The Break Presents: John River
In an era where things like irony and self-parody are en vogue, few up-and-coming rappers are as fearlessly earnest as Canada’s own John River. With emotionally-charged hooks, resolutely aspirational lyrics and a voice sounding like something between reluctant surrender and impassioned battle cry, the 22-year-old MC bares all in his mission to reach the top of the rap game and put on for his hometown of Mississauga, Canada. River was just one of the artists featured in our 10 Canadian Artists You Should Know earlier this year.
The rapper is speaking for the people. “My big come up was really identifying specifically where you’re from and just being from the fifth biggest city outside of Toronto,” River tells XXL. “Representing a demographic of people that really hasn’t been spoken for. This is kind of people [who] still consider you a Toronto artist, but you’re just the guy from Mississauga."
With the spotlight growing brighter overhead, River is in a unique position. "Independently you want to grow, build and establish some leverage, but also impacting the community on a mass scale as much as possible and putting yourself in a position where you can change as many lives as possible," he shares. "Once you get in a position where people start looking at you not only as the next guy, but someone who can impact lives, it’s just a greater sense of responsibility.”
The “greater sense of responsibility” probably started kicking in some time in 2012. That was the year River put the rap game on notice with his debut mixtape, The Calm. Shortly after hitting the Internet, the project garnered critical acclaim, and the then-18-year-old officially established himself as a rising artist in Canada’s expansive rap scene. River built upon that momentum in 2015, the year he released his massively popular video for “Hope City II” and dropped his aptly titled second mixtape, The Storm. In 2016, he's continued his steady rise by bodying a freestyle on Sway in the Morning and selling out his first tour as a headliner.
River’s success thus far is probably as much a result of his talent as it is his commitment. All it takes is a quick listen to any of his mixtapes to prove he’s putting his best foot forward. But music isn't his only passion. The hunger that lives in River’s music can also be found on the field. The rhymer once pursued a professional soccer career in Europe when he was only 15.
Years later, his drive fueled him to wait six hours in a Toronto airport to rap for J.Cole. Now, that same ambition and desire for more has helped push the Mississauga rapper toward the top of the Canadian rap world. This year, he earned a Much Music Award nomination for his "Get Down" video, competing against the likes of Drake, Belly, Jazz Cartier and SonReal. In the coming months, he should reach more listeners than ever. Here’s why you should be one of them.
Name: John River
Hometown: Mississauga, Canada
I grew up listening to: “I grew up listening to a lot Lupe, 2Pac. Avril Lavigne was the first album I bought. 'Sk8er Boi' was so lit. Usher. I only started skating because my bike broke. Broke summers. It really opened up my music. Now I listen to Lady Gaga, Adele and a lot of great music.”
Most people don't know: “I speak fluent French. I sing Lady Gaga in the shower."
My standout records or moments to date have been: “One of our friends from the city passed away and he was also my mentor and we did a song for him. I really didn’t like making the song but it’s called ‘BLVD.' That was a really meaningful song for me. But for my career so far would definitely be 'Hope City II' because it was a typical 'can’t really see the light at the end of tunnel' [song] and you write a song and we have a granting system and I applied but didn’t think we were going to get anything. They were like you know what this is something we want to partner up on and the video broke onto TV and it changed my life. It’s the biggest video we’ve had in the history of our city as far as rap. It’s impacted so many lives in our city.
“I got to sit down with Sway. We had lunch in Toronto for four hours. You always know and you don’t need validation, but sometimes you do. In your head, you’re always like I think I might, but sometimes when someone gets a close look at you and you feel like they can see everything, we try to hide and put on the best exterior of ourselves, but they can really get a good look at you as whole. I think you need that sometimes. Definitely just getting to sit down with him and how he felt how everything was going and the direction it was going, meant a lot.”
My goal in hip-hop is: “To be the biggest rapper in the world and best rapper in the world. I’m so obsessed with being the best. You want to do all three: be the biggest rapper, be the best rapper, and impact the most people and change in the world.”
My style’s been compared to: “When I first came out I was compared to Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole.”
I'm going to be the next: "I'm going to be the next person hopefully, that can represent the people. I really want to be great and put my city on, but do it the right way. I know the hype around me is growing, I just want to deliver on the potential."
Standout: "Hope City II"
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