Rap has a somewhat wobbling relationship with suburban life. The genre was born in the inner-city, it developed in the inner-city, and its creative epicentre continues to be the inner city.
MiQ The Burb Boy is a Montreal rapper who dauntlessly embraces his suburban identity. And while he may have grown up in a setting that was drastically different from the concrete jungles braved by the likes of Chief Keef or Bobby Shmurda, his passion for music and lyricism is just as lively.
We caught up with him for a little banter before the release of his latest single, “Call Back” featuring fellow Montreal talent Mike Shabb.
Banter: In your lyrics, you’ve disclosed that you’re a West island Burb Boy. Could you be a little bit more specific? Where in the West Island?
BB: In Kirkland, right near the Canadian Tire out there. We lived there for around a decade, and then we moved to DDO, close to the Civic Centre. So I’ve always been in the suburbs—always been living in semicircles. That’s actually what inspired the visuals for my Burb Boy logo—the two B’s back-to-back and the Semi Circle below it—it forms a smiling face and growing up everyone always told me I had a great smile, so it all worked. I grew up in the burbs, and it’s something that’s played a huge role in my identity. Always been in and around semicircles [cul-de-sacs] so the Burb Boy name and logo has been pretty natural for me.
Banter: Fairly normal suburban upbringing?
BB: Yeah. As kids, we would all meet out in the street and just hangout. We’d play sports in the summer, and in the winter there would be these big snow piles that everyone would climb on—throwing snowballs at cars and then hiding from them—shit like that. That was just what life was like back then.
Banter: What’s the French-English ratio there?
BB: Way more English.
BB: Ahhh… 80/20, maybe...
There’s still a French influence, but you can do stuff like go to stores and speak English, and they’ll respond in English. It’s mostly English out there, when I started working out past Laval and going downtown more, I realized the difference between the amount of French speaking people that were around me and were in the city. There was this one time in Boisbriand, I got bitched out by this woman working at the SAAQ. She gave me shit because I can’t really speak French. “This is Quebec! If you can’t speak French, I’m not going to deal with you.” And I was confused, “Are you serious? Like, this is a government business in a Canadian province… What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Anyway, yeah, I’m from the West Island, and I’m very English. I never really learned French because I sort of cheated my way through it in school—elementary, high school, CEGEP, copying off of people on tests, having my textbook under the desk, stuff like that. I just wasn’t that interested in learning the language, and I never really had a reason because of how English everyone on my side of the Island was. So I know I’m at a disadvantage now, because I live on an island where I don’t know the language of half of the people.
Banter: Obviously Quebec is a huge market for Franco consumers... Has the language divide ever gotten in the way of developing locally as an artist?
BB: I think so. One of the reasons I believe why English artists pop off here is because they actually have support from the French community.
Banter: Co-signs and stuff like that?
BB: Yeah, exactly. So, like, to give you an example, FouKi is really big. So the English rappers that are working with him have a sort of advantage because they get the support of that community. I don’t know very many people who are full anglo who pop off. So I think it probably would be advantageous if I were to be able to speak both, that way I could actually be in all of the neighbourhoods, venues, and clubs, talking to everyone instead of focusing on English opportunities. It’s definitely stood in the way of my career a little bit, but it is my fault for never taking the time to learn French. As a kid, I just never really thought it would be important.
Banter: Do you want to stay in Montreal, or do you eventually see yourself moving to the states?
BB: I’ve got family in L.A. I can move out there with them, and there’s a big Armenian community out there. My background is Armenian and Spanish, so the community support would be bigger out there. I’ve always thought about moving out there—obviously it’s the mecca of music and entertainment and all of that, so there would be a lot of opportunities to grow. But at the same time, I’m a small fish in a big pond right now. If I were to move out there, I’d be a small fish in a fucking ocean.
I think moving to Toronto might be a better move for me. As an English speaker, I think things would probably be easier for me, and I’ve already got connections in Toronto—studios and producers—who I could work with right away.
I’ve never really been strongly attached to a single place. My dream is to get to a point in my career where I can just travel the world and set up in different cities for a bit while I record, and then move on to the next place, the next city, the next collaborator, and the next opportunity. For me, it’s not really about where I am, it’s just about having the chance to create music and to be able to share it with the people in my life. I just fucking love making music.
Banter: Given the central themes of rap music, a lot of artists build their persona around being from the inner-city. Why are you so comfortable with being a Burb Boy?
BB: When I was eleven and first getting into rap, I was doing the same shit that everybody else was doing. I was an eleven-year-old talking about smoking weed and selling keys and shit like that—you know, stupid shit that I wasn’t actually doing in real life. That was when I was learning the flows and the wordplay. But then when I was like twelve, I remember doing a remix of “Lighters” by Eminem and Bruno Mars, and I just spoke about myself and the things that were actually happening in my life—it just came out so easy, and it felt good. I think music has to be expressive, and it has to be about your experiences if you want it to mean something. Now I’m at a point where I just try to be honest with my music, rapping about my life. And it’s the coolest thing when you have someone reach out to you and tell you that the way they related to your music actually had an impact on them and helped them get through something, or in one case so far, it even inspired them to get into making music.
You can tell when people are trying to be about something that they aren’t really about. When you listen to Pusha T rap, you think, “Oh shit, Okay, this guy’s actually killed people.” When you listen to Lil’ Tecca, it’s catchy, but you know he isn’t actually about that life.
Banter: Right, more branding than bark, so to speak.
BB: Yeah. For me, the whole Burb Boy name came after I had already been rapping for a while. It’s who I am, and I just try to be honest with that because I feel like honesty goes a long way in rap nowadays. When I play my stuff for people, a lot of them assume I’m just going to be like every other white kid who tries to rap about guns and drugs to sound hard. Nahh, that’s not who I am, and I’m honest about that.
Banter: So the image came before the branding?
BB: Exactly. I feel like the music is just sort of a reflection of my life. Music is about connecting with people, and I don’t think I need to fake anything to connect with people. It was actually on the song Call Back where I wrote “Burb Boy coming cross stateside” and after that I just started calling myself the Burb Boy in a lot of songs, leading to my name change from “MiQ" to “MiQ The Burb Boy”.
Banter: You’re dropping a song with Mike Shabb on Friday. What can listeners expect from the new release?
BB: The single’s actually from a forthcoming album. And the whole concept of the album is collaborating with other rappers from the city. Over the past few years, I’ve felt that I have been very secluded as an artist. I would connect with producers, and they would send a beat through to me. I would do my thing and then send it back to them, and then I would release it by myself. It was a lot of independent work, and I realized that I was really disconnected from Montreal’s scene because of that fact.
So I got my boy Mav, who I’ve been doing a lot of studio sessions with, and we just started inviting different rappers and producers in to make songs on the spot. That’s the way I make music when I’m in Toronto, and I love how it allows you to share your ideas with all these talented artists. Jamvvis came through, Ace Millz came through, Koach K came through, Jei Bandit comes through a lot, Busy Nasa came through, and a whole bunch of other producers and artists. The studio sessions are very collaborative; you get people just exchanging flows and verses and hopping on, 30 seconds here, 45 seconds there. It’s a very pure way of creating music.
The whole point of the album is that every song is produced by a different Montreal producer, and every song features another Montreal artist. I want to show how much talent this city really has!
The song I’m releasing with Shabb is supposed to be a wake-up call—to people outside of Montreal who haven’t been paying attention to the city, and to people in the city who haven’t been paying attention to me. I feel like I often don’t get the recognition I deserve as an artist. I’m dynamic. I can switch flows and genres, and I can work with all of these different artists who have different vibes, and I think this album will show that to people.
It was also something I really enjoyed because I got to curate the project, choosing different features for different beats. Like, “Oh, shit Shabb would murder this one!” And then just build this project where you’re picking people for songs that you think they’d be best on.
This first song is hard. It’s the wake-up call. The next songs will have a lot of different vibes, and they’ll show how gifted and musically diverse the city is. And hopefully it’ll show that I can mix in and work with all of them.
BANTER BONUS QUESTION: In “The 405” music video you’re featured with a pitbull, a breed that’s often associated with power and toughness in rap culture. Were there ever any times in that shoot where the dog was doing something adorable? Times where you were like, “Oh fuck. We’re going to have to crop this out.”
BB: Ahah… It’s funny. So the dog is actually my cousin’s. And he’s my favourite fucking dog in the world. Every time I go to L.A., I hangout with that dog constantly. I sleep next to him, I take him on walks all around the block and shit like that. They’ve had him since he was a puppy. His name is Blue, which I thought was super funny because I was doing the music video with a Crip! So of course he was going to be in the video. To be honest, I never really tried to play it off as him being tough. I just love dogs and he’s a total sweetheart. Again, for me, it isn’t about portraying an image. For me, it was just about having a good time doing music and shooting a video in L.A., where it’s way warmer than Montreal, with some real L.A. dudes and a dog that I love so fucking much.
Photos courtesy of @tr.vision