Jazz Cartier (aka Jacuzzi La Fleur) is an independent Toronto rapper who is determined to make the city his own. Last spring he released his debut gothic-velvet tape Marauding In Paradise to a burst of critical acclaim, and followed that up quickly with this year’s similarly dark, lush release Hotel Paranoia. Cartier works almost exclusively with his producer Lantz, and the two have been friends since they were teenagers, crafting a sound that’s electronic, murky and emotional. Sometimes Paranoia even strays into R&B territory, like on River Tiber collaboration “Tell Me,” before Cartier snaps it back into the rap world with a crushing, political focus on a track like “Black & Misguided.”
“Everybody in the states compare me to Drake / Because not many in the city can carry the weight,” he raps on Paranoia‘s opening track “Talk Of The Town,” and of course, whenever anyone hears “rapper” and “Toronto” in the same sentence, OVO is going to come up. But Cartier is determined to take on the city — and the rest of the world — without seeking shelter under the wings of Toronto’s signature owl. On a stormy day earlier this week, Jazz spoke with me over coffee at Housing Works Bookstore about his international upbringing, the unheard independent rappers of his city, and how he wants to collaborate with Feist.
Let’s talk about the buildup to Marauding in Paradise last year, which was definitely your breakout moment here in America, and how that ties into Hotel Paranoia.
Marauding in Paradise, that was like my coming out party. That was like my baby. We worked a lot on that project for two to three years. But the last 8 months leading up to it, when I first put out my first video, I got so much feedback and I started looking at things differently. I started making music for myself and not for other people — that’s how most of Marauding in Paradise came about. Then it came out and I was excited and high off life. I had all these ideas and thinking like ‘I could have done this better, and this better.’ So essentially Hotel Paranoia is a part two of the first project; Within my paradise there’s one hotel and that’s Hotel Paranoia. That will be the last of this phase: me being young, full of angst, feeling myself a little too much.
When you started making music for yourself, what was the first song you that felt really strong to you?
“Dead or Alive,” I had gotten jumped a week before I made that. It wasn’t a serious thing, it was more of a one-on-one encounter. But instead of retaliating or getting back, I channeled that energy, and I was like, ‘You know what? You know what would make the most happy about this whole thing right now? If I make a sick song and every time I perform it, and all these people are going crazy, I think about that one moment that no one knows.’ I’ve actually never told anyone about that before. Every time I perform it is a moment of rejoicing for me. It ended up being one of my biggest songs. I knew from the day I recorded that it was a big record.
On Hotel Paranoia you incorporate two really well-known references that are very different, Phantom Of The Opera and “This Is How We Do It.” Can you talk about the impetus behind those choices?
I’ve always loved “This is How We Do It.” It’s just one of those songs you can never get sick of, and it’s one of those songs that definitely doesn’t make sense or doesn’t hit you until you hear it on the west coast. It’s like listening in Tupac in Cali — that’s different than listening to Tupac anywhere else. I have a deep appreciation for west coast rap, especially now that I’ve actually listened to it there. I was there this summer at a party and “This Is How We Do It” came on and it just made sense. It’s one of those songs that can’t get old, it’s a club song, but I wanted to make it dark and give it a very jazz touch. The original sample was from Slick Rick, and that’s east coast, so I wanted to bring it to Toronto and give it a very sinister sound. People will either love it or hate it. As for Phantom of the Opera, I’ve always had a liking for the play and the movie. It was playing in Toronto around the time I was making this, so every time I was going into the studio I saw the billboard, and when I was driving back home I’d see everyone flooding out after seeing it. So yeah, I had to incorporate it.
You work almost exclusively with Lantz as a producer, how did that relationship form?
I met him when I was 16 in the studio. He was there for somebody else, playing them beats and it was more electronic mixed with hip-hop back then. This was like six or seven years ago, and they were mostly more street rappers so they weren’t really feeling it. But I saw the vision. Me and him connected that same day and we talked on the phone for hours that same night. I don’t want to be that rapper who’s copying everyone’s beat. I want to start organically, build a foundation with someone I know and trust, so we can both go together. I’m not restricted to just working with Lantz, but I’m more comfortable at this point in my life, It’s also a challenge. If at first I come out with a project and it’s big name producers, there’s no growth that can come. At this point, if I do my third project and used bigger names, it’d be like ‘Okay, finally, let’s hear Jazz on that.’ But I’d still have Lantz making everything. Since we connected I was back and forth from school to city. I finally moved back to the city after I graduated school in 2012, and that’s when me and him were in the studio day in and day out, building our vision together and making our bond stronger.
What was school like for you?
I went to a boarding school in Connecticut, so I’ve enjoyed the spoils of life somewhat. But boarding school isn’t as luxurious as people make it out to be. My dad is also one of the most notorious drug dealers in Toronto, so I deal with that when I’m back there. The best of both worlds is within me, I can do hard stuff and soft stuff. I’m honest with myself and people who know me, they know it’s not fake at all. When I was growing up we were moving around so much and we lived so many places… Barbados, Idaho, Texas, Georgia, Kuwait, Africa, Connecticut, Maine, Virginia. Every school I would go to, kids would have their friends they grew up with. There was always stories from the last school year they would always bring up and I was never a part of that. I wanted to have a foundation for all four years.
Because you’re a rapper from Toronto, everyone immediately brings up Drake. How do you feel about that constant connection?
It’s nobody’s fault. People ask me like, do I get mad about it? Like, what’s there to get mad at? He’s arguably the best rapper in the world right now. I can’t get mad at that. I’m ecstatic that people are talking about the city and that Drake on top of it. Without Drake, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have the vision. Going to school, I had friends in New York — Queens, Brooklyn, Harlem — and they’d talk about rappers and they’d always bring up Jay-Z. I never had that, a hometown rapper. So now I have that it’s and it’s sick. But the whole city isn’t on a come up, it’s that all the guys just feel entitled to self-affiliation. In Toronto you’re either with OVO and no one is really doing it solely by themselves. I can say I’m one of probably two or three. Most artists in Toronto are waiting for that major co-sign. It’s a very fucked up world that we live in, that’s the reality of it. Me, I could care less. At the end of the day people are going to do what they want to do. I don’t think I would collaborate with him now — I’d get washed! I don’t feel like I’m at the level where I can challenge him the way he could challenge me on a record. In a year or two years I would do something, but for now, I couldn’t do that to myself.
Are there other rappers in Toronto that you wish people knew? Do you want to shout some out?
Yes! Sean Leone, Jimmy Prime, Donnie Prime, Comedown, Devonte Lowe, River Tiber — there’s a lot. I know I’m missing some, but those are the ones that comes to my head right now.
What about someone outside of rap who is your dream person to collaborate with?
Norah Jones, Feist. I tweeted about Feist, I’ve tweeted about Corinne Bailey Rae. I’ve seen her around so many times, I can’t conjure up the courage to talk to her. Maybe she’ll see this. I hope so.
You can stream Hotel Paranoia in full below and New Yorkers can go see Cartier perform at SOBs tonight.
All photos by Jane Bruce.