Lil Berete comes home

Re­gent Park ris­ing star makes his over­due home­town head­lin­ing de­but

NOW Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - Mu­[email protected]­ | @sumikow By SUMIKO WIL­SON

LIL BERETE at Daniels Spec­trum (585 Dun­das East), Fri­day (De­cem­ber 14), 7 pm. $20-$50.

One year, one mix­tape and over six mil­lion YouTube views in, Re­gent Park rap phe­nom Lil Berete is days away from his first head­lin­ing show. But he doesn’t have any fears – or a fil­ter.

“What is there to be ner­vous about?” he asks.

It’s un­clear whether the rap­per born Yaya Berete is speak­ing out of brazen con­fi­dence, bliss­ful ig­no­rance, sheer ar­ro­gance or a com­bi­na­tion of all three. None­the­less, he’s un­wa­ver­ing.

Only 17, Berete doesn’t see his age as an ob­sta­cle.

“I feel grown,” he says. “In the hood there’s no age.”

We’re talk­ing in a Daniels Spec­trum meet­ing room where he’s ar­rived late with three friends in tow. He pauses ev­ery few min­utes to give them daps.

On­stage he’s gritty and un­apolo­getic, while face-to-face he’s gig­gly and wildly con­fi­dent. His lan­guage and man­ner­isms seem like a car­i­ca­ture of the ar­che­typal Toronto man. But the twang in his raspy voice in­di­cates ori­gins that go far be­yond the city: though his roots are in Re­gent Park, he was sent to live in Guinea with fam­ily from ages eight to 12.

That doesn’t make him im­mune to lo­cal venue pol­i­tics. Though his up­com­ing head­lin­ing show at Daniels Spec­trum is tech­ni­cally his first, ear­lier this year, a con­cert he was sched­uled to head­line at the Rivoli was abruptly can­celled. Why? “They never got back to me,” he says.

He doesn’t elab­o­rate who it was who broke off com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but it’s one of many grass­roots hip-hop shows that had trou­ble find­ing a home this year in Toronto.

With his de­but al­bum, Ice­breaker, now out and his fol­low­ing grow­ing, he’s more than ready now.

“I’ve been ready since be­fore, when I was try­ing to do it the first time,” he says.

Daniels Spec­trum feels like a much more mean­ing­ful place for Berete to make his de­but. It’s his home turf.

The life changes brought on by his ris­ing ca­reer are hap­pen­ing along­side changes in his neigh­bour­hood, as res­i­dents are fur­ther marginal­ized as a re­sult of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, veiled as re­vi­tal­iza­tion – a eu­phemism, at best.

As his team grows, he’s keep­ing his home­town en­tourage close, which in­cludes his man­ager and sev­eral friends who serve as makeshift videog­ra­phers, con­sul­tants and a sup­port sys­tem. To­gether, they make up the col­lec­tive STN (South­side to North­side, an homage to Re­gent Park and a ref­er­ence to his first two sin­gles).

“It’s not like they’re do­ing some­thing for me and ex­pect­ing some­thing back,” he says. “If I want to bless them, I’m go­ing to bless them.”

Be­sides his lo­cal crew, Berete has friends in high places. His early YouTube videos caught the at­ten­tion of New Gen, the buzzy grime-fo­cused im­print of UK mega-la­bel XL. Berete is the an­chor of New Gen’s ex­pan­sion to Toronto, which was ini­ti­ated with the re­lease of Ice­breaker last fall.

While rap-singing Auto-Tuned melodies, Berete con­trasts the perks of his come-up with the down­falls of his chang­ing life­style with a mu­si­cal style that mixes the dom­i­nant Toronto sound with vibes from Africa and the Caribbean. It’s put him on the radar of in­dus­try types around the world.

De­spite the ex­tra hands from New Gen, in­de­pen­dence is still his longterm goal. He and his STN crew erupt in laugh­ter when asked if Berete needs a la­bel at this point in his ca­reer.

“Imag­ine I drop an al­bum, it goes crazy and I make bare money off of it,” he hy­poth­e­sizes. “If I get enough money to run my own la­bel, I’ll do it.”

And he’d spread it through Re­gent Park.

“We might turn the hood into a new QC (Qual­ity Con­trol),” he says, ref­er­enc­ing the At­lanta la­bel with Mi­gos at the fore­front.

Speak­ing to his cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, Berete clar­i­fies that he isn’t in a 360 deal with XL, so, ac­cord­ing to him, “there’s noth­ing to diss about.”

“It’s an in­de­pen­dent deal,” he says. “[It] ba­si­cally means that ev­ery­thing you do, they don’t eat off your shit. Like if I tour and do shows, sell my mer­chan­dise, all of that, they can’t come and say that they want half of what I made.”

It’s an in­creas­ingly com­mon mind­set for up-and-com­ing hip-hop artists, where, even with la­bel sup­port, emerg­ing mu­si­cians are by­pass­ing per­ceived gate­keep­ers, build­ing a closer con­nec­tion with lis­ten­ers and, in ul­tra-suc­cess­ful cases, mak­ing more money of their own. Given the den­sity of Toronto’s hip-hop scene, only time will de­ter­mine who will out­last the hype. But Berete is not in­tim­i­dated. “Peo­ple from this city, I don’t think that me and them have the same work ethic,” he dis­tin­guishes. “Ev­ery­one is on their ‘I wanna be a boss’ type shit [but don’t fol­low through]. But I’m on some dif­fer­ent shit.” As the name Ice­breaker sug­gests, this is just the be­gin­ning. So what’s next? “You can’t let peo­ple know where you’re at,” he warns. “I’m 10 steps ahead.”

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