Nicholas Craven's Most Essential Canadian Collaborations

Nicholas Craven is one of rap's most in-demand producers, but he saves some of his best beats for fellow Canadians. Here are 7 of his finest Canadian collabs.

Montreal producer Nicholas Craven

Montreal producer Nicholas Craven

Montreal producer Nicholas Craven

In the underbelly of Montreal’s rap scene, you can find Nicholas Craven chopping up an obscure vocal sample that will eventually drift over a quaint drum-less loop for several minutes. Accompanying him is usually a rapper nonchalantly spitting a vivid portrait of themselves as the hushed voice Craven sampled earlier lurks in the background until they both fade. The music is contained and meticulously organized, almost like a collection of his beats could score a Scorsese mob film. His collaborators rarely struggle to rap over his instrumentals, they’re often malleable enough to make even the oddest flows work. 

Craven doesn’t always rely on outside voices to make his beats shine. His earlier projects, dating back to the late 2010s, were largely self-contained tapes filled with only instrumentals. On their own, they provide warmth through the power of mostly women’s voices and subtle orchestras. With a friend, though, they expand entirely, almost as if they’re shifting universes to accommodate the stories his collaborators aim to tell.

To this day, Craven’s work is expansive, having worked with local up-and-comers like Mike Shabb and Chung as well as underground mainstays like Mach-Hommy and Boldy James. Sometimes they come in the form of a single. Other times, he produces an entire album like both parts of Akhenaton’s Latin Quarter and Ransom’s Deleted Scenes. On a rare occasion, Craven will release his own album like the Craven N trilogy. With a discography more than a dozen albums deep, it can be overwhelming to decide where to start. To make things easier, we’ve compiled an entry point to Craven’s music that highlights the vast library he’s built for himself thus far.

Rowjay, "Exercise De Finesse"

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Project: Carnaval De Finesse 2: Les Chroniques D’Un Jeune Entrepreneur

Release Date: Nov. 19, 2021

Montreal native Rowjay has a signature sense of humour that’s riddled across his music. Rapping over Craven’s sombre beat, he doesn’t lose a step, opting for more subtle bits and cheeky bars about wearing Bape “Toujours camouflé, vêtu de la tête de babouin,” he raps, roughly translating to “always wearing camo, wearing that baboon head,” referencing the brand’s signature logo. The vocal sample Craven is known for is slightly muted but ever-present. It’s a victory lap for two Montreal-based artists who’ve both developed significant fanbases over the years.

Chung, "Bellona"

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Project: See You, When I C U

Release Date: Sept. 19, 2022

Montreal rapper Chung has been steadily increasing her own stock. In 2021, she released Chung Shui EP with producer Cotola, whose drumless beats are not dissimilar to Craven’s. Just a year later she’s returned with follow-up album See You, When I C U, entirely produced by Craven and Mike Shabb. The project’s lead single sees a collected Chung, whose flow is even cooler and more collected than it was just a year back. Clocking in just under two minutes, Chung is straight to the point, rapping like she’s got somewhere to be without showing any signs of impatience.

Jimmie D, "Wowzers"

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Project: Rockhead Paradise

Release Date: Aug. 31, 2018

Jimmie D’s deep voice is one of the most unique in Quebec. His straightforward, no-frills flow is menacing in nature but also weirdly welcoming at the same time. His confidence is subtle, going against Craven’s glitzier beat, claiming he can “rap over this infinite loop of death.” The contrast works well, giving the nocturnal verse a jolt of energy over an instrumental that’s slightly brighter and faster-paced than what we’re used to. Craven has been collaborating with Jimmie D longer than just about anyone.

Nicholas Craven & Connaisseur Ticaso, "Nouvelle Religion"

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Project: Craven N 3

Release Date: Feb. 18, 2022

Nicholas Craven’s final entry of his Craven N series continued his streak of varied rap features spread out over the course of an entire album. The penultimate track, “Nouvelle religion,” strays from the formula, but the soulfulness of the vocal sample provides Quebec street rap veteran Ticaso with a wide open landscape to vent about the paranoia that plagues him. Worries about dying young are abundant, but there’s a hopeful tone in his voice that signifies that he’s ushering in a new era where he won’t have to worry as much down the line.

Raz Fresco f/ Jimmie D and The 6th Letter, "Bad Reflection"

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Project: Boulangerie

Release Date: May 27, 2022

“Bad Reflection” is one of Craven’s most haunting beats to date, featuring a wispy harmony sampled over a minimalistic backdrop of strings. Brampton’s Raz Fresco takes the helm early, rapping in a focused and concise manner but avoids hogging the spotlight. It has a cypher energy and features the unmistakable baritones of Jimmie D and The 6th Letter, who both complement the solemn nature of the instrumental.

D-Track f/ Akhenaton, "Soroche"

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Project: Hull

Release Date: Nov. 5, 2021

Gatineau-area francophone MC D-Track and Nicholas Craven go way back. In 2021, they finally released Hull, a long overdue collaborative album that perfected the chemistry between them that sparked years prior when they first started working. “Soroche” with legendary IAM member Akhenaton sees Craven channel his inner J Dilla with a beat that dances around the rules of time that Jay Dee was known to bend. The song also proved to turn Akhenaton’s head as a year later, both Craven and Akhenaton dropped Latin Quarter, a collaborative project that came in two distinct and lively parts.

Mike Shabb, "Island Boy"

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Project: Sewaside II

Release Date: Mar. 3, 2022

Mike Shabb’s Sewaside II marked an important left turn for the Montreal rapper. Abandoning his melodic and mainstream sound from his previous projects, Life is Short and Quarantine Flows, Shabb opted for fewer drums, clearly influenced by the trend of drumless, sample-heavy loops. “Island Boy,” the closing track of Sewaside II is a slight nod toward meme rap duo Island Boys but isn’t much of a joke. Sure, the beat is breezy and laidback, and Shabb’s flow is casual and unassuming but his lyrics are as grim and harrowing as the rest of the album. While “Island Boy” is the only track on the album that Craven actively produced, it’s a sign that these two together are quickly becoming a Quebec-bred tour-de-force.

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