Toronto’s Best Dressed: Rapper Jazz Cartier
The dapper rapper formerly known as Jaye Adams makes his claim to Drake’s throne
Jazz Cartier’s face breaks into a smirk, his pencil-thin moustache curling up toward the ceiling. He’s in the chair at Proper Barbers, located up a tight staircase in Kensington Market, riffing about his uniform back in private school.
You ever watch the Fresh Prince?” he asks. “The paisley, yeah.” He’d turn his blazer inside out so that the lining showed, Will Smith style. “And I had the craziest ties. I would make up my own knots. Even back then, I tested the limits.”
Born Jaye Adams, he was a working-class kid growing up between Scarborough and Bathurst and Bloor. The family moved a lot after his mother married a civil servant in the U.S. State Department. Jaye attended boarding school in Connecticut (on scholarship) while his stepdad was stationed in Kuwait.
Now 23, he’s Jazz Cartier, head of the class of 2016’s hip-hop scene—a swaggering MC who also answers to the names Jacuzzi La Fleur and Prince of the City. He’s the first Toronto rapper in recent memory to get worldwide attention without the backing of Drake’s OVO empire.
You’d expect a bracing current of boasting from Cartier, but in person he’s unfailingly polite, pausing several times to thank the barber who’s giving him a trim. He banters easily, volleying questions without raising an eyebrow. When we talk about style, he throws a little shade.
“In the hipster scene, a lot of kids dress like they’re homeless. I don’t know when that became cool. It’s like, were you raised in a barn?” He laughs, then shrugs. “But if that’s your thing, so be it.”
Compared to the rambling melancholia of the Toronto sound, Cartier’s musical presence is fierce. He performed blazingly energetic sets at two of the summer’s biggest music festivals, Field Trip and Osheaga. Photographers gravitate toward him, not only for the way he whips his braids but also his propensity to walk into the audience. Stepping on the outstretched hands of the crowd, he looks like he’s levitating.
“That’s just me,” he says. “I was always the guy hanging from the ceiling at parties.”
On 2015’s Marauding in Paradise and this year’s Hotel Paranoia, his two much-downloaded mixtapes, he draws the listener in less with wordplay than with sheer intensity. Hotel Paranoia starts with the sizzling “Talk of the Town,” where he chants the hook, I am the Prince of the City / I am the talk of the town, and then turns to clipped cadences, rapping with elbows out. I’m a downtown legend / Everybody feels threatened / You are not worthy of my presence.
The lyrics nod back to Cartier’s early days in a Kensington Market house shared with a group of fellow MCs called the Get Home Safe crew. Their hazy late nights partying and making music became an all-encompassing lifestyle. “I used to look like a rug rat,” he says. “I was just so used to living in the market. I didn’t adopt the full market-liberal-hippie lifestyle, but it was borderline.”
More recently, the influential pop culture site Complex called Hotel Paranoia one of the best albums of 2016 so far. Lil Wayne tweeted his appreciation for a tribute track Cartier dropped in July: “My new favorite song!”
Meanwhile, his sense of style has become more polished. His look sits midway between meticulous suiting and monochromatic streetwear. It’s part Japanese deconstruction, part Jay-Z.
“I get my subtlety from Kuwait,” he adds. He saw the country during his stepdad’s diplomatic posting. “There, everything is fitted and tailored. The men carry themselves to a very high standard.”
Cartier likes the muted forms and colours of Toronto labels (Kira and Cntrbnd) and stores (Nomad on Queen West and Serpentine in Yorkville).
“I’m just not trying as hard,” he says coolly. “I don’t have to prove anything to anybody.”