I talked the guys into releasing the album on a label, which we had never done before. From the outset, we knew we wanted something more cohesive, less patchwork. We had an amazing time in our house with a private lake in the middle of the woods.”
Le sens des paroles (2018)
KNLO: “We were looking for a balance similar to that of Frères cueilleurs between the various tracks, somewhere between ‘serious’ and ‘not serious.’ The album’s title [“The Meaning of Words” in English] says a lot about us. We have more and more words on the odometer, and the writing process is becoming increasingly natural. We’re not asking too many questions about the meaning of what we’re saying. It’s like playing saxophone: not every note has to have a specific meaning.”
Eman: “We followed the same regimen of creativity as with Les Frères, except that, this time, we did it in two segments. There was also a slightly trashier cottage interlude where we indulged. We had the time of our lives.”
AMERICA Vol. 2 (2019)
KNLO: “That was a road record made between Paris, France, and Québec’s lower St. Lawrence River region. We’d now been performing 70-plus shows a year for the past two years, and there wasn’t as much time or desire for us to rent a cottage. It was done in a rougher frame of mind. Just major spitting.”
Eman: “We recorded wherever we could, as often as possible. We could have used our two-week annual vacation to go to a cottage, but we thought we’d rather be with our families than being part of a puppet show.” [laughter]
Capitaine Canada (2020)
KNLO: “Capitaine Canada is the band’s detractor. Ideally, he should become our partner, but he is a dangerous man… And he has no desire to stop.”
Eman: “That was done after the pandemic had broken out, when we could no longer get together. I didn’t follow the brainstorming at all, but my understanding is that Capitaine Canada is our enemy. Honestly, I wasn’t even aware of that character’s existence before the project was released. The guys asked me to contribute on a verse, and I found out that my voice had been tampered with.”
Related (solo or sub-group) projects by six band members
aka KenLo Le Narrateur / KenLo
Initially known in the underground as KenLo (or KenLo Le Narrateur) for three embryonic, yet quite promising mixtapes, KNLO quickly polished his flow and sharpened his pen to become one of Québec hip-hop’s most well-rounded players, developing both powerful rhymes and original flows that were progressively more advanced and impressive. Long jeu and Sainte-Foy, his two official solo albums, epitomize a rich two-decade rap career without a single misstep.
Originally from Saint-Laurent, a Montréal West neighbourhood where English is spoken everywhere, Maybe Watson is one of the Québec rappers who can best master the subtleties of Frenglish. A member of the Montréal rap scene for nearly 20 years, this artist first became known for the Maybe Watson et les copains mixtape, which brought together many of the talents that abounded in the underground during the 2000s. With two solo albums behind him (Maybe Watson and Enter the Dance, released eight years apart), Watson also built his colourful and whimsical persona with several humorous EPs and mixtapes.
aka NRV Loopa
Since starting out with the beat-maker Bueller on LNG Mixtape, a hidden treasure that’s still available on Soundclick (tracks 13 to 29), Vlooper has become one of the most creative and original producers of the Limoilou district, the sacred ground Québec City’s rap scene. He came into prominence at the end or the first decade of the 2000s, both as a solo artist (on the Neon Blaster triptych) and along with the American rapper Homeless Royalty (on the Big Gun Music and Return of the King albums). Acting as a DJ when Alaclair Ensemble was performing its first shows, he eventually became the band’s main producer.
As the inseparable partner of Eman, with whom he has been piling on projects (Northern Corp., Accrophone, Movèzerbe) for more than two decades, Claude Bégin made his mark as a rapper, singer, composer, producer, and arranger in Québec City. A jack-of-all-trades, he helped build Karim Ouellet’s sound, a catchy, organic folk-pop signature he later claimed for his own two solo albums.
As the top dog of the digital glossary and strategy that helped Alaclair Ensemble stand out on the Québec rap scene from 2010 on, Robert Nelson is best known for his charisma, his energy onstage, his frantic flows, and the reclamation of the Lower Canadian nation’s historical references so pervasive in his work. The band’s youngest member, Nelson made a major breakthrough last year with his first album release, Nul n’est roé en son royaume, on which he partially distances himself from his feisty persona.
Nul n’est roé en son royaume (2019)
Eman has been part of the Québec hip-hop scene for the past 20 years. Along with Claude Bégin, whom he met as a child, this rapper made his mark as part of the Northern Corp. band, just before having some success with Accrophone. At the turn of the 2010 decade, he renewed his flow and diversified his influences by joining Movèzerbe and Alaclair Ensemble, two bands that gave his career fresh blood. Following the critical success of his first two albums with Vlooper, the singer-songwriter finally released an entirely self-produced first solo EP in 2019.
Bringing together Robert Nelson, Maybe Watson, and Tork, Rednext Level is a clever and irresistible trap, cloud-rap, hip-house, and pop mixture. Onstage, Tork is replaced with DJ Tiestostérone, who is also behind the Rapides et dangereux remix album.
Eman X Vlooper
aka Eman X Vloopa
In a genre slightly more somber than that of Alaclair Ensemble, Eman and Vlooper joined forces on an EP and two high-quality albums released on 7ième Ciel Records.
Robert Nelson X Kaytradamus
Right before achieving global recognition under the stage name of Kaytranada, the Longueuil (Québec) producer Kaytradamus worked with Robert Nelson on Les filles du roé, a memorable EP containing striking beats.
Les filles du roé (2012)
Monk.E & KenLo
As a producer, KenLo re-modelled some of the best songs on Monk.E’s Entre Mektoub et Autodestruction album, on the Mektoub revisité EP, which was released four years later. The two K6A colleagues concretized their chemistry on the Destin et beyond… album, issued a short time later.
Caro Dupont & KenLo Craqnuques
aka KenLo & Cao / O2 / Canaw Cocotte & Cocotte Pondu
At the intersection of jazz, funk, soul, and hip-hop, the artistic encounter between KenLo and his girlfriend, the rapper, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Caro Dupont, bloomed into four releases known for their warm, invigorating musical direction.
Vlooper & Modlee
Halfway between neo-soul and futuristic R&B, the reunion between Vlooper and the excellent singer Modlee (his girlfriend) thrives on penetrating basslines and catchy rhymes.
A few months before Alaclair’s arrival, Claude Bégin, Eman, and KNLO joined Boogat, Les 2 Tom, Karim Ouellet, and King Abid as part of Movèzerbe. The octet’s only album, Dendrophile, opened new horizons for Québec rap with an organic aesthetic, coloured with neo-funk, soul, reggae, folk, and Latin music influences.
aka KenLo Croqnote
Inspired by J Dilla’s productivity and exploratory approach, KenLo Craqnuques gave a brand new impetus to Québec’s hip-hop production, thanks to the series of colourful beat tapes that began in 2007. Over the years, his de-constructed electronic signature paved the way for more accessible soul, funk, and house ambiences.
Cailloux germés (2010)
Soucoupe Volante pour MUTEK (2011)
Chaude chaleur (2013)
Rue Sicard (2014)
K6A brings together graffiti artists, beat-makers, and rappers including two (Maybe Watson and KNLO) who joined Alaclair Ensemble. Also including OstiOne, SevDee, FiligraNn, Monk.E, Jam, Smilé Smahh, and P.Dox, this multi-disciplinary collective was one of the pioneering groups of the Québec rap renewal of the 2010s.
Tour de France (by Monk.E, Maybe Watson and SevDee) (2007)
Vente de garage (2008)
Ménage du printemps (2008)
Soucoupe_volante_001 (by SevDee, KenLo, Jam and Smilé) (2011)
KenLo & Vlooper
KenLo and Vlooper, two of Québec City’s most talented beatmakers, learned a lot together while working on deconstructed lo-fi beat tapes, a somewhat avant-garde aesthetic at the time. Their first effort, Veggie Loops, was created with Bueller, a producer who was part of the LnG duo along with Vlooper.
In the middle of the 2000s so far, Accrophone gave Québec City’s rap scene a new momentum with its warm textures, folk-pop influences, and astute lyrics.
Northern Corp., a collective directed by producer, arranger, and Les 2 Tom duo member Tom Lapointe, put Accrophone on the map thanks to the P.I.B. compilation, which was released by HLM Records in 2003 when Claude and Eman hadn’t turned 18 yet.