Back before Boslen collaborated with fellow hotshot rappers like Charmaine and Snotty Nose Rez Kids, before he was signed to a big label, and before he got props from major publications like The Fader, he was one of the few bi-racial kids in a small B.C. town, fending off slurs like “jiggaboo” at the skate park. Born to both an Indigenous mother who raised him with her traditions in Chilliwack, outside of Vancouver, and a Jamaican dad he never met, the now 22-year-old is being touted as hip-hop’s next household name. Chalk that up to his split-sternum openhearted lyricism, refined taste in murkily atmospheric production, and vocals that verge from gravelly rap to baritone croon.
Ahead of the of release of his debut album DUSK to DAWN (out today; he’s signed to Capitol Records/Universal Music Canada in partnership with Chaos Club Digital), Boslen told us what his struggling younger self would think of his current success, why one of his songs made his mom cry, and what it was like to take up Vancouver’s rap torch from the city’s pioneering crew, Rascalz.
How did this album challenge you?
I tried to be vulnerable and introspective, which mostly came naturally. And I usually had fun making the music.
Anytime I had difficulty, my executive producer justsayin pushed me. Sometimes I’d be in the studio, feeling like I couldn’t do it. Like the song “Forsaken”—you know how its chorus escalates, then it has that distorted part? That took me 11 tries! He told me I had to keep going.
Tell us more about your working relationship with justsayin.
We’d go through samples until a melody sparked my creativity. We had a big white board with goals on it, including how we wanted the album to be timeless. My last project, Black Lotus, was something you could pick up and put down. But for DUSK to DAWN, we really wanted to have artistic integrity. Because Travis Scott, The Weeknd, and Kid Cudi all make albums with arcs all the way through, so you won’t want to skip songs, which is rare these days. So, I wanted people to slow down and listen all the way through. Because it wasn’t hits like “The Pursuit of Happiness” that made me a fan of Kid Cudi, but “Soundtrack 2 My Life.” For Travis, it wasn’t “Sicko Mode” or some shit, it was “Impossible.” Those album cuts help you really find out who the artist is.
Sounds like your time-honoured fellow Vancouverites Rascalz. What was it like to feature them on “Note to the City”?
My creative director Natasha Dion and I were looking back at old cats like Beastie Boys for artists to salute. And I realized I should look in my own backyard. After a bit of Googling “’90s Vancouver rappers,” this old MTV video came up with the Rascalz. That led me to “Northern Touch.” Then my knowledge of that era snowballed. My manager helped me arrange dinner with DJ Kemo. I told him Rascalz were true trailblazers for Vancouver, and invited them to be featured.
When we were working on the song and I heard the sample, and began writing from a female perspective. My executive producer pointed out Kanye West’s song “Homecoming,” where he raps about Chicago as a woman. So I rapped about what sounds like a girl, but is actually Vancouver. Then we brought in Rascalz, the Vancouver pioneers, because I wanted to make it a full circle moment.
Are you the one to finally put Vancouver on the map?
I remember when I first came here, I was sleeping on my manager’s couch. And we thought we were the shit. But we weren’t. I came in with a very competitive mentality, thinking “Who is Manila Grey? Who are these Vancouver artists doing well for themselves?” And I met them and tried to associate with them, and they inspired me a lot.
Maybe I’m the one to make Vancouver break through. Maybe not. But I know how bad my team and I want it. At least I’ll leave a trail of inspiration, which is the main thing.
“Maybe I’m the one to make Vancouver break through. Maybe not. But I know how bad my team and I want it.”
Does that competitive spirit you mentioned come from your days as a hotshot rugby player, before your ACL injury and decision to focus on music?
Not just from that. I was raised by a strong mother. And I wanted to be the man of the house, because we didn’t have one around until I was about nine. It gave me drive because I saw how hard she worked. When my stepdad came into the picture, he didn’t come from a lot of money either. So, their hard work instilled an extremely competitive mentality in me.
Speaking of your mom—does she have a favourite song of yours?
“Have You.” When she first heard it, she started bawling her eyes out.
That pre-chorus: “She’s a fire from beneath.” How it promotes female empowerment. It touched her. But at first, I thought she hated it, so I told her “I’ll turn it off, I’m sorry!” And then she told me why she loved it.
You wrote about not only your family, but also struggling to find your identity, in an essay for Atwood Magazine. How would the teen in that essay, who dealt with racial slurs, feel if he could see his future self, signed to a big label, and making his mom cry with “Have You”?
It just hit me yesterday— after working on this project for two years, my team and I are finally seeing the fruits of our labor. The younger me would be tripping. Because when you grow up in a small B.C. town, even visiting Vancouver is a shock. Now it seems so small. We’re all chasing that next thing. We’re never satisfied. But being a young man, and sacrificing to achieve… I’m just very proud of myself and my team, because we’re very focused. So, I think the younger me would be proud.
What was the toughest part of dedicating two years to this album?
To put it in perspective: this project was pushed five times. And it wasn’t anybody’s fault but mine. I’m not necessarily a perfectionist, but… [pauses]. Look at it this way: recently I was in L.A. working with this producer who worked with Kanye West. When I asked him what Ye is like, he said in order for him to drop something, all these elements need to align. And when they do, then he’ll say: “OK, we have to drop it now.” That resonates with me.
Because I’d be living in Hastings, not Vancouver’s prettiest area by any means, and my producer was sleeping on my couch. And we’d see other rappers blowing up on social media with songs they made in 30 minutes. But it was humbling, and instilled a lot of darkness that ultimately bled into my work. And that made it authentic.
There was never a doubt in my mind that we’d be where we are today, though. And I’ve never doubted that I’ll one day sell out the Rogers Arena. Because if I don’t believe that, no one will. I’m not trying to sound egotistical. But there are thousands of artists, man. Rap is a very competitive sport. And if the one thing that can separate me is my mentality, then so be it.
“The feeling of being overshadowed by other places is key for Vancouver, though. Everyone here moves knowing we have to do something. And not having it yet gives us a trailblazer mentality.”
It’s certainly more competitive now in Canada, and Vancouver, then when Rascalz first started.
Yeah, they told me how they think it’s saturated now. And I’ve talked to other Vancouver old cats like Madchild and Merkules about it too. They’ve seen it develop, and they’ve seen so many artists come and go. But I think more than anything, how the East and West Coasts are colliding is a beautiful thing. Because when the Rascalz hit big, New York and those types of places were popping, and Vancouver wasn’t known for hip-hop. So they took the industry by storm.
The feeling of being overshadowed by other places is key for Vancouver, though. Everyone here moves knowing we have to do something. And not having it yet gives us a trailblazer mentality. There’s a lot of potential here, a lot of kids making music, but it hasn’t been heard yet.
One thing that helps your music get heard and stand out is your knock-out one liners. Like on “Vultures,” the line about their talons bleeding. What inspired that?
I kept walking into rooms—no disrespect, I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit I do it sometimes too—but some people would only act like a friend to post it on Instagram. Or some people wouldn’t talk to me at all. Those vultures’ talons bleed. And it inspired me to make my circle really small [balls hand into a tight fist, as a visual].
That taught me so much about character. And it informed how my team and I move. When I was in L.A., I made a song called “Bulletproof.” It’s not out yet, but it’s also about keeping your circle small.
That vulture culling sounds like a painfully beneficial process.
One hundred percent. I only trust the people who are with me every single day. I live with my executive producer. Both my managers live down the street. We move as a unit. And my best friend is still in Chilliwack, my hometown. I’ve known him since Grade 6. And they’ll beat my ass if I act like an idiot. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Entourage, but it’s like that.
Who’s Drama in your crew? And does he have calf implants?
Man, I’m obsessed with Entourage. I loved when Kanye cameoed, wearing that dope polo.
Kanye seems to be a huge comedy nerd.
He’s the guy. I always get in arguments with people who say “Kanye is crazy.” Man, everyone’s crazy. And you don’t know what he goes through. The ability to break himself down and build himself up so many times—that takes so much courage.
And you’re looking forward to Donda, once all the stars perfectly align?
I am! It’s going to be crazy. Think about the amount of pressure he has. He’s considered that, and is trying to put his best foot forward. And if you don’t understand it now, you will.
Same goes for me on DUSK to DAWN—I didn’t want everyone to understand it right away, or think: “‘Forsaken’ is a pop record with a bit of distortion.” No, man. I want people to think: “What the fuck am I listening to?” I want to push the consumer’s brain. Even if I only have two seconds of fame, I want to use it boldly.
That’s a good approach, because you’re not only competing with other rappers. If you want people to listen to your album front to back, you’re up against TikTok and Netflix. Do you feel the pressure of the “attention economy?”
The only pressure was a desire for DUSK to DAWN to be timeless. That’s why we spent three days on the outro for “Dawn.” Or why we made the transition from “Forsaken” to “Have You” only last a millisecond. Those little things, a lot of people aren’t going to catch them. That’s the ugly truth for many creators—a lot of people won’t understand the art. But in time some will, and they’ll respect it all the more. I’m just after them. Because I guarantee you every moment on this album was intentional.