why jazz cartier is toronto's next big hip-hop hero
The 22-year-old rapper breaks down his sophomore smash 'Hotel Paranoia,' and explains why Andre 3000 and Erykah Badu are grown up goals.
Photography Aaron Wynia
"At first, I thought a February release would mean my music would get swept under the rug with Kanye and Rihanna dropping. I figured everybody would be listening to that," Jazz Cartier tells me when we speak on the phone. He sounds a little discouraged, but quickly changes his tune. "Then again, I'm pretty much foreshadowing my future," he says of batting alongside the big names with an audible grin.
It sounds a little cocky, but Cartier isn't exactly wrong. Yesterday afternoon, i-D premiered the 22-year-old rapper's sophomore project, Hotel Paranoia. In less than 24 hours, the record has racked up hundreds of thousands of Soundcloud spins (and if Reddit chatter is to be believed, notched up the resale price of tickets to his upcoming concert considerably).
Hotel Paranoia brims with the same clairvoyant confidence Cartier displays on the phone, except his lyrical punches aren't followed by knowing chuckles. "I am the prince of the city/ I am the talk of the town/ nobody else fuckin' with me/ cuz I am not fuckin' around," he chants in a near Gregorian inflection on the record's opening track before he snaps into crystal clear diction to deliver big, bold blows. "Everybody in the States compare me to Drake/ because not many in the city can carry the weight/ Ya'll got it wrong, dropping 2 or 3 songs/ tryna get a little buzz and get carried away."
It's a loaded charge aimed at his Canadian contemporaries, many of them vying to be his hometown's next hip-hop hero. Though Cartier is setting out to prove himself a 6 God among men, the young rapper's fresh perspective is significantly shaped by his travels far outside Toronto. He's got woes in many different area codes.
"I was born in Toronto, and when I was 6 or 7, my mom got remarried," Cartier -- born Jaye Adams -- explains. "My step-dad works for the US government, so we had to move every six months to a year." His stepfather's job brought him first to Idaho, then Barbados, back up to Houston, Kuwait, and Georgia while his step-dad spent a year in Afghanistan. Eventually, the family arrived in Africa. "That's when I decided I wanted to have a stable high school career," he says. "I wanted people that I could grow with and build bonds with for life."
But staying still didn't quite work out the way he planned. After attending an all boys' boarding school in Connecticut for a few years, Cartier was given the boot and forced to relocate to Virginia before ultimately graduating from a boarding school in Maine and snagging an undergraduate spot at Chicago's Columbia College. "I could have gone and started again, but the whole time I was traveling, I really wanted to get back to Toronto and build my foundation," says Jazz, "to get back to who I am and find my roots."
Without his parents' knowledge, Jazz trekked back to the 6 and started a new, nocturnal life. "I was sleeping on my friend's couch for about six months. During that whole time, I started going out a lot more. That's also when I started selling." After hustling the couch surf, he and five friends secured a loft space in Kensington Market, "one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Toronto," he explains. There, they formed a creative collective called Get Home Safe and opened their house to the city. "We called the place The Palace," Cartier says. Off-White's Virgil Abloh, Vic Mensa, and Travi$ Scott -- the Houston rapper Jazz frequently draws comparisons to -- rolled through when they'd stop in Toronto. "For three years, it was the party spot," says Cartier.
But all parties have an end (even three-year ones Kim Kardashian may or may not have crashed). "All within that period, I was supposed to be making music, but the party life caught up to me," Cartier explains. "I was torn between two worlds, and I had to take a step back and think." It took the dissolution of the Get Home Safe crew to push its youngest member to pursue a different path. "Did I really want to party, or get out of my comfort zone and take my music seriously?"
In April of 2015, Cartier dropped his debut effort, Marauding in Paradise. The 16-track tape's production is ambitious and cinematic -- steeped in electric guitar riffs, gospel-tinged choruses, and glitchy concept samples. From the outset, Marauding in Paradise assaults its listeners with both blistering punk energy and heady bedroom beats. It's three years of parties packed into just over an hour, borne on the strength of its architect's lyrical elasticity.
"During that period of my life, I was going through a lot with friends and relationships. I had issues with drugs, alcohol, and the allure of going out every night," he explains candidly. "I was feeling like an outcast. There's a lot of angst on that tape." He admits it was aimed at people in the city who doubted his tenacity, but doesn't believe its message is contained to Toronto. "With all my travels, where I've grown up, and how diverse those experiences have made my perspective, I just wanted to tap into that and make the record as sonically universal as possible."
If Marauding in Paradise speaks to where Cartier has been, Hotel Paranoia is about where he's going. The sophomore project stems from that same hunger, but Cartier is far more focused on his craft. "After Marauding in Paradise dropped, I did a lot more shows. Performing live helped me figure out how songs work on stage and how to control my breathing, but it also helped make things more clear," he says. During the Marauding in Paradise sessions, Cartier and his longtime producer Lantz would work by "vibing off each other." Since touring kept the collaborators apart, Cartier was challenged to make their sessions more precise. "It was different for us to work this time because I was away for so long, but I think that challenged us to do our best with the time we did have," he explains. "Now, I'm going in with intent, with an idea, with a grand scheme. I'm excited for people to hear not only the progression of the music, but to see how the vision builds, too."
Building that vision is partly a matter of time. Jazz knows his youth drives his hustle, but he also recognizes how maturity can evolve creative process. "I want to work hard and grind while I'm 22 so that everything I do right now matters," he says, "But I recently listened to 'Hello' by Andre 3000 and Erykah Badu. That song is so beautiful. If that's what an adult sounds like, I'm totally up for it," he laughs.
What about right now? "I want my mom to be happy for me. I was away from her for so long, I'm just trying to show her and my little brothers and sisters that things are happening for me."
Text Emily Manning
Photography Aaron Wynia