M for Montreal: A Q&A with Vince the Messenger
M for Montreal (French – M pour Montreal) is an annual music festival and conference, which takes place during four days in late November. Since its founding 14 years ago, the music festival and conference has rapidly expanded to feature over 100 local and international buzzworthy and breakout bands in showcases across 15 of Montreal’s top venues.
300 music industry movers and shakers, heavyweights and tastemakers from over 20 different countries make the trek to Montreal to seek out new, emerging artists and new business opportunities Last month, I had the distinct honor and pleasure to be one of those 300 music industry movers and shakers, heavyweights and tastemakers, who made the trek to Montreal for the four-day festival. (And yes, I had some amazing poutine and a smoked meat sandwich. After all, when in Rome, right?)
Friday, November 22, 2019 marked M for Montreal’s third day and night of the festival’s four days and for me, it was the busiest and most exhausting one of my time in Montreal, as I made several stops in completely different parts of the city, including a Music PEI (Prince Edward Island)-sponsored brunch showcase early that morning, which featured three of the Eastern Canadian province’s hottest, up-and-coming artists – Vince The Messenger, Russell Louder and Dylan Menzie.
By any music festival’s third or fourth day, you’re most likely a hungover, sweaty, sleep-deprived mess with aching feet and knees and maybe even a sore back. You have business cards from people you can’t remember meeting or having a conversation with – and those people you do remember, their names and faces have blurred. And despite being overstimulated and in complete discomfort, you’d do it over and over and over again because – well, you’re having the best possible life and you might be a bit of a sadomasochist. As for me, I was a bit sleep deprived and somehow managed to enter the wrong address into Google Maps for the brunch showcase. Naturally, this resulted in somehow walking almost three blocks past the venue and missing what seemed to be at least two songs of the opener, Vince The Messenger’s set. D’oh! But I was so impressed by him that I knew I wanted to interview him as part of my festival coverage.
The up-and-coming Etobicoke, Ontario-born, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island-based emcee Vince The Messenger’s solo career started in earnest with the release of last year’s full-length debut Self Sabotage, an effort that led to the Etobicoke-born, Charlottetown-based emcee being nominated for a New Artist of the Year Award and the album receiving an Urban Recording of the Year at this year’s Music PEI Awards. After catching the 22-year old Canadian emcee’s set last month, I can see why: his work is an effortless and seamless synthesis of golden era hip-hop boom bap, introspective and thoughtful lyricism based on personal experience and feelings and slick, modern production. And it’s all done in a way that – to my ears, at least – seems perfectly suited for Hot 97 and Power 105.1.
I recently chatted with the rapidly rising Canadian artist via email about a wide range of topics including Prince Edward Island’s music scene, being an emcee and hip-hop artist on the small Eastern Canadian province, his influences, M for Montreal and more. He’ll strike you as a thoughtful and interesting young talent – and I hope that we’ll be hearing more about him in the States. Check out the interview below. And then feel free to check out some of the Canadian artist’s work, too.
William Ruben Helms: While I have a number of Canadian readers, the bulk of my readers are from the States – primarily in and around the New York Metropolitan area. As you can imagine, many of us won’t know much about Prince Edward Island, let alone Charlottetown. Can you tell us something about the province that we should know but somehow don’t know? What’s the music scene like? Is it unusual to be an emcee out there?
Vince The Messenger: PEI is a province that moves at a comfortable pace. The island thrives off of its tourist industry, with a beach in literally any direction and an abundance of east coast cuisine, the island really booms in the summer months. The music scene is small and tightknit. The music scene is home to singer/songwriters, indie rock, pop-punk, blues, classical, jazz and everything in between. Being an emcee is most definitely a little unusual out here. PEI is definitely not known for its hip-hop, but with artists like myself and others, we’re working to change that narrative.
WRH: Besides yourself, are there any other artists from your province that listeners and fans should know about outside the province?
VTM: Absolutely, PEI is small, but it’s concentrated with bubbling talent. Niimo, Slime Da Garbage Mane, The Lxvndr Effect are a few of the artists that make up the current hip-hop scene in Charlottetown.
WRH: How did you get into music?
VTM: I got into music at a relatively young age. The idea of interacting with music creatively was first introduced by my father when I was young, maybe five or so. He used to play in a few bands during his younger adulthood in Toronto, so it wasn’t uncommon for him to have instruments around the house. We’d write songs together and record them on cassette, he’d play guitar and I’d sing. This foundation of interacting with music led me to take songwriting more seriously in my later school years. By junior-high I was recording and releasing my own music and performing at all-ages events around my city. Things really didn’t pick up for me until recent years when I developed a close working relationship with my DJ and producer Niimo. From that point on I put out my first album, began playing shows and festivals frequently and have tapped into my artistry on a higher level.
WRH: There’s quite a bit of that old school boom bap in your sound and work. How much has that influenced your work? Who are your influences?
VTM: The music coming out of the boom-bap era was incredibly real and raw. Hip-hop coming out in the following eras saw more commercialization and at some fault lost some elements of what made it genuine. I’ve always reached towards the golden age due to its rich substance, that’s always something I’ve strived to provide with my own music. Hip-hop being the most popular genre today a lot of what you see on the surface is heavily commercialized and can lack substance. Luckily with streaming and the power of the internet artists with alternative approaches to hip-hop are still alive and well and are able to get their music and message out to the masses. My influences range from artists like The Fugees, A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Das Efx, Biggie to more modern acts like Mick Jenkins, Earl Sweatshirt, Joey Badass and Kendrick Lamar.
WRH: How would you describe your work?
VTM: My work is an expressive take on my life, my experiences and my aspirations. I try to blend a sound that’s easily digestible with lyrics containing deeper meaning for those who seek it.
WRH: I managed to miss a song or two of your set during the Prince Edward Island-sponsored M for Montreal brunch showcase. I was sleep-deprived and managed to enter the wrong address for the venue and walked two and a half blocks past the place. D’oh! Thankfully, I still managed to catch most of the set. I saw a fair amount of rappers during the festival, including a late-night showcase at Le Belmont later that night. But out of the rappers I saw you were among my favorites. How did it feel to represent Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island in front of a bunch of national and internationally-based music industry types?
VTM: It felt great representing Charlottetown in front of a bunch of music industry types and delegates. It’s always been interesting representing Charlottetown as a rap artist mostly because when outsiders or even insiders for that matter think of the PEI music scene hip-hop/rap is not a genre that comes to mind. That’s slowly changing as myself and other Charlottetown artists bring more life to the genre and art style in the city. It presents a unique opportunity to showcase my music with minimal preconceptions of what rap music from my city should sound like, and when it’s received as positively as it is it feels even better.
WRH: Did you get a chance to see any music during M for Montreal? And if so, was there anyone you enjoyed?
Luckily, I was able to catch a few shows during the festival. I saw Montreal’s Maky Lavender open for Toronto artists Charlie Noir, Tremayne, and Sydanie at Bar Le Ritz. The energy in the room was high, I was hoping to catch some other rap acts during the festival so I’m glad I managed to see that show. I also saw the Libson Lux Records showcase featuring Paupière, Russell Louder and Radiant Baby at Casa Del Popolo. This was another highly energetic showcase with some powerful performances.
WRH: Your solo career started last year, and you’ve been really busy. You released your solo debut Self Sabotage last year. You’ve released a handful of singles this year – and you’ve had a bunch of collaborations and guest spots. I listened to some of your work before I landed in Montreal and again for research for this interview. “Mr. Sun” and “Menace” are two of my favorite tracks of Self-Sabotage. Those songs much like the rest of your material captures your innermost thoughts, experiences, and feelings in a profoundly intimate and personal fashion – that’s somewhat uncommon with hip hop. How much of your work is influenced by your own personal experiences?
VTM: The majority of my work is influenced by my own personal experiences in some form. Whether that be a report of first-hand events or observations I make from things happening around me. A lot of what I write comes from an emotive space – I write how I feel and use these lyrics as a method of journaling.
WRH: You released “Android” a few weeks before M for Montreal. To me, it’s an interesting track because it features you rhyming over a production that’s both atmospheric and glitchy. So what’s the track about?
VTM: “Android” is a track that definitely sits differently in my discography. When Niimo sent me the beat I was skeptical about rapping on it initially just because of how different of a sound it was for me, but there was something about it that had me captured. The song doesn’t necessarily follow a strict theme from beginning to end, instead, it runs as a series of thoughts in a stream of consciousness style. What starts off as a braggadocious ballad turns into me airing out a list of concerns, but ending on the same braggadocious high note.
WRH: This isn’t really a question but that “Azucar Freestyle” you’ve got up on Spotify is fucking fire.
VTM: I appreciate that. That song came out of my fandom of Earl Sweatshirt. I recorded over the instrumental of his song “Azucar” off of Some Rap Songs and instead of putting that up on its own Niimo flipped the same sample and recreated the beat under my acapella.
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
VTM: Right now, it’s been a lot of MAVI, Medhane, Frank Ocean and FKA Twigs.
WRH: What’s next for you?
VTM: Since releasing Self Sabotage I’ve been working closely with Niimo on my next album Trustfall. That’ll be out early in the new year accompanied by visuals and a series of other materials to complement it. Outside of the new music, you can expect to see me showcasing within North America and put out more and more content for my audience.