Today’s featured artist is Toronto-based songwriter Ekelle who blends R&B, Pop and Hip Hop to create her own unique flavour dubbed “Hood Pop.” Most recently Ekelle released “Come Back,” an honest reflection of the uncertainty and pressures presented in 2020 including how it felt to watch the protests promoted by the Black Lives Matter movement after the tragic death of George Floyd. We were able to connect with Ekelle this week to talk more in depth about the track, how she maintains a positive outlook during difficult times and what we can expect to hear from her upcoming album “Let’s Get It” due out in 2022.
Listen to “Come Back” by Ekelle ft. Gee Wunder and read on for the interview below.
“Come Back” comes right out of the gate getting into your personal experiences in 2020, talking about having a breakdown, feelings of paranoia, and having difficulty speaking while taking in the news of George Floyd, which is something I think a lot of people can relate to. Looking back on that now, as the news was rolling out, what were your initial thoughts and feelings?
I definitely had some mixed feelings. I was relieved to see the Black Lives Matter movement become a part of the global conversation, but the events leading up to that are so unsettling. Some days I couldn’t even speak. It’s absolutely insane that a Black man had to essentially be murdered on video by the police (for the umpteenth time) for the rest of the world to take notice of the ongoing climate of racism. The pandemic was really hard to deal with for all of us, but I think having to stay inside gave everyone the ability to really take a look and listen. It was inescapable at that point. It was a weird feeling that wasn’t quite bittersweet because the bitter side was way stronger. That moment sparked a lot of the conversation for change that we needed, but the cost was just way too high.
I know for me personally, when I was watching the news on it and following the initial protests, I couldn’t help but think about what a horrific display of a complete lack of humanity I felt watching, both the officers and all the bystanders filming instead of intervening. It really adjusted my personal scope of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and why it was so critical. Did you participate in any of the Toronto-based protests and if so, can you explain what it felt like to be there in those moments?
I think the saddest thing about the situation was that no one tried to physically intervene. I can’t pretend to know what it would feel like to be in that situation but I don’t think I could have stood still and watched. The whole situation just made me feel awful. I felt it was necessary for me to go to the protest for Regis Korchinski-Paquet. That one was really well attended, I was really happy to see so many different types of people come out to protest that wrong and honour her life. I also made sure to sign petitions and donate to local community groups. I happened to release a song in 2020 called ‘Dropped’ that spoke about an unfortunate and unjust run-in I had with law enforcement. The song highlights how racial profiling can interfere with someone’s life and their mental state. I was lucky to be featured in an event with Nuitblanche and Trinity Square Video that centred on protest art. It was comforting to see the work that others created in response to the state of the world and their own experiences.
I felt like I was watching history unfold in a new way, but I found myself with a lot more questions than answers and I knew I had a lot to learn. Are there any books, organizations or advocates you’d recommend people like myself, and for clarity I mean those of us who are not black and perhaps have had the blinders on too long, that would help bring further understanding to the issues organizations like Black Lives Matter promotes and how we can be better allies?
Absolutely! I would recommend checking out lawyer, activist and educator, Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work. Crenshaw is actually the one who introduced the concept of intersectionality. Another activist to look into is Kim Katrin, whose work includes a lot of the Canadian experience. Aurora James is also doing great things to spark the conversation in fashion. How to Be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi is a great resource that really blends lived experience with research. In terms of organizations in Toronto, you can check out/support Tropicana and Pardon Partners Canada.
Instrumentally “Come Back” carries such a chill groove, something you can lounge out to, but lyrically it carries a lot of weight, and the refrain is an empowering call to maintain your strength in these difficult times and situations. When you speak to your own friends and families about these things, how do you help lift them up when the weight of it all is otherwise crushing them?
I’m so glad you noticed that! I was really drawn to the beat because it just felt like something I could tell a story to. Sometimes the world does feel like a bit too much. When I speak to friends and family I think it’s all about listening and helping to provide some validation. Oftentimes, when you come across issues with race, people will try so hard to convince you that it was really about something else. I think having a listening ear who has been through a similar experience is very helpful in processing. If someone can’t relate to the experience directly they can still relate to the feelings it caused. Sometimes you need to just sit in the sadness before you can move on. And when you can move on it’s important to have a supportive group to help you focus on the positive things about you and your life. I always try to remind my family and friends that they are more than the bad things they experience and that things will get better.
Taking on these types of challenges on a daily basis takes a big toll but it’s even bigger during a global pandemic. When you yourself needed some time away from it, how did you unwind? What did you feel helped bring you back to a more optimistic headspace?
I decided I would work on building my rep on airbnb since we couldn’t really go anywhere due to all the restrictions. I would just randomly book a place to get some writing done or just to get away from everything. In taking the time alone I really got to reflect on all the happenings of 2020; I had to deal with race issues at the job I had, the company later closed so there was financial stress, and there was so much negativity on social media. Having the time alone helped me to think about how I wanted my life to be, who I wanted in it, and what treatment I was willing to accept. I’m definitely stronger and more confident for it. I’m in a completely different headspace this year.
Were you surprised when COVID-19 rolled through Canada the way it did? What did you miss most when we were placed under our restrictions?
I luckily just missed being stranded as I came in from a flight maybe a week or two before the initial lockdowns started. I couldn’t believe what was happening, it didn’t seem real at first. While we were under restrictions I missed the little things like going to the mall with a friend, working with my laptop at a coffee shop, and just the liveliness of the city. I definitely missed going to bars and shows.
What’s one thing self-proclaimed allies do that you find doesn’t in any way help and might even actually diminish or hinder the type of change you’d like to see in our society?
I think the worst thing is someone who wants to be an ally but doesn’t actually listen to the individuals they claim to support. I understand it may shock some people to learn how they’ve contributed to the imbalance, but to make change you have to be willing to accept your role and the not-so-great things you may have done in the past. In order to change there has to be honest communication on both ends. I’d encourage anyone who wants to be an ally to not focus so much on the word and really try to work on embodying the actions of allyship.
Can you tell us a bit about one of your favourite female artists in hip hop and what you find unique about their style or message?
This is a tough one so I’ll give you two: Nicki Minaj and Doja Cat. I think both of these artists changed the rap game in their own way. Nicki took the industry by storm and got the world looking at female rappers again, if it wasn’t for the versatility of Nicki, we’d never have a Doja Cat. I love Doja’s style because she isn’t afraid to try different things with her music as well. Overall both of these emcees bring so much to the aesthetic of hip hop and the heights that women can reach today. It’s also amazing to see them work together and with other female rappers.
“Come Back” also features Gee Wunder. How did that come about and what was it like working together?
I’ve known Gee Wunder for a few years now. We met pretty early in my career when I was still very new to the game. We kept in touch over the years and eventually the opportunity came for me to be signed to his label, Motive Music. I thought that a collaboration between us would be great since his style of rap is motivational. When I realized I wanted to make a song that offers social commentary I knew he’d be a great addition. Working together was great because I got to know him more on a personal level and gain some more industry insight as well.
Do you have a favourite quote, motto or mantra that you find you repeat to yourself that you can share with us and what it means to you?
I’m all about motivational quotes and sayings, especially on days where I’m not feeling as confident. A thing I always like to remind myself of is that I’m a lot further than I was before. I’m not where I want to be yet, but if this was the first day I started I definitely would have been begging to be where I am right now. If you’re trying to pursue a big idea in life I think it’s important to acknowledge all the work you’ve put in along the way. Even if you’re still on your journey you have a lot of amazing accomplishments to look back on. You have to remember that you kept going when things got tough in the past and you can face whatever comes your way now.
Your music has been described as “Hood Pop” which is a mix of hip-hop, pop and R&B, but what other music genres would you say you derive your style from?
I’m a music fan in general, I’d say there’s a song or two that I love from every genre. I have a very eclectic ear, I listen to rock music, indie pop as well as reggaeton and love 80’s tunes. I just like anything that sounds good to me. I actually am going to have a disco-esque song on my upcoming project. I think that my taste just comes from being raised by a huge music lover like my mom. There was a variety of music played in the home when I grew up so I fell in love with so much of it.
What’s the best track you’ve heard so far this year by another artist?
“I am Not a Woman I’m a God” by Halsey. I heard it and instantly identified and loved it. Being a female artist isn’t easy and that’s no secret. It’s harder if you’re someone like me who embraces their sexuality as much as their strength and society still tries to punish me and others for it. I just feel like I wanna scream the hook from the rooftops when I hear it. The song also speaks to the way society can still belittle women and not see us as legitimate contenders in various institutions. I would call it a bad bitch anthem.
You’ll be following up “Hood Pop” with a new record in 2022 called “Let’s Get It”. Can you tell us a bit about that record, what types of themes and situations you’ll be tackling lyrically?
In many ways “Hood Pop” was an introduction to my style as an artist, but also the ending of so many cycles in my life. The project was definitely a way to release some situations and the emotions I went through in my life a few years ago. “Hood Pop” was a more mellow, chilled out record. “Let’s Get It” is going to have at least 9 songs (still working out a few details) but with a different vibe. “Let’s Get It” is all about claiming your space in the world and refuting all the BS that tries to keep you from it. This project is more upbeat and has an, I’m the queen of the mountain vibe, ha ha!
What’s your favourite type of venue to showcase your new music, are you someone that prefers a more intimate venue with a small group of people or something a little grander with strobe lights and pyrotechnics?
I hope a day comes where I can perform with strobe lights, pyrotechnics, dancers and costume changes, I’d really love to do a concept show like that! In the meantime I’m more than happy to perform at any venue. I’ve done some online shows, but I prefer to be in front of a live crowd. In general I like a nightshow so I don’t have to censor my lyrics.
On that note, what’s the best live show you’ve ever seen; Who was performing and can you tell us one highlight about it that would make us want to go see them perform, too?
Years ago I got to see Lady Gaga in Toronto when she was first started touring. She had ‘Just Dance’ out at the time. It was at some club downtown. Although she was new to the scene and only did a couple of songs she was a great performer. I remember seeing her confidence on stage even though she wasn’t a household name yet. She was definitely born for the stage.
Is there anything else coming up that fans should keep an ear out for?
I’ll be dropping a couple more singles leading up to the release of my album “Let’s Get It”, the full project drops in January 2022. In the meantime I’m always looking for ways to collaborate with other creators so keep your eyes on my socials.
Thanks very much for your time Ekelle!
To keep up with Ekelle make sure you check out her website https://officialekelle.com/ and be sure to follow her all over social media.