Seven up-and-coming Canadian musicians to watch in 2021

By Kenisha Alexander

Music fans everywhere are eagerly anticipating what some of their favourite artists are set to release this year.

With major such as Drake’s Certified Lover Boy (unfortunately pushed back to an unknown date) or rumoured joint album between Kid Cudi and Travis Scott on the horizon, there is a lot to look forward to from the artists we all know and love.

That said, one of the best things about music is venturing into the unknown and trying something new. To help you update your 2021 playlist, we did some heavy lifting for you. We sat down with some of Canada’s most promising young musicians who are already making waves, and rounded up a few who are on their way there. Keep scrolling, get out your headphones and you might find your favourite new artist below!

Jon Vinyl

The Toronto-based artist makes the type of easy listening music you're likely to put on during a long drive, finally buckling down to complete a project or doing anything really. With feel good anthems such as "Sunday," the natural talent for storytelling effortlessly executed in "Late Bloomer" and a knack for seamlessly incorporating infectious hooks into songs like "Addicted" or "Moments," it's no wonder Jon has quickly made a name for himself both locally and overseas.

But he said he hasn't always felt completely embraced at home. After releasing some of his earlier music, he said he recognized a tendency among Toronto artists to achieve recognition from "The Americas" first and then later in larger Canadian cities.

He said he felt once artists began gaining notoriety in other countries, that's when Torontonians started pointing out they hailed from the 6ix.

Photo courtesy Jon Vinyl

"Then it's like 'Yo! They're from this city," he said.

"I feel like I'm kind of in this position where a lot of my streams are from The Americas, U.K., L.A. is actually one of my biggest [audiences]. I think Toronto is a great music scene in general. I think a lot of people appreciate good music, once they hear it I feel like they support. I think it's just getting it to them, getting it out there."

Getting his music out there is definitely top of mind for the young singer, who is managed by his brother, Jamil. The two have a very strong relationship.

"I trust him and he trusts me," Jon said. "I wish I had a story where we threw hands or something like that," he adds playfully.

When asked what his ideal career would look like five years from now, he said he wants to be doing "full tours, headlining tours."

"Once you reach that level and you're like a household name, people just know that you are going to come with some heat every time," he explained.

Savannah Ré

The leading lady in this artist round up isn't quite a veteran, but she's no newcomer either. Years before releasing her debut EP Opia, Savannah had already begun making waves in the music industry. She'd collaborated with some of Toronto's biggest producers, including Boi-1da, who's worked with everyone from Drake to Lana Del Rey and Jordon Manswell, who is well known for his work with Daniel Caesar, among others.

And if that doesn't impress you, this surely will: The Scarborough, Ont. native's first official song writing endeavour was with 11-time GRAMMYs winner Babyface. The legendary music producer personally requested her after an outstanding performance at one of his writing camps in Los Angeles.

Photo courtesy Savannah Re

Putting out a project of her own, however, is a bit of a different ball game, she admits.

"Sometimes where you want to go is not where you end up," she told us.

Prior to making the leap to music full-time, Savannah was working a 9-5 job to pay bills, just like the rest of us. But a call from Boi-1da forced the singer/songwriter to decide if this was what she wanted to do all the time. She confessed it was a moment that was absolutely "terrifying," as she had no savings, and no back up plan.

"I jumped without a parachute!" she laughed.

Even working as a songwriter didn't necessarily align with her ultimate goal at first.

"For me, when I started my career all I could think about was artistry," she said. "At first I was like 'No, I don't want to give away songs - this is all I got' [...] but in hindsight, I love artistry just as much as I love writing. They can both exist as well as help one another."

If Opia exists as evidence of the songs she did keep, it's pretty obvious Savannah's talent knows no bounds. The nine-song project is an addictive mix of classic R&B tracks like "Solid," which the singer describes as an honest musing of the great relationship she has with her husband. It also features more upbeat radio hits like the quarantine appropriate "Where You Are" – a song about longing to be... well, where the love of your life is.

The "mood music" EP is named after a term found in the dictionary of obscure sorrows used to describe "the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable." It's the perfect description of Savannah's debut project.

Each song accurately depicts a different state of vulnerability – especially the track.

Savannah said it is a great representation of some of the thoughts she has, even while being in a healthy relationship.

"Like if I let you see me, can you take it?" she asked. "Basically saying, 'I'm scared.'"

Savannah's parting words are straightforward and impactful: "Life's short, at the end of the day whatever it is that brings you joy, is what you should be doing."

Dylan Sinclair

Dylan has an origin story similar to some of music's biggest stars, such as Justin Timberlake, and even Snoop Dogg.

The Toronto native got his start at just four years old, performing at his local church, and credits his musical inclination to growing up in a family where his grandfather, dad, aunts and uncles all either sang or played instruments. Some of them were accomplished in both.

Listening to his signature sound and hearing a little bit about his childhood, it's no surprise he cites gospel legends such as Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond among his musical influences and inspirations. Also on that list? Canadian R&B superstars like Daniel Caesar and PartyNextDoor. Pioneers Musiq Soulchild and D’Angelo make it there, too.

Photo courtesy Dylan Sinclair

In fact, Dylan credits a Musiq Soulchild binge day to the creation of one of his most popular songs, "Girl." It's a track he and his team created in true Canadian fashion - a post-Timmie's run.

Most importantly, though, Dylan is eager to make a name for himself. With the release of his eight-song project Proverb that features soft and sultry songs such as "Home" and satiny smooth ballads like "El Shaddai/ First Love," that is definitely an attainable aspiration. His first full-length project was so well-received it even snagged him a 2020 SOCAN Black Canadian Music Award.

Even with all the positive feedback he's received so far, Dylan said he views "Recognition" as "the extra stuff." The main priority is to be remembered as someone who made great music, and for that he's right on track. His advice for aspiring musicians is to be bold and honest with yourself and how you approach everything.

Raahiim

Powerful storytelling, seamless arrangements and a voice alluring enough to melt butter is what you're in for when you decide to take a listen to Raahiim's latest project, ii KNEW BETTER.

It features nine songs, all detailing diverse romantic experiences and emotions, and represents what he describes as "being an adult about certain things" and has a more sonically-refined sound. It's such a big a departure from his previous sound, that the singer even changed the spelling of his name in a real effort to re-brand himself.

Whether it's the soul-baring narrative of "Drunk Text," or smug honesty in "You Love Me," music critics have acclaimed the release. It makes frequent appearances on R&B roundups on both Spotify and Apple Music, and has even earned him a SOCAN Black Canadian Music Award.

While there's no denying its impressively favourable reception, that doesn't mean the record was created without challenges. Like many others, Raahiim found himself struggling to stay focused on work during the pandemic.

Photo courtesy Raahim

"It was a big challenge for me," he relatably shares. "I found myself questioning the value of what I was doing, especially when I looked outside. I was like, 'Why am I doing this?'

"I was able to regain focus when I brought it back to the answer I had when I first started when I was a really small kid. People attach themselves to... stories and journeys. They fall in love with the memories that you share with them. And I've always wanted to give something like that, so that's kind of how I balanced the chaos and the silence."

What was the spark that determined he would spend his days writing down those memories and creating music? Raahiim cites Michael Jackson and Prince among his biggest musical influences, but says it was attending a Jay Z concert in 2017 and witnessing the impact live music has on its audience that solidified his decision to pursue music full time.

He's been a part of other artists' output as well. The singer/songwriter has previously worked with rising R&B stars DVSN, describing the experience as somewhat of a training ground for him.

"It taught me how to stop being concerned about where you're at in the world and what someone may think about a particular line and just create freely," he added. That's advice he wants other aspiring artists to take away.

"If you can't get over your fear, do it scared," he shared.

Skip Waiters

Originally from Brampton, Ont., Skip first began dipping his feet in the music industry by making beats and demos in his bedroom. When he finally put out his first single "MoMa" to a favourable response, he decided maybe music was something he should and could pursue as a career.

Photo courtesy Skip Waters

During the stay at home order as part of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Skip admitted unlike some musicians who missed studio time, being at home allowed him to be free to be creative and vulnerable. As a self-described introvert, he said there really was no better work environment.

Skip told HELLO! when he's in a creative space, he looks to everyone from A Tribe Called Quest to Kanye West for inspiration. He dreams of one day collaborating with Frank Ocean, or Tyler, the Creator.

For now, the rapper/producer has released his debut single "Eve Gene," and racked up nods of approval from both Spotify Canada and Amazon Music. With a new single being released almost every month and a full-length project set to be out later this year, the budding musician has a lot to look forward to.

Omaremii

An Afro-fusion producer turned songwriter and artist, Omaremii is set to release his debut EP Weather Dun Change later this year.

Photo courtesy Omaremii

The project blends the percussion of West Africa and the melodies of Toronto's rhythm & blues while detailing a love story that follows the transitions of the seasons. If the compilation sounds anything like his lead single "Guy," released in November 2020, it's sure to be on your radar.

AP

If initiative was personified, it would be AP. The budding musician from Canada's capital recounted how he secured his first collaboration with well known Afrobeat artist Ycee. Fate placed the artist sitting next to AP at the barbershop, and after he noticed a number of fans coming up to him and requesting pictures, he connected the face to the name, simply turned his chair and asked where he could send him beats. From there, a working relationship was born.

Photo courtesy AP

AP cites Drake, PartNextDoor and WizKid as some of his musical influences, but credits his mom for his tireless work ethic. As for what to look out for this year, his single "On God" drops in the next couple weeks, with a full-length feature to be released later this year.

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