Among the big name collaborators on Jay-Z's "Magna Carta Holy Grail" is a 16-year-old woman from Brampton, ON named Ebony Oshunrinde, who makes beats as WondaGurl and produced Jay-Z's cocky album track, "Crown."
When the record soft-launched to Samsung Galaxy users on July 4, WondaGurl's life changed forever.
"It was crazy," she says the next day.
"Just people calling me, texting me and tweeting me all the time. My phone was just blowing up."
A budding beatmaker since she was nine, WondaGurl caught the attention of superstar producer and Drake associate, Boi 1da, who took her under his wing and helped her win the 2012 Battle of the Beatmakers competition. Since then, she has worked on tracks for SonReal & Rich Kidd, Ryan Leslie, and got a big placement on a Travi$ Scott track called "Uptown."
It was her work on "Uptown" that caught Hov's ear and he snapped up the hazy, loping trap beat that WondaGurl programmed for "Crown," which sits alongside production by Scott, The-Dream, Boi 1da, Pharell Williams, Hit-Boy, Mike WiLL, and her first hero, Timbaland, among others.
"I made a beat and sent it to Travi$ Scott and he said he was gonna do some stuff with it," Oshunrinde recalls. "A few days later he texted me and said he was about to change my life but he wouldn't tell me what he was talking about. Then he called me and told me I was officially on Jay-Z's album."
Oshunrinde says that, as a fan of Jay-Z and the people involved on the record, the placement means a lot to her. She had no real intention when making the beat; she had a sample for Sizzla's "Solid As A Rock" and applied it to her aesthetic, which she describes as "trap/hip-hop-type beats but, like, hard."
"A lot of people are making trap and it's,like a little bit of that with real hip-hop mixed into one beat," she elaborates.
Has she spent much time listening to the much-discussed production on "Yeezus" by Kanye West? Does she look up to him, as an artist and producer?
"It's really different; I like it though," she says. "As a producer yes, but not so much as an artist. I want to work with him, though," WondaGurl catches herself.
All of this stems from a childhood spent watching YouTube videos of Timbaland working in the studio. In fact, Oshunrinde says her entire musical education derives from watching YouTube and just trying things out on keyboards and computers supplied by her aunt and other family members, who have been very supportive of her dreams ("I want to win a Grammy," she says in a matter-of-fact way).
That said, WondaGurl has just finished 11th grade and her parents insist that she completes her high-school studies before she makes any really big plans.
"I have to focus on school because if I don't my mom takes my computer away."
"Magna Carta Holy Grail" was released July 4, via special promotion, to millions of Samsung Galaxy phone owners for free. Some of them may be vibing to "Crown" right now.
The whole world gets their taste when the album is officially released on Sunday, July 7.
Cold Specks (Al Spx): Singer-Songwriter/Musician
The band known as Cold Specks fronted by the woman known as Al Spx burst out of virtually nowhere with the critically acclaimed album<em> I Predict A Graceful Expulsion</em> in 2012. With a gospel-flavoured and acoustically-driven sound often referred to as “doom soul,” the folk artist’s mastery of her craft will only continue to grow. Now based in the U.K., where she first broke out, let’s see if Cold Specks can deliver the goods again with a strong sophomore outing this year.
Melanie Fiona, 29: Singer
After winning not one, but two Grammy Awards last year, there’s nowhere for Melanie Fiona to go but up. The 29-year old names Whitney Houston, Sade and Amy Winehouse as being major influences and her ability to incorporate elements of soca and reggae in her R&B sound is a key distinguishing factor to her current success. After releasing the modestly successful <em>MF Life</em> in 2012 — which was much bigger down south than here in Canada — Fiona is up for yet another Grammy award next week.
Abel Tesfaye/The Weeknd: 22, Singer-Songwriter
What more can be said about the enigmatic and innovative one better known as The Weeknd? Coming off a successful year of touring and underground promotion, the singer-songwriter’s penchant for progressive and ethereal mood music has served to redefine post-millennial R&B. Since the successful release of his <em>House Of Balloons</em>-led mixtape trilogy in 2011 (subsequently mastered and rereleased on a major label last year as <em>Trilogy</em>) it’s safe to say that Abel Tesfaye is definitely on a high. And with a rumoured new full-length album on the way, many are waiting on The Weeknd to see what’s next.
Cadence Weapon, 26: Musician/Rapper
Edmonton’s Rollie Pemberton has been making noise ever since he launched the full-length Cadence Weapon album<em> Breaking Kayfabe</em> back in 2005. Named Edmonton’s poet laureate in 2009, the Polaris Music Prize-nominated artist has been widely hailed as an innovator when it comes to hip-hop. Now based in Montreal, Pemberton’s penchant for abstract lyricism and an unorthodox rap style marks him as a uniquely creative force in the Canadian hip-hop scene.
Drake, 26: Rapper/Songwriter
Ah, Drake. Love him or hate him, Aubrey Drake Graham is arguably the biggest name to come out of Canada in years. Having sold more than five million albums worldwide, Drake’s presence and introspective style has irrevocably transformed the sound of mainstream hip-hop. And he shows no signs of stopping now: his October’s Very Own crew runs deep with upcoming new artists and projects (including a loose affiliation with The Weeknd), his songwriting for artists such as Alicia Keys and Jamie Foxx will likely continue to flourish, and a new studio album is virtually confirmed to be in the works. With even a tossed-off song like "The Motto" containing era-defining lines like "YOLO," the sky’s the limit for Drizzy.
Kreesha Turner, 27: Singer
Edmonton born R&B/Pop diva Kreesha Turner — she of the trademark huge afro — has been steadily making noise on the international music front. Building off a huge hit with 2011 single "I Could Stay," the highly underrated young recording artist of Canadian/Jamaican heritage is reportedly working on new music for this coming year.
JD Era, 27: Rapper
When the one and only Raekwon of the Wu Tang Clan decided to work with Mississauga, Ontario's JD Era, the talented rapper and mixtape king took the ball and ran with it. Born Joseph Dako, the rapper stands tall as the first signed artist of Raekwon’s Toronto-based label IceH2O Records and the future is definitely looking bright. With deep underground cred and refined lyrical skills, JD Era is poised for a solid 2013 rap campaign.
Raz Fresco, 17: Rapper
A relative newcomer to the scene, 17-year-old Raz Fresco represents the new guard in the Canadian hip-hop landscape. Despite his young age, the Mississauga, Ont.-based producer/MC has amassed a huge social media following and already has impressive producer credits with underground names such as Big Sean and Mac Miller under his belt.
Rochelle Jordan: Singer
After first catching ears with a cool reworking of Drake's "Marvin’s Room," Toronto singer and songwriter Rochelle Jordan has been on a tear when it comes to releasing hot music. Her latest mixtape outing,<em> Pressure</em>, leans heavily on a post- Aaliyah electro-aesthetic and hipster PBR&B sound. Currently on tour with Jessie Ware, Jordan’s career should see an added boost in the coming months.
Rich Kidd, 25: Producer/Rapper
Since bursting on the underground rap scene via his production on Detroit-based hip-hop duo Frank & Dank’s "Do What I Gotta Do" in 2006, Toronto's Rich Kidd has been a hip-hop force to be reckoned with in Canada. Listed as one of "Toronto’s Top 5 Independent MCs" by the Toronto Star, the independent producer and rapper has crafted beats for a veritable who’s who in the scene — Saukrates, Nelly Furtado, Kardinal Offishall — and his popular "We On Some Rich Kidd Shit" series of mixtapes have been a constant and welcome treat for hip-hop heads. Rich Kidd is typically in beast mode when it comes to producing and rapping — this year should be no different.
Shad, 30: Rapper
Hailing from London, Ontario, rapper Shad (real name Shadrach Kabango) has been quietly establishing himself as perhaps one of the most underrated emcees in the country. A constant fixture on the touring scene, Shad's witty lyricism, self-deprecating humour and extraordinary handle of his hip-hop craft mark him as an artist poised to take things to the proverbial next level. After besting Drake (!) for a Juno Award for his last album <em>TSOL</em>, Shad is hard at work on a follow-up tentatively slated for release this year.
Slakah The Beatchild: Singer-songwriter/Producer
The uber-talented Slakah The Beatchild is for certain one to watch on the music scene. The Sarnia, Ont.-raised producer, typically known for his hip-hop/soul production, has done production for Drake along with releasing the solid psychedelic rock album <em>The Other Side Of Tomorrow</em> which helped to both broaden his fanbase and national exposure. Easily the type of artist who many will appreciate more when he inevitable leaves for south of the border, Canadian music lovers would do best to enjoy him — and his funky style reminiscent of Raphael Saadiq — while they can.
Tanika Charles: Singer
Simply put, Toronto’s Tanika Charles is perhaps the country's best kept secrets when it comes to R&B. Known as "Mz. Chawlz," the Toronto-born, Edmonton-raised soul singer is a veritable vocal powerhouse with a distinctive old school bluesy vibe reminiscent of Aretha Franklin. Along with her band The Wonderfuls, Charles is preparing to take 2013 by storm with a tour and a potential new album on the way.
Zaki Ibrahim: Singer
Formerly based in Toronto and now residing in South Africa, songstress Zaki Ibrahim is all about the smooth R&B/soul vibes. Of Canadian/South African heritage, the eclectic and socially conscious performer has creating an impressive buzz for a few years now. Her import release <em>Every Opposite</em> — with its distinctive electro-soul and R&B sound — puts her in firmly in the "one to watch" category. Having performed with artists as diverse as The Roots, Bedouin Soundclash and Erykah Badu, the sensuous singer’s career should see a well-deserved rise in stature in 2013.
Lunice of TNGHT, 25: DJ/Producer
One half of EDM darlings TNGHT, Montreal’s Lunice Fermin Pierre II is known for his beat wizardry and innate ability to move a live crowd. With his ability to meld experimental dance and trap/hip-hop production into an exciting new sound, Lunice and TNGHT are forging a futuristic musical path in both the underground and mainstream scenes.