Published Jun 28, 2019On his new album Back from the Dead, JD Era is filling in the blanks in his legacy — and, at the same time, the legacy of Toronto rap history.
The history of rap culture in the city has been researched and documented fairly well, but there's a period of time where it gets fuzzy: between 2007 and 2010, when Flow 93.5 was rumoured to be bought out, Drake started to bubble in America and Nielsen SoundScan numbers were nearly non-existent for Canadian rap. It's also the period of time where local rappers took their music from the studios and hustled them on street corners, at records stores and (especially) Yonge-Dundas Square.
Mississauga rapper JD Era was one of the mixtape hustlers, selling his records out-the-trunk in true Bay Area style. But that was then, and this is now.
"There's a whole gang of people who, unless you had that physical mixtape, you don't even know who JD Era is," he admits in a new interview with Exclaim!.
The June release of Back from the Dead exemplifies the sentiments surrounding his own legacy in the scene.
In 2012, JD Era signed to IceH20, a record label founded by Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan. He was the only Canadian on the label, and things were looking up until the label's support shrivelled. (Though, quite frankly, locals saw the label's Canadian arm as a way to weasel its way into Canada's grant system, more than anything.)
"The last thing people had seen me involved with was the IceH20 stuff and working with Raekwon. That was one of those things that was a really big high for me and also a really big low in how everything ended," JD Era says now. "I just needed some personal time to get away from rap. Every year since I first came out [as an artist] at 18, I've been putting out a mixtape, doing shows around the city and the country, and running around. It felt like a rat race, and I just needed to decompressed and get away from a lot of things."
It's been five years since JD Era last released a project, but that doesn't mean he's been idle — in fact, he's been writing for others (including R&B songs), recording ("I've been doing music with Ghanaian artists all these years; that's some of the stuff I can't wait to start releasing!") and creating for himself. Back from the Dead is the proof of those efforts; its recording period began as early as 2014 (with album cut "Magnificent").
"This one was a lot different to make because in the past I've had other people around me; management and other partners guiding me on what they thought, what other people thought or Raekwon saying what he thinks. [But] this was a JD Era-prepared dish: I was the sous-chef, the main chef, the executive chef... I'm everything on this thing!" he laughs.
With few featured artists (one of which is Swagger Rite, who JD Era admits reminds him of his younger self), Back from the Dead is curated for the rapper's rapper, yet still adapts to the new age sounds coming out of the city.
"To me, this is an example of what quality Toronto rap sounds like. There's a handful of artists in this country who'll give you quality projects front to back, and I happen to be one of them," he says. "I know we've gotten into a more melodic time in rap and urban music, but at the heart of it is always gonna be the bars. The lyricists are always going to win. For me, it's about letting that new group of Toronto artists and emcees know I'm not to be fucked with for one, but for the fans: everything ain't melodic over here. There are some real emcees in the North."
As JD Era enters a new chapter of his career, he reflects on where he's been, where he's going and how he's representing those around him.
"Every time I see a Sauga artist or a Toronto artist on a bigger stage, it's like all the work guys like me did was for something. It took a lot of guys to pave that road, and I'm proud of that," he says. "Seeing RJ Barrett, PARTYNEXTDOOR and even guys like Ramriddlz... seeing the energy around the city is amazing. A lot of those guys know me as 'big homie' since I've known a lot of [them] from when they were kids coming up. Even on a Toronto level, there was a handful of us really putting in work, so to see guys like the Houdinis and the young guys running around in L.A. and New York doing their thing puts a smile on my face."
Though artists like JD Era paved the way for the current Toronto scene, his goal is to continue building upon that legacy with this second life.
"Taking that little break was about recharging my battery, and now I'm ready to go," he says.
"I'm inspired and I'm energized again. I feel like I've been dead for five years [but] my engine has just started, and my kilometres got reset to zero."