Photo By John Londono
You may recognize Loud Lary Ajust from “Tiens Mon Drink,” the lead single Noisey premiered off their last album Blue Volvo. The song is written and performed in Québécois French and English, appealing to the specific demographic of bilingual or quasi-bilingual French Canadians who are into hip-hop. This presumption can be applied to the band’s repertoire as a whole, and ultimately Loud Lary Ajust itself. But what appears to be a niche genre has grown into a commercially successful recipe, attracting thousands of fans to the group’s shows around the province of Quebec. The only people who seem to have an issue with Loud Lary Ajust’s signature bilingual lyrics are the ones in the institutions around Quebec’s music industry, specifically the Association Québécoise de l’industrie du disque (ADISQ, Quebec’s Association for the Music Industry). This award show is essentially Quebec’s major institutionalized music awards, comparable to the Junos on a provincial scale. Blue Volvo, as a whole, features less than 70 percent French lyrics, which disqualifies it from competing in the “Album of the Year - Hip Hop” category. To make matters even more bizarre, Blue Volvo can’t qualify as “Album of the Year - Anglophone or other languages,” since less than 50 percent of the lyrics are actually English words. If you’re following, that means that there’s between 49 percent and 31 percent non-French lyrics on the album, and this places it in a sketchy limbo of ineligibility. More on that later.
All three members of Loud Lary Ajust were born and raised in the province of Quebec, and consider it their primary residence. Self-proclaimed Francophones, their exclusion from the category based on numerical data is questionable and leaves them perplexed. Since Blue Volvo’s release in October 2014, the group has toured Quebec and sold out shows just about everywhere they’ve been. In April of this year, they filled Montreal’s Club Soda to the brim and gave a show everyone in attendance will remember as one of the most invigorating performances by French Canadian hip-hop artists. The group has a solid social media following considering the market they play for, and are highly in demand for festivals around Quebec. Ironically, despite being disqualified from running for the ADISQ awards, LLA is scheduled to perform in the upcoming Fête Nationale celebration (Quebec’s “national” holiday) on June 23 in Laval, QC.
I say ironically because the ADISQ was specifically created in the spirit of Quebec nationalism, which hit its peak in the 70s. Founded in 1978, the Association has a mission to defend the interests of its members and foster the development of the music industry in Quebec. According to its website, it is a non-profit, professional organization. It’s goals were initially twofold: to represent and coordinate a stand of Quebec artists at the Marché International du Disque et de l’Édition Musicale (MIDEM, a yearly musical tradeshow that takes place in Cannessince 1967), and to organize a Gala that would recognize Quebec’s professional musical talent. Currently, the ADISQ positions itself as an all-encompassing representant for Quebec’s music industry for issues ranging from governmental policy debates to producers’ rights.
These founding principles happen to also be outlined in the letter Loud Lary Ajust sent to the ADISQ after hearing their decision, which is also signed by their label, Audiogram (member of the ADISQ). This letter, provided to Noisey by the band’s team, describes the seemingly non-sequential reasoning that first led Blue Volvo to be re-classified from “Album of the Year - Hip Hop” to “Album of the Year - Anglophone or other languages” (the letter is dated May 21 and the album has since been declared ineligible for either category). According to the document, Blue Volvo appears under the “French Hip Hop/ Rap” section of the iTunes store, and is also available in the “Francophone Hip Hop” section at physical record stores. Most significantly, the album’s production, distribution and promotion were in part financed by two organizations, Musicaction and Fonds RadioStar, which allotted the album a combined sum of upwards of $40,000. Again according to the letter, these organizations both offer financial support to specifically French-Canadian vocal music, a criteria which they judged LLA fit for. Roughly tallying the proportion of French and English lyrics in Blue Volvo confirms that most songs do contain between 40 percent and 48 percent English lyrics (with the exception of “Automne,” featuring Karim Ouellet, which is only about 22 percent English), and the album therefore does not satisfy either of the 70 percent French or 50 percent English requirements that would make it eligible in either “Album of the Year - Hip Hop” or “Album of the Year - Anglophone or other languages” categories.
While these numbers back the ADISQ’s decision to render Blue Volvo ineligible to compete in any of the gala’s categories, the following question arises: should mathematical quantification of linguistic proportions really be the defining criteria of an album’s eligibility to participate in its hometown’s music awards? As Loud, one of the group members puts it, both rappers (Lary and Loud) and the producer (Ajust) who make up LLA consider themselves French Canadian, or “Québécois francophones”. Raised in Quebec, their cultural identity is largely tied to the province. Furthermore, their lyrics’ syntactic structure and pronunciation are distinctly Québécois, and reflect the changing dynamics of spoken French in Quebec. Arguably, LLA’s success is largely due to their appeal to a younger generation of French Canadians who’ve grown up in an increasingly bilingual society, especially those living in Montreal, the province’s largest metropol. Case in point: tallying up the French and English lyrics in Blue Volvo is challenging, because some English words are so commonly used in Québécois-French dialogue that they hold a bilingual quality, despite their purely linguistic classification.
If the ADISQ’s criteria do not reflect the changing fabric of the culture it once meant to represent and defend on an international stage, can its awards really be considered relevant? Excluding Loud Lary Ajust—a group with much more commercial appeal and success than most in Quebec—from the Gala is an evident sign of rigidity on the organization’s part. Justifying an ambiguous decision with rudimentary, pseudo-objective calculations and ignoring cultural significance discredits the ADISQ in the eyes of younger generations, many of whom turn to American markets for music rather than supporting homegrown artists. If LLA, by bridging the gap between American rap and French Canadian, Québécois music, is excluded from the province’s institutional music awards, what can be said for the future of Quebec’s music industry? In any case, it doesn’t seem like Loud, Lary or Ajust will be losing sleep over the ADISQ’s decision, seeing as they predicted “there wouldn’t be any nominations, only congratulations” on their breakout album Gullywood. It definitely holds true over three years later.