Lantz, the architect behind the genre known as "cinematic trap," opens up about the making of Jazz Cartier's debut.
Photo courtesy of Luis Mora
Jazz Cartier is a 21-year-old rapper from Toronto who released his debut mixtape Marauding In Paradise on April 15. The roll-out of the album was polished in a way that’s rarely seen with rookie artists, beginning with the release of “Set Fire” at the end of August 2014. The reason the 16-track offering looks so meticulously groomed is because it’s been in development for the better part of four years, but its genesis can be traced back to 2007 when Jazz Cartier first met Michael Lantz—the now 25-year-old producer from Scarborough—at a downtown recording studio. Since then, Lantz and Jazz have been working closely together on Marauding In Paradise, creating a genre that Lantz likes to call “cinematic trap music” in the process.
Listening to Marauding in Paradise feels like opening a book at the halfway point and finding yourself unable to tear yourself away from the words on the page. That’s the beauty of Jazz Cartier’s songwriting: He jumps into the story and leaves it to the listener to catch up. The themes shift around often, focusing on money, women, religion, and legacy in equal measure—but you’re never sure if the stories are being told in the first person or from the viewpoint of a fabricated third party. It’s a risky move for an unknown artist to make their debut so purposefully insular. But Cartier succeeds at pulling you into his world by doubling down on the exclusivity and making you feel rewarded for every time you manage to catch a reference, whether he’s name dropping movies like Fahrenheit 451 and Blade Runner or artists like Caravaggio or skateboarder Rodney Mullen, which he does all within the span of a few songs. Through this, he’s able to build a three-dimensional character that the listener has no choice but to invest in and root for.
The comparisons to Travis Scott and A$AP Rocky are easy to draw, but this feels like the next evolution in that post-regional sound. Jazz Cartier was raised everywhere, citing his time living in Barbados and his youth of being the “only black kid in Idaho” on the tape, and his sound is a reflection of this melting pot. He tips his hat to rap icons like Biggie, Ja Rule, and 50 Cent, but his style is decidedly not East Coast in the traditional sense. “We’re living in a playlist era,” says Lantz when asked to define the sound. “Nobody wants to hear the same thing for too long. People get bored. That’s why we switched it up often while still keeping the whole thing dark and edgy.”
Lantz produced every song on the album but “Downtown Cliche” (Burd & Keyz/Sevn Thomas) and “Rose Quartz/ Like, Crazy” (Toro y Moi), but the best way to see how well Jazz and Lantz work together would be to look at the samples that bookend Marauding in Paradise. The second half of the opening track, “Guardian Angel,” is a reworking of “Blackberry Molasses” by Mista, an R&B group that featured a 13-year-old Bobby Valentino, a sample that Lantz credits Jazz for putting on the album. On the other end, the second half of the album’s last song “See You In Hell” is “All Yours,” a song by Submotion Orchestra, a seven-piece ambient band from the UK. “He doesn’t really listen to hip-hop,” says Cartier of Lantz’s influences. “He doesn’t like to get caught up in trends, so it doesn’t hinder his sound.”
We had Lantz explain the stories behind every song on Marauding in Paradise to provide more context and share some previously untold stories about the project:
I remember we were in the studio, and we’re fucking around, and then that first synth that comes in. He starts flipping out before the beat drops in and just started going crazy over it. We kind of realized it was going to become the intro because it made sense. It pulls you in right from the jump. It starts out as ambient and then builds into this hard hitting beat. I think it set the tone for the rest of the album. Jazz has that R&B, soul feel to him. He was the one who was like “we gotta throw this in at the end” for “Blackberry Molasses.”
I remember I was sitting in the studio and playing around with some shit, and then Jazz heard something I was playing, and he was like “dude, stick with that.” Jazz started bringing up this sick flow, which gave me the idea to just start flipping the beat up. “The Valley” was a dope record to work on.
“New Religion” was the one where Jazz came through with the idea. We started playing some chords and then Jazz started singing [the chorus] “as God as my witness, money is my new religion.” And I’m like “oh shit.” I was like “dude, you need to lay the vocals down now.” We almost built it around the chorus. Once we had the chords laid down, he came up with that melody, and I was just like “oh shit,” and everything just took off from there.
“Forever Ready/Band On A Bible”
It’s two tracks in one joint. To me this sounds like a 90s hip-hop song made in 2015. It has the ambient feel; it’s not overly complicated. Sonically, it has enough space for Jazz to spit and tell his story over the record. “Band On A Bible” is one of those situations where Jazz is sitting with a thought. The synth melody on that hook is one of my favourite sounds. That synth was one of those situations where I hit the wrong button, and it became what it was. And I was like “fuck it, leave it.” That’s most of music: trial and error. When you find really cool sounds like that you usually hit the wrong thing, and then the next thing you know you’re like “this is incredible.”
“Rose Quartz/ Like, Crazy”
Jazz was a Toro fan. He really liked that stuff, and he showed me the “Rose Quartz” part. He had a verse for the first half of it where he was just spitting over that intro part. And then he’s like “dude you gotta flip that beat up and just give it a second half. It has to have a second part to the story.” The second half is where I gave it the whole crazy aspect. I don’t like sampling sometimes unless you’re gonna do the track justice, and I just pray that the original creator is always like “that was sick.”
“Too Good To Be True”
I think that’s one of my favourite songs on the album. It’s just such a genuine song. I remember when we made that track, we shut all the lights off, threw on some blue lighting and kept it really moody. We just vibed out and expressed how we were feeling at that point. That to me was one of the most fun songs, sonically. It’s more of like a listening experience. Jazz just came at that record being real. He wasn’t sugarcoating shit. What he’s saying is actually a real kind of scenario, which is dope. I love that.
We loved the song originally. We revamped a lot of it. Jazz came in and was like “let’s lay something down on this ASAP.” He was very vulnerable on that record. He’s being more real with the audience.
The beat was already done. Earlier that day, I was with one of my guitar players, Nello, and we were just jamming out, and I started working on that beat. I had the beat finished. As soon as Jazz came in he was like “what is this?” He just hopped in and literally just started spitting over the track and then within an hour, if that, “Switch” was what it was.That track was huge. We didn’t expect it to be like that either. It just kind of took off the way it did.
“The Downtown Cliche”
I didn’t make this track, but I ended up giving it a hook. They sent the beat over, and Jazz was fucking with it. I just added a top line synth over the hook to make it stand up a little bit more, so when it hit, it hit a little bit harder.
“Secrets Safe/Local Celebrity Freestyle”
Most of the shit that me and Jazz do, we just get in the studio and vibe. That was another one where we were like “yo let’s just be reckless on the track.” I love the bassline in that. The way it bends is kind of dope. Once we finished “Secret Safe,” I slowed down the beat—again kind of an accident—and I was like “OK we’re gonna make this the second half.” And then second half came: We slowed it down and chopped it up and made it more dark than the first half, which I didn’t know was possible. “Local Celebrity” was done more recently as well.
“Dead Or Alive”
“Dead or Alive,” that track is massive. It’s such an explosive anthem track. It’s in its own lane. The way that track came along was we did “New Religion” and were like, “‘New Religion’ is hard, but we gotta make another track that’s even harder.” And then that’s how it came to be.
“Holy Shit” is like cinematic trap, if that’s even a real thing. I feel like that’s a thing on its own. Jazz came hard on it. The drums are fucking crazy. That is cinematic trap.
“Flashiago/A Sober Drowning (Interlude)”
That song was built around the bassline. I was playing around with the bass, I came up with that dope bassline, and then Jazz was saying Flashiago earlier that day, and then he brought it in for the record. And then Flashiago became “Flashiago.”
“Wake Me Up When It's Over”
“Wake Me Up When It’s Over” is such a feel good record. I bump that track all the time. One of my other friends who plays a lot of jazz keys, he had this jam session, and he sent me over a couple tracks. And I found this cool little keyboard sample part. We took the keyboard sample part and threw it in. As soon as that sample went in, Jazz had the hook idea, and then we jumped in with the horn. That was one of the songs that came together the fastest. In total, it might have taken two hours, and that’s the whole song. It was the most natural feeling track that we did. Everything fell into place.
“New To Me”
This is one of the more recent ones. After putting a lot of records out and seeing people respond, me and Jazz are both like “everything is kind of feeling new.” And it was really new to us, because we just started putting stuff out not that long ago. That’s how that record came about. Everything is kind of new to us. We took the idea of what it feels like right now. We’re experiencing a lot of things that we haven’t experienced before.
“See You In Hell”
We always leave the outro ‘til last, and it’s not on purpose. It kind of just happens like that. “See You In Hell” was the last song that we did. I think we did about two or three songs that were going to be the outro. We had three or four different versions, and that was the one that stood out. I laid down the piano, and Jazz was vibing around that. I built everything up around it. In my opinion I like “See You In Hell” because Jazz is telling you a true story. That one particularly is a really personal record. That’s one of the more personal ones, because he’s giving you true facts about everything that’s happened from the beginning until where we are now.
Slava Pastuk is a writer living in Toronto - @SlavaP