B Magic has released the eagerly-anticipated ‘Heartlake’ on Soundcloud. The nine track album is freely available to stream or download and is the Canadian rapper’s first solo work of this magnitude in over four years. So is this the arrival of B Magic I have been hoping for?
‘Heartlake’ has the Toronto sound – what some have described as ambient trap influenced hip hop; however one depicts it, it is certainly distinctive. The album is executive produced by B Magic and ByG Byrd, one of Toronto’s most in-demand talents who is also one of four producers responsible for creating the backdrop to B Magic’s vocals on this album. Across the board, the various beats provide a brooding vibe synchronised with sometimes-bright synth bass lines that keep time in a hypnotic manner. On every track there are melodic phrases or samples which sit subtly in the background providing an ethereal atmosphere and paint vivid pictures in the mind that lend perfectly to the laid back nature of this album. Particular mention goes to producer Kabir Gill who is alone responsible for four of the tracks, including the underwhelmingly-titled ‘Intro’ – one of the best records I’ve heard in a long time for all manner of reasons.
B Magic’s natural drawl (part Norwegian, Punjabi, English and Canadian) flows in a way that puts you at ease; no matter what the subject matter of his lyrics, you sit back and pay attention, captivated by the confidence that he exudes. He has a twang that could pass for Latino helped by the way he pronounces certain words and occasionally accentuates the letter ‘r’. As a freely available work you’d be forgiven for not expecting too much quality from these vocals, but this is far from a raw talent or a freestyler on a mixtape, in fact one can hear exactly why ‘Heartlake’ has been so long in the making. The beautiful layers of vocals on chorus lines are accompanied by a deep, comforting vocal on every verse that reflects exactly who B Magic the artist is. His is an attitude that a friend of mine suggested seemed to be no different on a record than he would be in real life – one gets the sense that if B Magic wasn’t making tracks he’d just be rapping with his friends for a laugh.
That’s not to say that an album which I’ve already called laid back is devoid of meaningful lyricism. This is a work that encompasses the world B Magic lives in and so alongside the chilled-out words to which you can nod your head, he tackles head-on the migrant experience, the graft required to “make it” successfully and his personal journey growing up. There are cultural references a-plenty with nods to deceased rapper Notorious BIG in at least a couple of lyrics, mentions for footballer Neymar, and wrestlers Bret Hart and The Rock, the latter of whom both get a track named after them. Hip hop is at its best when it talks about the struggle which is what B Magic’s ‘Heartlake’ is all about, but that doesn’t mean B Magic isn’t able to have fun with it at the same time. Take ‘The Hart Foundation’ produced again by Kabir Gill, which features B Magic’s longtime collaborator Noyz; I sensed a hint of a nod and a wink in the opening and closing sample of wrestler Bret Hart talking about being screwed over and proudly declaring his motto, that he is “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be“. As if the sample alone wasn’t enough to raise a smile though, halfway through he drops the following lines: “I was trapped in the Zoo but now it’s time to move cool // called up Noyz like, it’s time to fucking do this shit // took a little break but don’t let them get used to it“. This is ‘being real’ B Magic style which doesn’t antagonise but drops heavy lyrics just the same.
I’ve been following B Magic for a long time and am unashamedly a fan. He was originally from Norway, but moved with his family to Toronto before he was a teenager. There amidst the melting pot of migrant communities, he used hip hop to express himself and reflect on the World around him. Over the last five years he has released considerable work through mixtapes, collaborations with other artists, and his first album back in November 2011, ‘D.R.E.A.M‘. For one or two reasons that particular album did not introduce B Magic to the World in the way that it should have done, but it did no harm to his growing reputation as a class act on the microphone. Most recently, he contributed significantly to the short-lived musical quintet, the Zoo Babies which is referenced in the previous paragraph, but again for numerous reasons this project did not reach the heights that fans had hoped for, especially considering the promise shown in their only release. ‘Heartlake’ has none of the hype of that past work and little in terms of promotion, but it is for me the work I’ve been waiting to hear. It’s much more authentic and genuine than most releases in desi hip hop circles without being preachy. As a standalone album in the broader hip hop and everyday music world, it is refreshing for exactly the same reasons, not taking itself too seriously, but providing some great tracks for your listening pleasure.
A constant throughout this whole time for B Magic has been his friend and peer Noyz with whom he forms part of musical act ‘Movin’ Cool’. They recently performed at the prestigous SXSW festival to rave reviews and a more recent performance back in Toronto was covered by Noisey, the music arm of influential online magazine Vice. When I ask if this is the release that would say B Magic ‘has arrived’ I’m not looking to quantify the plays on soundcloud or measure the hashtag usage of #Heartlake; I wanted to hear a wicked album from a guy who talks about injustice and wrestling in the same line, who drops film dialogue and football teams’ names (shout-out to Aston Villa) on the same track, and sounds like he could be rapping live in front of me as I sit on the couch. That’s what ‘Heartlake’ is. As a pairing, he and Noyz are perfect foils for one another and know exactly how to entertain a live audience; when they release a studio album it’s going to be scintillating. But if they continue to drop solo work like this on the side, nobody will be complaining.
Heartlake is available on Soundcloud (that page also contains a download link)