A closer look at some of Toronto's top emerging talent
By Matt Whittier
Montreal born, Scarborough raised, Notifi has been turning heads since the release of his EP Collateral last year. His ability to bounce between his R&B infused hooks to quick lyrical flows have gained him notoriety from the likes of Vice, Complex, and Hip Hop Canada. His range is on full display with R&B jams like “Won’t Get Lonely” compared to more rap heavy songs like “Tattoos”. Back in 2013, Notifi got a huge boost by winning Slaight Music’s, It’s Your Shot, the national songwriting and artist development contest. This attention caught the eye of Charlie B, official DJ for OVO Fest, who signed on to manage Notifi shortly after. Inspired by legends like Usher, and local heros, Tory Lanez, Drake and The Weeknd, Notifi continues to evolve and develop his unique sound. With new music on the way, and more shows in the works, 2020 is looking to be a big year for the 24-year old.
The Scarborough based singer/songwriter, Loony has fine tuned her neo-soul, R&B sound for years creating music that is required listening. Releasing her debut single “A Small Flame” in 2018, she has followed up with her EP Part 1 and six standout singles. Loony’s wide range of musical styles showcases her love for Jazz and R&B sounds while also incorporating pop like harmonies and hip hop style beats into tracks. Songs like “Good Game” are a perfect example of her range with Loony switching between rap style bars to infectious pop hooks seamlessly. Steadily garnering mainstream attention from esteemed media outlets such as Stereogum, Exclaim, and The Fader, now is your chance to catch a star in the making. With two back-to-back headlining shows at the Drake Underground coming soon, Loony is an artist you won’t want to miss.
Toronto-based R&B artist Joël creates genre bending soul and gospel infused music that immediately grabs you. With his unique lo-fi, almost unnatural sounding beats, Joël has been able to find his unique sound and people are here for it. With over 2 million streams on his hit single “Vent”, and coverage from the likes of Complex and Vice, Joël is starting to gain steam. His debut project, Grunge Gospel – Side A, dropped in 2019 and gave Joël a chance to show off his range with clear influences from some of his icons, Frank Ocean, Lil Wayne, and James Brown. In a time where genreless music is becoming the norm, Joël shows how that can manifest into songs and projects that introduces fans to new ideas and sounds. Make sure to catch Joël later this year as he plays his first headlining show at the Drake Underground.
Sisters Bhagya and Priya Ramesh make up the hip hop duo Cartel Madras. Born in Cennai India, raised in Calgary and now calling Toronto home, the sisters have been raising eyebrows since the release of their 2018 debut EP Trapistan. Their debut release garnered attention and led to touring spots with the likes of Mac DeMarco and Fetty Wap, as well as a record deal with Royal Mountain Records. The group have anointed their sound as “goonda rap” (goonda meaning thug in South Asian slang). Their unique sound is a result of their infusion of their Indian heritage within their songs and bars. As immigrants, women of colour, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, the duo is focused on creating music and space for themselves and other artists like them. The duo also hit a new milestone at the end of 2019 where they had their first headlining Toronto show at the Drake Underground. 2020 is looking to be a big year for Cartel Madras with new music and more shows on the way.
Jon Vinyl is a 22 year old Toronto-based soul/R&B singer who has been making waves since he started releasing music in 2018. With an early co-sign from friend and former classmate Shawn Mendes, Jon has seen his following and streaming numbers surge over the past couple of years. 2019 saw Jon release his debut EP Dangerous along with the five additional singles, many of which have well over a million streams each on Spotify. Jon is able to create a wide range of sounds by combining his soft warm vocals with a blend of acoustics and synth-heavy beats. In his lyrics, Jon opens up about his own experiences with love and the ups and downs of past relationships. With the release of his new single “Moments” and more music on the way, look for Jon to hit the mainstream in 2020.
Born and raised in Toronto, Benita is an up-and-coming artist and songwriter who came onto the scene back in 2018 with the release of her debut single “Anything”. Benita’s music focuses on self empowerment, self worth, and the importance of being introspective. She’s already had the pleasure of sharing the stage with the likes of Daniel Caesar as a background singer as well as an opener for Kehlani at Pride 2018. In 2019, Benita graduated from the Remix Project as part of the 15.0 class, performed at The Drake Underground, and released her first full length music video for “No Good”. Her infectious vocals and melodies have already led to her gaining well over 150K streams on Spotify and with more music and shows on the way, 2020 is looking to be a big one for Benita.
Desiire is a Congo born and raised R&B artist now based in Toronto. Desiire’s strength is his ability to bounce between different musical styles with more stripped away acoustic ballads like “Natural Feels” as well as more upbeat pop influenced tracks like “Paradise”. Desiire also tries to infuse as much of his African roots within his art, whether that is sonically in his music or visually in his videos. This influence can be heard with 80’s and 90’s African Disco synths having a heavy presence in many projects. With features from Billboard, Vice, Exclaim, and a headlining show at the Drake Underground last fall, Desiire is looking to keep the momentum going in 2020.
Amaal Nuux is a 29 year old, Somali born R&B artist based in Toronto. Amaal fled Somalia in the early 1990’s with her parents, seven sisters, and three brothers in order to escape from the violence of the Somali civil war. Growing up in a conseravtive muslim household, Amaal did not have much access to music until her teenage years where her friends would loan her CD’s. This initial exposure to music led to Amaal gravitating towards R&B legends like Alicia Keys and Sam Cooke and pushed her to start singing at 16 before releasing her own music four year later at 20. Amaal went on to release several singles on Youtube, with the song “Mufasa” gaining over 800K views. Amaal then took a step back to reflect on what impact and story she wanted to tell through her music. With some soul searching and advice from mentors such as fellow Somali-Canadian, K’naan, Amaal realized that she wanted to discuss what she was truely feeling and talk about topics like love and sexuality. Amaal’s first EP, Black Dove, was released in 2019 on Universal Music Canada imprint, Public Records, and was met with praise from Exclaim, Complex, and Billboard. With shows in London and New York last summer and with a headlining Toronto show later this year at the Great Hall, Amaal is on an upward trajectory that isn’t stopping anytime soon.
Keynes Woods is a French-Congolese rapper who was born in Kinashe, DRC before his family moved to Ottawa. Growing up in a musical household, Keynes quickly gravitated towards rap and started writing lyrics at the age of 16. Now based in Toronto, Keynes has been releasing singles over the past four years before dropping his first EP Kongo Kane earlier this year. In 2018, Keynes was invited by COLORS Studios to perform the song “Threat” on their platform. The music video gained well over 400K views and gave Keynes the exposure to perform in Europe, Ottawa, and Toronto. Keynes is versatile in his music with the ability to flow between quick aggressive bars on tracks like “Tim Burt” and smoother R&B vibes on tracks like “Threat”. With coverage from Hypebeast, Exclaim, and Tidal, Keynes is looking for 2020 to be his year to break out.