Listeners of Travis Scott's Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight album may have been taken aback somewhat by the late-album standout "Guidance." With its roiling Afro-pop rhythms, the song is new territory for Scott, so it's not entirely surprising to hear that it's largely the product of another artist. K. Forest, a rising Brampton, Ontario R&B singer, originally wrote, recorded, and released "Guidance" earlier this year on his Soundcloud before Scott approached him, expressing an interest in the song. "It's opened a lot of different avenues for different fans," says Forest. "Obviously, [Scott's] fans have taken in my song, and they like that." Forest feels blessed and grateful for the opportunity, but don't mistake those feelings for being awestruck, "I thought [seeing my name in the album credits] would feel weird," he begins, "but I always felt this was something I was supposed to do or where I was supposed to be so I just accepted it, you know?"
The 22-year-old Forest already has two projects under his belt, the most recent of which, this year's Forest Fire, is an eclectic release that expands upon his characteristically Toronto R&B sound with acoustic guitars and a much stronger hardcore rap influence than any of the singers on OVO. Forest takes more from Tupac and DMX and their "emotional and poetic…character" instead of classic R&B, although a childhood brought up on Teddy Pendergrass and Donna Summer has made him averse to profanity in his own music. "I don't put nothing to the punch. I just say that's not what I'm doing right now," he says.
Forest's earliest singing was as a young teenager, as something of a friendly sibling rivalry with his church-singer sister. "My sister has a really good voice so I was trying to emulate that and trying to see if I could sing like her, if not better." Shortly afterwards, Forest stayed in south London, England for a week with his aunt and cousin, the latter of whom exposed him to the grime scene and inspired him to begin producing and singing on beats. He then returned home and hooked up with producer dF, who worked on nearly all of Forest's current material, including "Guidance." "The way it hits, it gets you excited," says Forest on dF's beats. More than that, a song has to have a "spiritual" connection for Forest to get really excited about it. "Music is an idea that's put into a format," he explains. "If that idea can alter how you feel or how you think, then that's the record." Read on for our interview with Forest.
Noisey: What's your perception of the Toronto scene post-Drake?
K. Forest: I see it growing. Especially… a lot of people talk about the Atlanta scene, saying it sticks together but if you really look at the earlier days of Atlanta it's like everybody was going against each other. And if you look at the Toronto scene it's kind of like that.
Going against each other?
In different ways. Everyone's focused on what they're trying to do. "I'm staying in my lane, I'm not looking to do anything for anyone but myself," you know? So it's a pretty narrow way of thinking and I think in a couple of years we'll expand that.
What do you think will make it more of a unified scene?
Just time. Same thing with Atlanta, over the years people just started working together and decided to network with each other you know different artists working with the same producer so yeah. Just time.
Going back to the song. So who's Femi Lawson and what's his contribution to "Guidance"?
Yeah, so Femi is a YouTube star, he does a lot of skits, "Jamaicans vs. Nigerians" and stuff like that. He'd asked me a long time ago to do a record and l was just trying to find a record that didn't fit my style. Because I had an afro-soca record, the African feel, I felt it was necessary to bring him on especially because I use a lot of his phrases. Like, "Tantalization" is his brand and I use that word in the record.
Interesting that you're using a social media star as a feature to get this song out there. How do people share songs in Brampton?
It's mainly word of mouth. That's what I mainly see in Toronto overall. If you have great music your stuff will spread.
Is that how your material spread?
I hope so. [laughs]
So you don't know how your stuff is spreading but you know it's getting out there?
I know it's getting out there. There's many ways it could spread, I mean, I can't really subject it to one idea. There's many ways we experience it.
So where will "Guidance" end up? Is it going to be on the next album?
"Guidance" is its own entity. My project is not going to include it.
And what will that next project sound like?
I couldn't tell you. I just go with what sounds great. If it connects with me spiritually. Music takes you all different places, you can't really gauge it you just have an idea of where it can take you.
You don't see yourself as part of the Toronto Sound at all?
I'm just making music. As long as people recognize.
Catch K. Forest performing live with Nessly at KNOWYORK's Pizza and Freezies party Saturday, September 23rd in Toronto. Details are here.
Phil Witmer is a Noisey Canada staff writer. Follow him on Twitter.