Canadian winters are alienating. Brutal cold sends everyone inside, relationships deteriorate, and sunless days bring into sharp focus the routine that shapes our day-to-day. That separation is what I hear listening to KILLY, a 20 year old rapper from Toronto and one of the city's most buzzed-about talents. His release schedule is like a polar vortex – infrequent, but memorable each time. He exploded last February with "Killamanjaro" and its music video, shot at a house party for $300, both picking up millions of streams. But KILLY didn't reemerge quickly with half-baked material to keep the wave going. Instead, he chose to stagger out subsequent releases, trusting the material to create its own hype (it paid off, with videos for "Distance" and "No Romance" at a combined 14 million views). Today, KILLY is pulling back the curtain in his biggest way ever with his debut project Surrender Your Soul, premiering today on The FADER.
Born in a Bajan and Filipino household, KILLY has lived in both Toronto and Vancouver, and over email he tells me how his rap alias was borne from a culture clash in a French-speaking school. "None of the French speaking kids or teachers could say my first name right," he writes. "'Khalil' came off sounding like 'Kill-ill,' my friends started calling me 'Killy Illy' and that eventually evolved into KILLY." Now, KILLY considers the Toronto east end neighbourhood Scarborough his home – it's where he can find "$10 Backwoods, staircase ball ups, and family."
Once KILLY started writing raps in grade 7, he didn't stop. A huge inspiration, he says, was hearing Kanye West's "Jesus Walks" on the radio. "I was sitting in the back seat of a car and I never paid attention to the radio but when I heard the first chant of that Kanye track that all changed. I started paying attention to music on a whole different level." After "Killamanjaro" took off — which KILLY says he could feel would happen before he recorded the song – he began preparing Surrender Your Soul, recording over 100 songs. "The songs picked themselves," he says.
KILLY rejects "SoundCloud rap" or "emo rap" as a label for his sound, though fans of both will find a lot to love here. KILLY does have a better ear for melody and composition than most artists working in those genres, and his lyrics are distinguished, too. KILLY's bars are the sound of a final boss battle between natural talent and the voice we all have that tells us we aren't shit: a cocktail of self-doubt mixed with sauce that you can mosh to. Surrender Your Soul plays out over 11 tracks, with epic production from 1mind, Y2K, and Wondagurl ("a legend," KILLY says, and promises more music with the producer is to come). KILLY says the project's title is reflective of his own experience, but doesn't elaborate. As always, KILLY's not revealing everything just yet, but with Surrender Your Soul, fans have more than ever to hold them over.
Photography by Dave Suals, cover art by Max Cohen