“Bruh, I snapped,” says Jazz Cartier. “I’m proud of the music.” The 25-year-old rapper is sipping on a custom-ordered drink, a carrot turmeric concoction to help soothe himself after the previous night’s release party for Fleurever, his just-released debut album after two well-received mixtapes… or maybe it’s just his third project overall, according to him. “It’s all subjective,” he says, “I consider them all albums, they hold the same weight to me.” The ambiguous classification doesn’t seem to have mattered to the multitude of fans who turned out to the church-set release party, the experience of which Jazz—unswervingly cloaked in black on a hot summer’s day as he chats on the rooftop patio of Toronto’s Drake Hotel—has difficulty putting into words.”It was a lot of things, man. It was crazy. I’m just excited people fuck with [the album] a lot.”
Despite a lengthy buildup of promo singles and resulting hype, Fleurever isn’t an overwrought pseudo-concept album meant to compensate for the wait. It’s a lean record full of compact club bangers and a few emo-ish ballads. Some touches of Jazz’s earlier experimentation remain—the album proper is bookended by the spacy intro “Soul Searcher” and the confessional “Before It’s Too Late”—but hard-partying songs like “VVS” and “Which One” could slot comfortably into any punchy streaming playlist with their designer brand namedrops and catchy boasts of wealth. Though they slap, they’re in danger of sounding anonymous. I bring this quandary up to Jazz and get a strong rebuttal. “The album’s not really about stunting and diamonds,” he says. “‘VVS,’ if you listen closely, is not about the diamonds that are on me, it’s about what happens when the diamonds are on me. The way people treat you.” It’s not the first time he’s alluded to the sycophantism that often comes part and parcel with the music industry. He notes earlier in our talk that “you really get to know a person’s true colours when you drop a project,” quoting one of Mike Jones’ immortal “Still Tippin’” lines as a summary: “Back then they didn’t want me / now I’m hot, they all on me.”
If Jazz seems slightly cynical or fed up, he has his reasons. Beginning in 2014 with the rampaging “Switch,” he’s built himself into possibly Toronto’s most prominent artist unaffiliated with OVO or XO over the last four years, garnering local and international support thanks to his punk-rock live shows and sleek, imposing anthems, largely crafted with the help of production lieutenant Michael Lantz. Constant worldwide touring took its inevitable toll on Jazz, who describes the extended break he took during 2017 after the Hotel Paranoia tour as him “trying to live a life, be a person.” In between recording and releasing one-off singles, he caught up with his family at home, moved from Toronto to Los Angeles, played rounds of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (and eventually its successor Fortnite), and took up some knitting. “I’m not that good,” he says, though a “yet” seems to be implied at the end.
The shift in Jazz’s personal direction accompanied one for his music, as well. The T-Minus co-produced “Tempted” became his highest-charting release in Canada to date, and it heralded his willingness to look beyond his fruitful collaborations with Lantz, who plays a lessened production role on Fleurever compared to the previous two projects (Jazz states that Lantz still mixed the entire album). “We have great chemistry, it never died,” Jazz clarifies. “That’s my brother. [But] as a fan of myself, I wouldn’t want to put my fans through the same thing three times in a row.” In contrast to the looming, baroque epics of yore, Fleurever’s snappy concision is a conscious choice to appeal to the era of diminished attention spans. “You’re on your phone a lot, I’m on my phone a lot,” he explains. “We get stuck on Instagram with these one-minute long videos that we constantly watch over and over again. It’s little things like that which go back to music and movies. I ain’t trying to watch a fucking three-hour movie.”
Though Jazz still considers his 2015 breakout Marauding in Paradise to be “a phenomenal piece of work,” he also feels that “a lot of that stuff was a lot of angst,” the product of someone with “a lack of guidance … pitting themselves against the world.” He says this is why one-offs like the Red Bull and Mike Will collab “Nobody’s Watching” and “How Did I Get This Deep?” didn’t make the final cut. “I didn’t want to make it so heavy. For the first time, I wanted my fans to enjoy themselves.” And indeed, Fleurever’s mournful, minor-key hooks and rattling, groaning beats don’t convey a sense of menace or danger. The album's sound does appeal to appeal to a more commercial kind of consumption, yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s vapid or disposable. Jazz sees it not only as an artistic evolution for himself but a smart move that follows in the footsteps of giants. “You have to adjust yourself to what’s happening, which greats like Jay-Z and Drake do time and time again,” he says. “To me, I’m making the best music possible now.”
Jazz’s ascent runs parallel to that of Toronto’s current rap generation, which has once again come under scrutiny by those who don’t belong to it. An unusual rash of violent, largely gun-related crimes—including a June shooting that killed beloved hometown hip-hop fixtures Smoke Dawg and Koba Prime—has raised an atmosphere of paranoia in the city. In response, Toronto mayor John Tory increased the number of police officers patrolling the streets last week, while some local establishments outright banned rap from their playlists. Jazz notes the irony that “hip-hop is probably the driving force to attract people” to these spots then offers his thoughts. “Don’t use hip-hop as a fucking kickstand for things... that happen all over the world. Hip-hop is the number one genre in the world. How can the number-one genre be the reason that things like this are happening?" Somewhat incensed, he goes on to make an even stronger and broader point, that “Canada has it fucked up, Toronto has it backwards” when it comes to rationalizing violence. He feels that maybe the best solution to heal the divide going forward would be for municipal leaders to meet with their counterparts in the city’s DIY scenes.
But right now, Jazz Cartier isn’t a community organizer or a politician. He’s an artist who just notched his third project after tackling far more manageable conflicts than citywide gun legislation. When asked if he felt the pressure to create a classic album this time around, he admits that he did but that it was of his own making. “I be in my head a lot, I second guess myself a lot. But at the end of the day, I’m like ‘bruh, I’m here for a reason.’ I was like ‘fuck the pressure, I’m lit.’” He’s going to go on another world tour soon, perhaps as something of a coronation parade for the man who once called himself “the prince of the city.” He says he’s at the height of Toronto’s rap world and—though it’s something of a cliche—that he’s just now getting started. “My story’s not even fucking finished. I’m gonna make another album, I’m gonna make a movie, I’m gonna get into architecture. I’m gonna bridge the gap between rap and tennis. I’m gonna do a lot of things.”
Phil Witmer is Noisey fam forever. Follow him on Twitter.