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.