Not a lot of musicians can claim to have the attention of the biggest music names in their country, or have toured with one of the most successful acts of all time and have released an album all before the age of 23. But Canadian artist Pressa is one of the few that would fit the description.
With a fanbase that includes names like The Weeknd and Tory Lanez, while having been personally invited by Drake to be the opening act on his Boy Meets World Tour in 2017 (marking his first ever show), it would be easy to assume that Pressa is living his best life. Influenced by everyone from Michael Jackson and Tupac to 50 Cent and Bob Marley, it hasn’t always been like this for the up-and-coming rapper. Growing up in an area notorious for its history of gang violence and poverty, and with a father currently serving life in prison, it would’ve been easy for Pressa to follow in his pops’ footsteps, and carry on the life he was living before music.
But music literally did change his life, and as he celebrates the release of his debut album, Prestige—dedicated to his father—Complex UK caught up with Pressa while he spent time in London to talk about his start in music, his thought process behind the album, which UK artists he’s been working with, and more.
Firstly, congrats on the release of your debut album Prestige. Has the reception been what you expected considering it’s been over a year since your last release?
Honestly, I kind of just like… I don’t really know what tape is better than the other one. I don’t really compare them like that. On people listening? I think a lot of people are fucking with the tape.
Because you’ve been touring and performing internationally since your last project, 2017’s Press a Brick, does it feel like you have a lot more fans from outside of Canada messing with Prestige than on previous drops?
Yeah. Like, a lot of people that didn’t know me have been hitting me up and saying, “Yo! Your new project is fire!” And this is from places like Poland. I have fans that only know me from “Canada Goose” with Tory Lanez—they’ve never heard no other music of mine, so now they’re getting to hear some other stuff.
Apart from it being your debut album, what sets this project apart from your previous ones?
So my first project, Press Machine, that was more for the high-schoolers so they could play it in their high schools and stuff. My second tape was kind of a joint project with Bricks (producer BricksDaMane) so it was very fast because Bricks works very fast—it was created in like a week or two. And now my album, Prestige. It’s dedicated to my father. He got life in prison, so it’s about a lot of street stuff.
What made you decide to go in that direction?
You know what it is? I have, like, two different sides of fans: I have the street side, and then I have the young kids who go to school and are regular, good kids. So I kind of just try to feed both of them. If people are saying they need some street music, I’ll give it to them. But if after the kids want some more tunes for the girls or wavey tunes, then I’ll give them that as well.
Did you approach it differently in any way when you were making it?
There’s songs that I made that couldn’t go on the tape that I really liked. It was really just a street project. But then I threw in a couple of songs where I’m talking about girls and stuff, just so my couple odd fans who don’t like the street stuff could bump it and enjoy it.
I need to make it because if I don’t make it, I’m gonna disappoint a lot of people. I have a lot on my shoulders.
Looking in from the outside, it seems like things have happened quite quickly for you—but when did you actually start making music?
I always liked music. I used to make music when I was, like, in Grade 4. I used to have a tape recorder and I kinda just rapped, or whatever; I used to rap 50 Cent lyrics just to see what they would sound like with my voice, and then, later on, I started writing my own stuff. But when I started writing and putting stuff out on YouTube was like 2016, and then from there I’ve just been climbing and climbing.
What made you start taking it seriously at that point?
My best friend died. The police killed him, so I just knew I needed to rap. I wanted to make music.
It looks like you have a really cool relationship with Drake. Having opened up for him on his Boy Meets World Tour in 2017, how did it feel to be brought out again on the Assassination Vacation tour this year?
It was nice because the last time I was on tour, the Boy Meets World Tour, I was just the opening act, so when I came out I had to make the fans love my music. But when I came out on the Assassination Vacation tour, they already loved my music because they’re familiar with it. It’s all been a build-up.
How does it feel to get so much love from the biggest artists in Canada, such as The Weeknd, Tory Lanez and those guys.
I feel good about myself, and that I’m working and getting some stuff done—but I would do the same. When I’m big, if I like a young artist and I really fuck with their music, I’d promote them as well... It’s like a chain reaction.
Do you think you would’ve been like that anyway or do you think because of how they’ve treated you, that’s made you want to treat other artists like that?
I started rapping before them man shouted me out and I always had a dream for myself, you know what I mean? Obviously, they probably made it a lot easier for me with all the co-signs and stuff like that, like I probably wouldn’t have been in England right now but I definitely would’ve been somewhere making music and doing my thing as a rapper. When I first came out in Toronto, everybody was fucking with me—I was like the new wave.
Music has led you on a positive path, but for some reason, the Canadian press seem to find a way to link your past lifestyle with your music. Does this affect you in any way if any?
Basically, the media and stuff doesn’t affect me at all—it just makes it hard for me to do shows, and stuff like that. I just play it how it is, I just tell people what it is. If they’re gonna shut down the whole road because of what I’m saying, then I’m good with that too, you know? I just carry on with myself and do what I gotta do. I don’t really try to prove nothing to no one like that, you feel me? I just kind of do my own thing. But yeah, I do it for the fans who really rock with me.
Because of the position you are in now do you feel a responsibility to do your city or your area proud?
That’s exactly how I feel. I need to make it because if I don’t make it, I’m gonna disappoint a lot of people. I have a lot on my shoulders.
At this point who would be a dream collaboration for you?
I want to collaborate with Justin Bieber. I think that would be a hit.
We’ve seen that you’ve been in the studio with D-Block Europe, and you and Giggs have a relationship. How did those links come about and who else have you been rating from the UK?
I met Giggs on tour with Drake, and then I’m fuckin’ with D-Block Europe heavy! I’ve been talking to them for like a year, just like DMs and stuff—we fuck with each other’s music, and then I’ve finally come to London and we’ve got involved in the studio. But other than those guys, I like Yxng Bane’s music, Dave, J Hus.
What’s your favourite thing about London?
The O2 Arena. It’s definitely my favourite thing in this city. Performing there, doing some work there, the O2 Arena—for sure.