The Toronto rap scene has slowly evolved in the past few years beyond the dancehall infused beats and underwater 808s that marked previous eras. And although the work of artists like the Baby Blue Soundcrew and Noah ‘40’ Shebib have provided evident benchmarks in the city’s sonic history, emerging acts are looking to set their own trends. In 2013, Derek Wise threw his name into contention when he premiered a 16 track mixtape, Vacay, which was stuffed with catchy hooks and hard hitting lyrics, crafted in the “trill-from-the-east” style that A$AP Rocky had recently introduced. Vacay helped Derek create a buzz and garner the attention of not only listeners, but music blogs outside of the Great North who were looking for the next break-out talent to emerge from Toronto. The 22 year old emcee has taken a self-imposed time-out between releases to perfect his work, as well as to live his life and cultivate a sound that he hopes to make more people familiar with.
A well known face in the downtown Toronto scene for his involvement with the Get Home Safe promotion group, Derek Wise is mild mannered and approachable, despite his imposing 6’2 football player frame. As we ride through the streets of Toronto in Derek’s all-black Chevrolet Camaro, he’s quick to provide insight and crack jokes on the happenings both outside the car; as he observes someone familiar on the streets of Chinatown; as well in it, like when he pokes fun at the person riding shotgun, Quincy. Better known as ‘Q’, Quincy has been at the helm of Derek’s musical career since the beginning, and has become a facet in cultivating relationships within the music industry. Together, Q and Derek look to leverage their notoriety within the city in order to one day break out of it.
At some point in our conversation the topic turns to women, causing Derek to whip out his cellphone to show off the latest message he’s received. On the screen, an image of a beautiful woman wearing barely enough material to use as a coaster smiles coyly at the camera. Passing the phone around, Derek and Q break out into laughs as they discuss what it is about Toronto women that makes them so beautiful, finally settling on the multiculturalism of the city. It’s evident that despite the dark and brooding music he creates, Derek is still an enigmatic 22-year old with the same priorities as other 22-year olds.
Derek Wise returns from his self-imposed hiatus with a dark and cryptic single titled "Awkward," produced by in-house beatmaker Cristo Meth, which will serve as the reveal for his anticipated project, Mom's Basement. Cristo Meth worked with Derek on his first project, creating the sinister film-noir vibe that Derek embodies so well. Derek spreads his husky vocals over the devastating bass-line, striking a balance between dark, street-orientated wordplay and melodically-pleasing simplicity. Opting to turn away from co-signs and collaborations, Wise has chosen to let the music stand on it’s own.
Wise’s lifestyle is self-described as one of a “hipster ratchet hybrid,” and his main playground is Toronto after dark. He raps about drugs, house parties, and women in a combination that has yet to be expressed on rap records from The 6. Sitting down with Derek, we spoke about his current rap career and what he thinks is brewing in the new age of Toronto rap.
Noisey: What's been going on with you since the drop of Vacay?
Derek Wise: Honestly, I couldn't even go through with everything, it's crazy, from all the stresses, to the drama, to the good times, to the bad times, the networking process, everything’s been stupid crazy. I can't even explain what’s been happening between the two periods, it's been so long. I've just grown. To put it all together, I don't want to say I'm no longer the same person but a lot of shits been grown. It's like you starting high school, then how you are after you finish high school. Like a year later. It's completely different. Your mentality is different. Everything you're about right now and you represent is just different. You've grown, you've found yourself. I let so much of my emotions go with the first project. Now it's all out there. I know what's known to the public, but now theres a whole different side of me that people will be introduced to. I'm willing to let that happen now.
How has the music changed since Vacay?
It's grown a lot, the production for one. Obviously I'm still working with Cristo Meth, he's grown as well. No one stays the same forever. Either you go up or down. The production has gotten stupid crazy. From Cristo Meth, to this new cat I linked up with named Lantz. As far as on the lyrical side, the content is different. Life hasn't been always positive. My negative influences, the drama and situations I've been put through, it’s all there. All the experiences have been put into the music.
What is the music scene in Toronto like for you?
It's crazy. Imagine a pot like that's been boiling with a lid on it. The steam is coming, and now the top has come off. The scene is flourishing. All these people that have been waiting, writing for years, taking in other sounds from the UK to the US. All these influences we've had around us and all that have been stirring in that pot. Everyone's ready to let loose and build upon it. People need to hear what’s been cooking because for a majority of the time, musicians in Toronto have had a shadow over us. With the way things been going, people are taking notice of the talent and the sound thats been generating from here. There's so much talent out here.
With your situation, what took you so long to come with new music and why is "Awkward" dropping now?
Honestly, with good music you can never rush this shit. I hate releasing whack shit. For me, personally, if I'm not in the right state of mind to release good music at the moment, I won't do it. I felt like I needed to grow a bit more, experience more shit, fuck a bit more bitches, just do a lot of different things. I felt like I had to live a bit more to tell that story.
What do you have in store for Mom's Basement?
I'm going to let them get a breather with “Awkward.” Once I drop it, I have another record I'm going to drop on them. There's a plot to it, I don't want to reveal too much, but just know that there’s going to be new music consistently dropping before the project drops. With what I got in store, I just want to wow and surprise them. I got some shit. My sleeves are rolled up right now.
With the summer coming up in Toronto, what do you expect in terms of music and the scene?
Let me speak on the behalf of every Toronto person out there right now—sorry I mean every Toronto nigga. The summer is going to be hot. That’s when I'm going to make my presence felt. Also thats when the hoes come out. Everything is hot. So the music has to match that. I feel with how every city has their time, like New York had ASAP and all them, Chicago had their time with Keef, the South had their time. This our time. For me, I feel this is actually the first time the North has to blow. I'm not scared for what’s in store and just know I'm ready.
Tell me about the lifestyle that influences your music, and how has it changed since you last dropped Vacay.
My lifestyle is crazy. Fuck, the influence behind the music is the lifestyle. The lifestyle is downtown, The Palace, nightlife, bitches, all that shit, theres no order to this. We're out here getting it. I can't even stress how the world hasn't seen this part of Toronto. You got the suburban side of Toronto, which is cool and I'm not ever downplaying anybody from the suburbs. You got your Westside, Eastside and then you got downtown. What goes on downtown, you don't get no sleep. I'm talking after hours, we make that party time music and at the same time that dark music that you never really get to hear. When summertime come around we got that hot music, where's everybody rolling through? Queen St., King St., Dundas Square. All the hoes, all the freaks. We're making music for all that shit. We're really representing that downtown Toronto music, which is the wave. This is Toronto. I remember when it used to be corny to say Toronto and now this is what it is.
You mention The Palace, what is The Palace and that whole scene like?
The Palace is literally Get Home Safe. It's where we reside at, where we throw our parties. It's in the core of downtown Kensington. Anytime we finish at a party, we come back there. It's the Get Home Safe haven for hoes, bitches, all that shit. Altogether it's the headquarters for where we be at. It's the get away for all of us. It's home. A lot of shit goes on there. It's where we came together, and built this shit. You can say its like a frat house for our brotherhood.
"Awkward" is part of Mom's Basement, what is the idea behind Mom's Basement?
I took it to different levels this time. Not that anything was bland with my first project. Obviously with a perfectionist, you're never happy until it's perfect. But what the fuck is perfect? Literally for me it was trying to achieve the perfect project, so the production wasn't one producer anymore, there are three now. It was exploring the sound and what I could produce to catch people's ears and developing the best sound possible. Content wise, I didn't hold back on anything like I did with Vacay. I just let shit out the bag, as well bringing other people's stories into it, because on Vacay I only had two features. So this time I brought a lot of things into light, I want people to really understand what the fuck Toronto is about. They only see one side of Toronto. All they know about Toronto is that it’s cold as fuck and that we got bitches. They don't know about the summers, downtown, the after hours, and all the shit that goes down out here. It's literally my job to introduce them to this shit. If they ain't ready to hear that, then fuck them.
Why did you want to title your project Mom's Basement?
Overall the title of Mom's Basement is what I'm dealing with right now. I'm still out here in my mom's basement, although shit is better for me, it's not all what it seems to be all the time. I speak on the struggles that go along with that too. I'm obviously not living that square boy life. I didn't go to school, I got no degree. For me, I'm taking this route that hasn't been paved before. The stresses that come from a single mother, she obviously doesn't want me to do that. I got to talk on situations like that, and the fact that so many people came from their mom's basement are now successful. That’s the first place where a lot of people dream from.
What else is in store for you in 2014?
I don't want to talk too much on it, but this year I'm dropping two projects. One will be a collaboration. You can expect some work from me this year and you'll hear my name a lot.
Why do you continue to make music?
Honestly I just love music. It's a part of me, I would be lost without it. I love the feeling of excitement you get when you hear a new beat, creating a new beat, putting words together for a new record, and the creative process it puts my brain on. It's my drug.
Andrew Park is a writer and photographer living in Toronto - @Parkadamus