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Loud in the here and now: Quebec's biggest rapper chooses his landmarks

Drake had the CN Tower. France’s PNL had the Eiffel Tower.

For Montreal’s Loud, when it came time to perch himself high above the mortals for a showboating flex to galvanize his city in the way only a blustery rapper can, there was only one obvious choice: to ride around the Bell Centre ice on a Zamboni for the Fallait y aller/Salles Combles video. What better way for Quebec’s biggest hip-hop star to announce with gusto a new album, Tout ça pour ça, that intends to take Loud into a stratosphere of popularity in this province never before reached by a rapper.

“I think it’s bigger than Olympic Stadium,” the 31-year-old said, omitting the inherent danger of perching oneself atop the Big O’s ragged roof. “For Montrealers, hockey’s bigger than any landmark. It felt special doing it.”

A triumphant Zamboni tour is yet another plateau reached by Simon Cliche Trudeau since his star-making 2017 solo turn Une année record. Following a successful career as one-third of “rap keb” pioneers Loud Lary Ajust, his debut solo release resolutely dispelled long-running anti-rap myths in Quebec’s music industry: that you can’t exceed 10,000 in album sales, that you can’t get a song played on radio, you can’t hit 10 million combined streams for one song, and you certainly can’t headline the Bell Centre as a local rap artist. On May 31 and June 1, he’ll do away with the latter, becoming the first Quebec rapper to play an arena show here.

“It wasn’t that long ago that we started thinking about it, around last fall,” he recalled, the “we” including manager/Joy Ride Records label head Carlos Munoz and beatmaker/producer Ruffsound. “We joked about it for a few days, but I think we were serious about it without saying it. We were then approached by the Bell Centre about doing it and whether it was feasible. Everyone was basing it on ticket sales and where they’ve been trending. It was the validation we needed.”

To make it work, Loud needed a well-timed follow-up to the Une année record. Enter Tout ça pour ça (roughly translated as “all that for this”), which landed May 24. In typical hip hop fashion — but anathema in the slow-as-molasses music industry here — it was only written and recorded in March and April at Loud’s home recording studio around Rosemont. (“I flipped my apartment upside down for two months,” he said.)

“If I could’ve done the album two days before release, I would’ve,” he said. “Sometimes a label wants it six months or a year in advance, but let’s face it, the songs aren’t the same six months later. You can’t plan too far ahead in the future, and I think it’s more fun to make music thinking about the short term.”

To give a sense of how tight against the deadline they were, Tout ça pour ça was only one-third complete when Loud dropped the first single and video, Médailles, on March 29. As a result, the lyrics are fresh and the album has a laser-like focus on his rapid ascent to Quebec rap’s throne. On it, he pays tribute to recently slain Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle, and the Bell Centre shows are referenced.

“This album is about where I am currently,” he said. “Une année record was a bit more introspective, with a sense of nostalgia looking back on my teenage years. Talking about those subjects on a first album made sense, but it didn’t work here.”

One track on Une année record that stood out — but sounded perfect alongside international hits like Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You — was Toutes les femmes savent danser, an undeniably radio-friendly rap song that succeeded in surreptitiously hitting the FM dial. As a genre that not only flouts language requirements and rubs greying listeners to wrong way, franglais rap has had trouble piercing conventional music outlets even as listeners increasingly latch on via streaming services and live shows. Last summer, Loud finally cracked the code.

For a rapper with boastful lyrics, he’s diplomatic when it comes to recent accomplishments.

“I don’t know how it happened,” he said. “Maybe it’s the song itself, maybe it’s the timing that made it work. Maybe radio is slowly getting used to rap and the table was set before we put it out, but we felt the time was right to try to get a song on radio. We never had the attitude of ‘they’re never going to play it.’

“A lot of people think it wasn’t worth trying anymore because we’ve all tried. But this time, we felt we had the elements to do it in terms of production level and collaborators. We have a guitarist (Pierre-Luc Rioux) on it who’s worked with big pop stars (David Guetta, Sean Paul, etc.). I felt like I wasn’t compromising either because it’s still a rap song with a lot of bars and wordplay. It’s rap but it’s an obvious crossover pop song too, I won’t deny it.”

Considering the impact of Toutes les femmes savent danser — which undoubtedly contributed to Une année record snagging the most recent Francophone Album of the Year Juno Award — and the impending arena shows, one would think Loud and producer Ruffsound needed lightning to strike twice.

“The difference was on Une année record, Toutes les femmes stands out because it’s the one pop on a non-pop record. On this album, there isn’t a song that’s as pop, but there are pop elements in every song,” he said. “The way we structured the hooks, the length of the verses and the bridges, the whole thing is more pop. I think we’re more comfortable with the pop side of things at this point and we can use it anywhere we want. At no point did we say we were making a song specifically for the radio, but I think some of them could.”

One song in particular that’s already on CKOI’s new release list is Fallait y aller, which like Toutes les femmes savent danser adds proficient pop hitmakers — Montreal tropical duo Banx & Ranx — to the songwriting mix. If there’s a catchy English translation for it, Loud said it would be “we had to go.”

“Fallait y aller is way more of a rap song than Toutes les femmes,” Loud observed. “The verses are long, it’s up-tempo. It’s less of a crossover, and that’s nice for us that we can bring radio closer to us rather than have us always going to them. We feel we’ve got more flexibility to bring more rap into it and slowly go toward full rap songs on the radio.”

The one thing about Fallait y aller, or Salles combles, or any other future Loud single, is he’s no longer alone on those French radio charts. Koriass is there with Lendemain, while FouKi has iPhone. Loud said none of his achievements would matter if they were one-offs and rap keb didn’t take a stranglehold of the charts, but it’s looking like the way has been paved for his peers.

To that end, he’s even cautious when discussing the impact of his Bell Centre shows.

“It’s not like I’m doing a stadium tour,” he said. “After those two shows I go right back to playing the venues I usually play at, and summer festivals.”

But with Tout ça pour ça ready to bring a slew of summer anthems to Quebec listeners and a number of rappers ready for their moment, it’s clear rap keb’s climb will continue apace for the immediate future.

So what happens to Loud now that he has Quebec on his shoulders, as he brags in Fallait y aller? For one thing, the line “Kinda like a big deal, feeling like Kanye/Le Québec sur les épaules, pis une suisse sur le poignet” isn’t even intended for local fans, it turns out. According to Loud, it’s aimed at France, where his star is also rising. In a self-deprecating way he’s pointing out that he’s the only Québécois rapper many French music fans are aware of. Another line sure to interest listeners: an enthusiastic reference to ’50s song Tu vuò fà l’americano, which comes across like he’s set his sights on the United States.

Not so fast, Loud said, although he’s not immediately discounting what’s truly the last and most improbable ceiling for a Quebec rapper to shatter: the English-speaking market.

“The original Italian song is making fun of other cultures that want to be American and try to be,” he said. “It’s a self-aware joke about us aspiring to do that and it’s meant to be a funny boast too, but it’s also us believing we can do it, because we can.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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