Jazz Cartier is not only ready for the limelight, he's destined for it.
The rapper, who has been hailed as "Toronto's next big thing," is barely old enough to drink, but his wise-beyond-his-years outlook has already led him to the realization that it takes hard work to live up to all the hype.
"I feel a lot of pressure, but I think I've conditioned myself for this moment for a long time," he says, just days before the release of his latest highly anticipated project, Marauding in Paradise.
"It's all about making the right moves," he adds. "I'm pretty much built for it at this point."
The 22-year-old, born Jaye Adams, exudes a quiet confidence that feels more like finely honed self-awareness than the brash arrogance that often permeates the rap game. He has expressed a desire to become "Canada's next superstar," following in the titanic footsteps of another Toronto MC — rap superstar Drake — and, you get the sense he might just be the right guy to do it.
"There's definitely more than enough room for the world to see what Canada is on the next level, and I feel like I can bring that confidence and that role-model ability to the table," Cartier says.
Cartier follows a long line of iconic rappers who've helped put Toronto on the map — Maestro, Choclair, Kardinal Offishall, and the aforementioned Drake, to name a few — and he is quite possibly the perfect representation of the mind-bogglingly diverse, cosmopolitan urban centre the T-Dot has become. With production that blends dark, industrial electro with teeth-rattling bass, and raps that run the gamut from raw vulnerability to turnt-up party anthems, Cartier refuses to confine himself to just one style — much like the city he calls home.
"I'm just a product of a new generation of Toronto," he explains. "We didn't have an identity for a long time, but nowadays there are kids (making music) from all areas of Toronto, and all of their sounds have fused together to form what this city sounds like.
"It's probably the best time in Toronto's history for up-and-coming artists."
To the casual hip-hop fan, Cartier may appear like something of an anomaly. He went to high school at a prestigious boarding school in Connecticut. He doesn't really party anymore, instead spending every spare moment he can find in the studio.
"I've already put in my hours in the club," he says. "There's nothing I haven't done or haven't seen. It comes to a point where you have to change gears and change your passion for whatever you want to do from a hobby to an actual profession. That's what I've been doing." That world-weary attitude isn't a put-on, either. Cartier has lived a lot of life in his 22 years, bouncing from city to city and country to country as a kid. (His stepdad works for the U.S. Government.) It's that time, spent in such far-flung locales as Kuwait, Barbados, and the backwaters of Idaho, that has helped form who he is as an artist.
"I've been influenced by so many different periods of my life, whether I'm in a fucking desolate area in Idaho listening to folk music, or down in Houston where my step-family may be listening to country, or back on the East Coast listening to EDM," says Cartier. "All these experiences have caught up to me and that's where I am now. I like to dabble in everything — that's just me."
Another surprising anecdote: Cartier actually enjoyed his years spent at an all-boys boarding school, and credits the time with helping him mature into the man he is today. "Those were probably the best years. Not the best years of my life, but the best learning experience," he says.
"Boarding school teaches you how to become a man at a very young age. I first went to boarding school when I was like 15, 14, so from waking up early, planning your own schedule, going to class on time and having no parents there, that's an experience I think everyone needs."
Another way Cartier has effectively defied today's hip-hop conventions is through his richly realized music videos. At a time when many emerging artists are moving away from the video, focusing instead on other, more cost-effective ways of pushing their brand, Cartier has made it his calling card, putting out four slick looking vids in the past seven months alone.
It's yet another way the promising rapper is poking his head above the crowd.
"I'm such an old-school rap fan, and that's when rappers exhibited who they were and their creativity. I really think it's dying these days. Nobody really tries anymore, they just get a DSLR and stand in front of a wall with some graffiti on it and that's it," he laments. "All these videos are my ideas and they've totally built the story about how I've progressed as a man. Nothing is too over the top artsy because I feel like that's pretentious at this point. I'm just a 22-year-old kid doing my thing and trying to exhibit youth as much as possible."
Jazz Cartier plays the Skier's Plaza mainstage on Saturday, April 18, at 7:30 p.m., as part of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival.