In some disbelief that we’re over two weeks into the new year already, I kick off 2018 by taking a look at the musical highlights of the year just gone. On a personal level, 2017 was a great year for music. In Toronto, the frequency and diversity of live music are greater than anywhere else I’ve ever lived, and I definitely made the most of the opportunities! Ásgeir, Chance the Rapper, J. Cole, Kali Uchis, and, of course, my one true love Frank Ocean are just some of the artists I was lucky enough to see live. Toronto’s music scene is one of its biggest assets and I’m excited for what 2018 brings. But for now, a look back at the music the shaped my 2017.
SZA – Ctrl
I was sent a quote that read “anyone who puts you on to new music is important”. That statement couldn’t be truer, and thanks to her recommendation of SZA, my friend Michelle has firmly staked her claim as one of the most important people in my life.
27-years-old and signed to the same label as Kendrick, R&B singer-songwriter SZA released her debut studio album ‘Ctrl’ in 2017. SZA isn’t afraid to touch on personal insecurities in her music and, judging by her fan-base, people identify strongly. For me – a female person of colour in my mid-twenties – tracks like ‘Normal Girl’ and ’20 Something’ particularly resonate with me, and I am struck by how eloquently SZA expresses feeling. Her honesty has earned her a huge unwavering following, and despite the success, she remains down to earth. An all-round cool human being and great role model for young women, 2018 is set to be a great year for SZA.
Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s Gone
With the release of his debut album ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, 23-year-old south London rapper, Loyle Carner (a spoonerism of his name, Ben Coyle-Larner) has single-handedly broadened the landscape of British rap. Candid stories of loss, love, responsibilities, and his beloved mum are enveloped in a sublime mix of jazz-influenced production, from the easy listening instrumentals of ‘Damselfly’ and ‘Mrs C’, to the simplified guitar and drum beats of ‘NO CD’ that allows the lyrics come to the fore. Above all, Loyle Carner is a talented wordsmith, and as such, has been deservedly nominated for two BRIT Awards.
Like me, Loyle is a British mixed-race kid and it’s so satisfying to see someone I can identify with making huge waves in music that extends beyond the shores of England. ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ is a triumph and I look forward to hearing what Loyle Carner does next. Until then, a couple of my favourites are ‘Sun Of Jean’ (wait for the beautiful poem by his Mum at the end), ‘Damselfly’ (featuring the equally talented Tom Misch), and ‘Mrs C’. Loyle is sure to be in high demand this year, and if ever makes it over to Toronto, best believe I’ll be first in line for tickets!
Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer
Another south London rapper, 23-year-old grime artist Stormzy is the first British unsigned artist to have a top 10 single. At a time when grime has been steadily making its way from the underground to the mainstream, Stormzy has been at the forefront. Following the release of his huge freestyle single ‘Shut Up’ in 2015, Stormzy has gone from strength to strength.
His debut album ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ received high praise and went to number one on the UK album chart. On the BRIT nominated album, he shows a maturity that belies his age, speaking on issues such as knife crime, racism, religion, and depression, with lines like “you was fighting with your girl when I was fighting my depression”. Gospel tracks ‘Blinded By Your Grace’ (part 1 and 2) wouldn’t be out of place at a church and allow Stormzy to show more of his vocal ability beyond rapping. Favourites of mine include ‘First Things First’, ‘Bad Boys (ft. Ghetts and J-Hus)’, ‘100 Bags’, ‘Blinded By Your Grace, Pt. 2 (ft. MNEK)’. A man of many talents and one of the most influential artists in UK youth culture right now, Stormzy stays one to watch.
Drake – More Life
I would be a terrible honorary Canadian if I didn’t mention the release of Drake’s playlist ‘More Life’ in 2017. His well-established ability to make rap into chart hits has once again proved to be true, with tracks like ‘Passionfruit’, ‘Blem’ and ‘Gyalchester’ seemingly becoming the favourites for Toronto residents to blast in their cars.
There’s a clear Caribbean influence throughout, including the name ‘More Life’ and the lyrical content itself. Elsewhere, it’s hard to ignore the British influence, too. Drake’s love of British culture is well-documented, and on this album, ‘roadman’ slang terms are frequently used. British singer, Jorja Smith (who I look forward to seeing live in April), features heavily and is just one of many British contributors – Giggs, Skepta, Sampha, and Dave. Overall, ‘More Life’ is a decent listen, and the timing of its release means it will always remind me of summer ’17 in Toronto, in the way only music can.