Ottawa, also known as the sleepy government town; the city that fun forgot. The city where everything shuts down at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. When I first told my friends I was leaving Toronto and moving to Ottawa almost nine years ago they laughed. “Why are you moving to ‘Ottawack’? There’s nothing to do there”. They weren’t necessarily wrong. When I first saw the Rideau Centre I thought, “What the hell is this?” It looked old and run down, more like a discount mall than the city’s downtown mall. The whole city just felt old and folky.
As a culture nerd, I spent the next few years digging to see what the cultural scene was like. Ottawa’s biggest claim to fame was Alanis Morrissette. Groups like Buck-N-Nice, Sound of Lions and Flight Distance stood out, but there wasn’t much happening.
Fast forward to 2018 and the city has changed. Lansdowne Park got built up. The Rideau Centre finally got the makeover it deserved. LRT is two and a half months from opening, a 65 storey building has been approved for construction, and a half dozen mega projects are on the horizon. Ottawa is clearly growing into a big city and it’s no different when it comes to music.
Earlier this year, the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition released their Ottawa Music Strategy with some solid recommendations for growing the music scene over the next few years.
Meanwhile, Night Lovell is racking up tens of millions of streams on Spotify and YouTube, and has been interviewed by top American media outlets like Genius, No Jumper, and Pigeons & Planes. Elijah Woods x Jamie Fine had a big win on CTV’s The Launch with their hit song Ain’t Easy and have been performing across Canada. Belly, now based in L.A., was signed to Roc Nation, and in recent years Maurice Moore joined Kehlani’s Tsunami Collective and was featured in Billboard. Not bad for a sleepy government city.
I’ve been following Ottawa music for some time now, but Bluesfest 2018 was a turning point for me, when quiet fandom turned into flat out excitement, especially when it comes to hip-hop and R&B. I saw artists going to each other’s shows, cheering each other on. There was a genuine excitement and energy in the air. Although it wasn’t what we planned, we ended up covering more local shows than headliners, not out of charity but because the music and shows were that good.
Ottawa in 2018 reminds me of Toronto in the late 90’s. Growing up in Toronto, we had a selective appreciation for our own music. Maestro Fresh Wes, Michie Mee, and Dream Warriors got respect, but a lot of the hip-hop was weak or “wack” as we called it. You could tell the difference between a Toronto hip-hop song and an American one. That changed in the late 90’s with Choclair, Kardinal Offishall, Baby Blue Soundcrew and Jully Black, with Director X providing the visuals. That was when you started to see artists band together and form a network. That’s also when we started to become fans of our own music. Ottawa is now at that point. There’s an underlying energy; a feeling that something is happening.
As a result, today we at SHIFTER are launching our Capital Essentials Ottawa hip-hop & R&B Spotify playlist. Why? First, so Ottawa can become fans of its own music. Second, so artists can become fans of each other and hopefully collaborate. Lastly, so the world can become fans of Ottawa music. But it all starts with becoming fans of ourselves and what’s being created here.
Ottawa and its residents have the ability to decide what poppin’ in Ottawa. No one outside of Ottawa should decide what’s hot in our city. If we decide Drake and Travis Scott are hot in Ottawa that’s cool, but if we also decide that City Fidelia, Vi, and Buck-N-Nice are hot in Ottawa that’s up to us as well. Although I salute the success of Elijah Woods x Jamie Fine, what I hate is that Ottawa radio stations and fans didn’t support them until they got a co-sign from CTV. In other words, a Toronto media outlet made them hot in Ottawa.
If we’re going to keep our most talented artists, we need to make sure they’re recognized and platformed here before elsewhere. The Beatles were already hot in Liverpool, with people camping outside their homes, before they ventured across the ocean and gave birth to the American Invasion.
In a 2016 interview, Drake talked about how much the Houston music scene inspired him in Toronto. Not only do they have their own sound, but they’re fans of their music. Drake recalled that in Houston if you play mainstream hip-hop at a concert the crowd responds, but if you play Houston hip-hop the crowd goes into a frenzy. They love their music. We’d love to see this happen in Ottawa.
We invite you to follow and share SHIFTER’s Capital Essentials playlist and become a fan of the hip-hop and R&B coming of Kanata, Chinatown, Orleans, Gloucester, Centretown, etc. This is Ottawa as you’ve never heard it before.