f you don’t know who Tre Mission is, you should. Maybe the problem is, we’re all getting numb to the same old story of an unbelievably talented Toronto emcee taking the world by storm, but with Tre Mission, it’s different. The 24 year-old Toronto emcee has been at it since he was six, and between his freestyle videos and explosive tracks from his 2015 JUNO-nominated album Stigmata, Tre’s become a revered part of the UK’s grime scene. Recognition from within his home turf has finally come in the form of a JUNO award nomination for Rap recording of the year. If you let it, Tre’s album opens your horizons, challenges you to try on new sounds and a new emceeing style. Don’t worry, the banging beats are still there (and then some).
In our new interview, Tre Mission discusses his nomination, his experience in the UK grim scene, hilariously sends up both the JUNOs and the Canadian hip-hop scene, and took the time to explain exactly what grime is.
For the unenlightened, please explain what the grime genre is all about.
Grime is a genre of music that got its start in East London during the late 90s. It’s a combination of a bunch of genres; garage, house and dancehall. There’s a bit of hip-hop in there, but it’s important to know; it isn’t hip-hop. It isn’t rap. It’s labeled that way a lot, but it’s a genre of its own.
Why do you think it’s less prominent in Canada?
I don’t think it’ll ever pick up here. It’s a pretty nuanced style of music and mainstream music isn’t about nuance. Mainstream music caters to what people want when they’re driving to work. Easily digestible. Most grime has a thick London accent to it and that probably makes it even harder for people on this side of the pond to digest.
How did you react when you first heard about your JUNO nomination?
To be honest, I didn’t react at first. I had to process it. It’s weird, because nominees find out at the exact same time everyone else does. I got texts from people going “MAN congrats” at almost at the same time I found out.
Being that you’re in the rap category, how do you think the hip hop community views the JUNOs? How do Grime fans view them?
The average grime fan knows what the BRIT awards are. They know what the Grammys are, but they’ve never heard of the JUNOs. I guess they don’t get the same kind of attention in the grime or rap communities. To be honest, I don’t really think the Canadian hip-hop community really holds the JUNOs too high. It’s not that they aren’t prestigious or anything, but they don’t even televise that award.
How does that make you feel personally?
I mean, very few artists are making it as big as Canadian hip-hop (and hip-hop influenced) artists. And they’re contributing more than just music. They’re part of the culture. These guys are going around the world killing it, and going through America killing it and they STILL don’t televise it. I remember hearing that some artists protested that one year and I get why.
As a young artist, what are the most important lessons you learned making Stigmata?
Always take your time. Always overthink it. When you’re done recording, make notes. Really figure out what’s going on that record and what isn’t. I learned that you can’t plan music, but you can plan how your roll it out. I also learned how to compromise. With the label, with the manager – you’re not going to be right every time and neither are they, so I learned how to see things from their perspective and take their advice. Pick your battles.
As a homegrown label, Last Gang Records is a fundamental force in the music industry. How did they help you establish yourself?
In the music industry, there’s the way you want to do things and there’s the way it fucking works. They have an understanding of the way it works, but they also understand that artists want to do what they want to do. They’re really familiar with the industry, too. For example, they knew when the submission deadline was for the JUNOs, but I didn’t. They told me to submit my album for the rap category – because let’s face it: there’s never going to be a Grime category – and I did. If it wasn’t for Last Gang, I probably wouldn’t be having this conversation with you. As an artist, you need someone who’s going to show you the ins and the outs – someone who can open doors for you, so I really like working with them for those reasons.
Since the JUNOs are all about celebrating the diversity of music in Canada, which cities in this country need to get more love in terms of their own hip-hop scenes?
You know, I couldn’t tell you that as far as Canada is concerned. If we were talking about England, I could tell you everything about the different towns and cities there. I feel like I know them inside out. With Canada, I’ve heard amazing things about Vancouver’s scene, so I’m hoping to find out soon.
Your own roots reach back to both Trinidad and Jamaica. How does your cultural background influence your sound?
I like bass a lot. I always have. All Caribbean music is really bass and drum oriented, and the influence of Caribbean music changed how our music is mixed. With pop music, the drums lead, whereas before the drums were kind of a background sound – a non-factor. But now, everyone wants that sound, whether it’s R&B or hip-hop. So it’s not just influencing me – it’s influencing any style of music I am influenced by.
Authenticity is such a fundamental part of hip-hop culture. Do you think there’s a method to keeping things authentic in hip-hop culture, or is it something more abstract?
I can tell you this: as far as rap goes, these guys lie. Even here in Toronto. Maybe they’re not lying about being thug of the year, but they’re lying about all the money they have. All the girls they have. 95 per cent of the Toronto rappers I know personally, they’re embellishing or flat-out making shit up. People who make music today, they aren’t sitting down and asking themselves “what do I want to say” – they’re asking “what do people want to hear.” Unfortunately, that’s made its way into rap and hip-hop.
Real and authentic basically mean the opposite of what most hip-hop fans think it does. ‘Real’ is actually revealing who you are, not trying to create this puffed-out image of yourself. And the ones who actually take that risk are the artists I’m a fan of. The problem is, any time artists actually put the real them on display, people either love them or hate them. There’s no in between. That’s the kind of shit that I’m drawn to and that’s the kind of mentality I try to govern myself with.
See if Tre Mission wins the JUNO Award for Best Rap Recording of the Year this Sunday on CTV and CTV GO!