Noyz (left) and B Magic (right) of Movin' Cool. All photos by Julien Bowry.
Brampton, Ontario has emerged as a hotbed in the Greater Toronto Area’s still-nascent rap scene, most likely owing to a population that’s defined by its vibrant immigrant communities. PARTYNEXTDOOR and Roy Woods claim the municipality as their own, along with countless other emerging artists. Comparatively, all-Sikh hip-hop group Movin’ Cool, active in some form or another since even before So Far Gone was released, might as well be Brampton OGs.
The group, made up of rappers Noyz and B Magic, along with producer/DJ Dusty Loops, played Adelaide Hall to the sparse but polite kind of crowd that always shows up at Toronto venues before 11 PM on a weekday. However, as soon as Noyz declared “we represent Brampton!” and the chopped piano and clacking drums of “Gray Matter” dropped, heads in the crowd were bobbing along anyways. Though Movin’ Cool’s set was a scant half-an-hour, years of live experience—they played SXSW this year, too—seemed to give them a natural, easygoing confidence that many unsigned rappers who pursue a more “lyrical” direction just can’t get a grip on.
Of the two MCs, Noyz was more indebted to classic New York boom-bap; both with his slightly mush-mouthed delivery and a taste for flipping soulful, Dilla-esque loops in the beats he produces. Though this style is what dominated his 2012 solo tape Degrees of Freedom and doesn’t stray too far from the typical idea of a conscious rapper, Noyz frequently engaged in more aggressive flows throughout the night. B Magic’s more pronounced, melodic boom acted as Noyz’s constant foil. Their chemistry resulted in an old-school-modelled presence that managed to transport the previously unmotivated crowd from the bar onto the floor. The duo prowled the stage as one unit, reading each other as they nonchalantly traded bars and emphasized the other’s punchlines even on their own solo material. It was a block party, Brampton-style.
It wasn’t all mid-90s, though. Movin’ Cool’s group work leaned toward more contemporary, club-ready beats. It’s tough to get more 2010s than a riotous trap banger called “Sonic” featuring the repeated hook “got gold rings like I’m Sonic”, punctuated by the appropriate sound effect (“shouts to the Sega Genesis heads” said B Magic shortly before launching into the song). However, the group also unleashed the grime-influenced “Waste” (natch), a set piece for their often nimble, technically-focused pure rapping. “Waste”’s anthemic hook had a few people in the crowd singing along by the second go-around, despite no widely-circulated MP3 version of the song existing online. In true Canadian fashion, the crowd seemed to be on Movin’ Cool’s side and wanted them to do well, even if their small numbers didn’t exactly translate to a fanatically supportive following.
Admittedly, my concern before the show was that it’d be another awkward, poorly-attended local rap set. I was proven wrong about midway through. The rappers asked the crowd to create a beat with only synchronized handclaps while Noyz did a quick verse. It’s an old trick, one that always works, but Noyz’s spitfire freestyle spoke to the experience of living as the children of immigrants in the xenophobic, post-Paris-attacks Western world. “So they frame another enemy/prey upon that energy“, rapped Noyz.
Upon the freestyle’s conclusion, B Magic referred to Noyz as “the God MC”, same as Rakim, as the crowd applauded enthusiastically. Earlier in the night, Noyz also rapped “we have to humanize people of colour/because they see us as an other”. This viewpoint, of the diaspora who sometimes feel unaccepted and feared in their own home country, is rarely explored in hip-hop. It’s just another kind of struggle, another example of making music to escape a trying situation and give voice to others who’ve gone through the same thing.
In a perfect world, Movin’ Cool’s relatable lyrics and occasionally retro sensibilities would give them the same kind of success as, say, J. Cole. Unfortunately, the continued apathy from the Canadian music industry toward establishing a rap infrastructure is hurting them and probably accounts for their still-ongoing grind towards a breakthrough. But, as one line of theirs goes, they’re “off the immigrant hustle and living comfortable”, so maybe Noyz, B Magic, and Dusty Loops just have to keep their heads up and they’ll find the acclaim they deserve.
Phil Witmer never played Sega Genesis. Follow him on Twitter.