The last thing you want as an artist is for listeners to compare you to your star sibling. Twenty-five-year-old Lou Phelps may be well known as the brother of producer extraordinaire, KAYTRANADA; however, the Montreal rapper has spent the last year fully fleshing out his distinct image.
Phelps, relentless in his search for his true artistic statement, dropped his first two albums, 001/Experiments and 002/Love Me, in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Despite being a solo act, Phelps credits his brother with helping him develop his own sound.
“When I was younger, I wouldn’t listen to what [KAYTRA] would say,” Phelps tells me over the phone. “I wanted to do my own trial-and-error [...] It’s only recently I’ve begun to understand what he meant. He would give me small pointers like to rap with more energy or style. He said I should pronounce words more because I’m French-Canadian and when I rap in English, you can sometimes hear the accent.”
With KAYTRA’s advice in mind, Phelps wrote his last album, 002/Love Me, after the end of a turbulent four-year relationship. As you can imagine, the work was dripping with conviction. On the first track, “Fun N Games,” Phelps rhetorically asks who will “fuck it up first,” as if the love affair was doomed from the very beginning. Each subsequent song acts as a release for the pain, and anxiety Phelps felt after the breakup.
002 is very much a dance-rap record that basks in its electronic-heavy Montreal influence. Uninterested in repeating the same sound on his newest project, Black Vogue Songs, Phelps turned to different genres to fuel his inspiration. He cites reggae, jazz, 2000s hip-hop, and Solange’s When I Get Home short film as some of the elements influencing him during the creation of Black Vogue Songs.
“I’m going back to my rapping roots,” Phelps explains. “I’m incorporating a lot of funk and house elements and lots of different sounds I grew up on. My dad would always play Compas, which is native Haitian music. He would also listen to a lot of Bob Marley, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, all the legends.”
To start the new decade, Phelps is unconcerned about putting Montreal, a city largely devoid of a defining rapper, on his back until he’s reached his personal goals.
“Sometimes, you have to be selfish to make [things] happen,” Phelps concludes. “This is my moment of being selfish and not caring what other people have to say about Montreal. I have to put myself first to have the city follow me.”
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Take me back to the first days you started making music.
Lou Phelps: At first, I wasn’t really rapping. I just picked up a microphone from my old school desktop computer. Me and my brother, Kevin, or KAYTRANADA, would rip instrumentals from 50 Cent’s website, and we would flow over them, not caring about the lyrics, just developing our flows. I was around 10 or 12 years old when we started that, and then at 16, I started writing my own music. From there, I made a mixtape with The Celestics, which was a joint project between me and KAYTRA.
Then, we parted ways because KAYTRA got way too big, and I couldn’t keep up with his work. Now, I’m my own artist. I’m Lou Phelps. I’ve dropped two albums, and I’m working on my third right now.
How did working with KAYTRANADA help, or hinder, your artistic growth?
When I was younger, I wouldn’t listen to him. I always wanted to do my own thing; I wanted to do my own trial-and-error. It’s only recently I’ve begun to understand what he meant. Maybe it’s an age thing, and now that I’m older, I understand more about it. He would give me small pointers like to rap with more energy or more style. He said I should pronounce words more because I’m French-Canadian and when I rap in English, you can sometimes hear the accent. I also get the best beats from him, no matter what he’s working on, he always gives me his best instrumentals.
How did your last album, 002/Love Me, affect your path as an artist?
That project opened my eyes to what working in a studio 24/7 is actually like. It required me to stay focused and to make sure I stayed on the right path. Also, going on tour with FKJ and going on my solo tour opened my eyes to a lot of other factors in the music industry. I would define it [as] my “eye-opening” project.
So the album got the ball rolling...
It was a way to make me understand what it takes to be an artist. You have to dedicate yourself fully to your work, and it was an artistic adventure, like a release. I could put everything I want into [the album], and it would be my own: no Kay, just me. So I learned to be my artistic self on that project.
You’ve been quiet since releasing the project. Walk me through what you’ve been up to since then.
I dropped a couple of singles. I dropped a song produced by WondaGurl, made a couple of songs with Tony Stone from Planet Giza, a rap trio from Montreal as well. Right now, I’m working on my new album. I can’t give you too many details like a release date, but I’m stacking up songs, making it cohesive, and making sure it just sounds good. On top of that, I’m working on a couple of EPs too. I’ve been working.
How did love affect the creation of 002/Love Me?
The album was created in the aftermath of a breakup. It was a four-year relationship, and this project was a journey back into it. It brought me back to the beginning and to the defining moments of that relationship. It’s a project about reminiscing about good and bad moments from that time. Four years of your life when you’re like 23 or 24 is a lot. So I’m going back, looking at the good times, the missteps, everything about it.
How would you compare the sound of your next project to your last project?
The next project will change everything. This album is going to be called Black Vogue Songs. I’m going back to my rapping roots; I’m back to sounding hungry and wanting to be heard. I’m incorporating a lot of funk and house elements and lots of different sounds I grew up on, songs that inspired me. I tried to emulate them and also make it sound original.
What did you grow up on? Who or what influenced you?
Growing up, I always used to listen to mainstream rap. My dad would always play some Compas, which is native Haitian music. He would also listen to Bob Marley, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, all the legends pretty much. In my music, I would try to incorporate some reggae and some jazz and mix it with some mainstream 2000s hip-hop.
Last year, there was an entire month where I would watch Solange’s When I Get Home movie every day on YouTube. It inspired me and got ideas flowing in me. It’s such a beautiful work of art, and her unwillingness to do anything other than what she wanted to pave the way for me to do the same with my music. Not to fit in with the norm, not to make music to please people. I know what I want to do; I know I have good musical taste. I won’t let myself make bad music, so all these inspirations helped me learn to trust myself and to keep pushing things forward.
Montreal isn’t a rap city, but it’s growing into one. How do you fit into this landscape?
My perspective on repping Montreal has changed because I feel like I need to put myself on first. If I focus on me, without putting [on] the stress of carrying my city, it’ll be easier to reach my personal goals. And me achieving my goal will attract people to Montreal. It’s the same with KAYTRA; he didn’t think of putting Montreal on the map when he came up, and I don’t even think Drake thought of putting Toronto on the map at first either. They wanted to focus on themselves and get their recognition first, which happened. Sometimes you have to be selfish to make sure that stuff happens.
This is my moment of being selfish, not caring what other people have to think about Montreal. It’s a growing city; there’s new talent every year with people flying from different places around the world. Montreal is so inspiring. Everyone wants to go out and be a part of the city, somehow, some way. So just the fact that I’m focused on myself doesn’t mean I’m not trying to support Montreal; it just means I have to put myself first to have the city follow me.