Jazz Cartier is back indie. The 27-year-old artist, best known for his acclaimed mixtape run in 2015 and 2016, has a dedicated fan base and a mind about his business. Having left both his label situation and his hometown of Toronto in the last two years, Jazz has spent that time fine-tuning his sound and building with his fans on a more organic level. As he tweeted on October 21, 2020, he believes “millions of followers” is not the key to success. Instead, “all you need is a solid fan base… numbers are weird. fans are not. don’t be fooled.”
Though Jazz Cartier had not released new music for two years, his fans have stayed ravenous and supportive. Jazz’s intentions and honesty have set him up not as a “celebrity” but as a relatable person who happens to make incredible music. He sees his 2018 debut album, Fleurever, as his favorite failure and took the change in scenery and newfound freedom from Universal Canada—where he didn’t see eye-to-eye with his in-house team—as fuel for his refined sound. His latest singles, “Disclosure” and “Basement,” reflect Jazz’s creative evolution.
Jazz Cartier, for all his musical prowess, is a man of the people. Incredibly self-aware, calling from his new base in Los Angeles, Jazz breaks down the impact going back indie has made on his music and how to relate to fans in a genuine way.
Go out on your own. “The Capitol thing was a partnership. I was signed to Universal Canada, and I left. The Capitol partnership almost wasn’t a partnership, which lasted less than six months. The Universal Canada thing… That was my biggest hurdle over the last few years, trying to get out of that contract. We weren’t seeing eye-to-eye. My managers also worked at the label, which was a huge conflict of interest. It came down to me wanting my independence and running my own shit.”
With great indie power comes great indie responsibility. “It’s a great feeling to be indie, but what people fail to understand is, it’s not as easy as people make it seem. You need a dedicated team. As an artist, you need to be more on your shit. When it comes to independence, a big reason why artists go to labels is because artists don’t reinvest their money into their craft. That’s the major part of being indie: reinvesting into your business. This is a business you’re running internally. There’s a lot of trial and error; I’m still learning myself! I’ve managed to sharpen my knowledge, and by the grace of God, I think I’m doing a pretty great job.
“I have a distributor, PIVTL Projects, and they’ve been helping a lot, but as far as independence goes… I feel like I have a lot of weight off my shoulders. I don’t have people asking for a certain type of song or things I don’t feel good doing. At the same time, it’s like, ‘How do you play the game and still retain integrity?’”
Hire your own people. “It happens to the best of us. What do you expect when you get 18-year-olds with no backing, and you put all this [money] in their face, and [the label] hires the lawyers. They’re trusting the lawyers! Then the lawyers are in cahoots [with the label]! Now that I’ve been through that process… Hire your own people! Make sure everybody is working for you.”
Hold true to yourself. “I’m in a better mindset because I’m not pressured to make songs I don’t feel like making. There’s a lot more creativity across the board. At the same time, I’m in LA now. It’s different than working back home in Toronto, but the beauty of life is putting yourself in uncomfortable situations and seeing what you get. I’m not trying to make your standard ‘Come to LA, palm trees’ type of music. I’m still trying to hold true to my essence and challenge myself as an artist.”
Ownership matters, if you make it matter. “Being able to say [I own my music] is a great feeling, but it only means so much. The music has to do something for the ownership to mean anything. I’m still trying to make records that would draw people in and bring them into my world. Hopefully, every drop for the next year or two will bring them into my world.”
Have a plan. “My plan is to do the next year and a half independent and then build enough leverage to have a JV (joint venture). That label machine is still very efficient, and it still opens you up to a whole new audience you can’t reach by yourself.”
Understand the power of leverage. “I’d be stupid not to [understand leverage]. What are you really in this for? Everybody gotta make money—you can’t make money yourself and everybody else [on your team] not eat! When I first signed, I had no leverage, so obviously, my deal was gonna be a shitty-ass deal. If I do go into another situation with leverage, there are multiple ways you can work out a contract to your benefit, and the label can push you.”
Put in 1000 percent. “Every creative—whether it’s music, journalism, cinema—we all start off as dreamers. In the end, we all die brokenhearted. Not in a romantic type of way, it’s more so… When you’re in love, and you break up, you experience inevitable heartbreak. If you’re in love with your craft and now you’re in the midst of it, there’s gonna come a time where no one’s gonna care, and the love won’t be the same. It’s inevitable for all of us. Me, knowing that, makes me give it my all every single time. God forbid, something can happen to me any day. I wanna be able to leave my mark like, ‘This kid put 1000 percent into every record, every single time.’”
Message your fans back. “I’ve made it a point to respond to every message I ever got from a fan. That helped a lot. Any time they would post something on IG, I message them and thank them. I would DM them after every comment. Spark conversations and engage. Even if I’m not posting a lot, I’m still engaging behind the scenes and doing things for my fans. Social media has changed a lot. Going forward, I’m going to have to be even more inviting and welcoming. I definitely did a great job by making sure my fans felt connected to me as a person. Even when I wasn’t putting things out for two years, I still had fans messaging me. Them getting a response [from] me makes them closer to me and loyal to our movement.”
Don’t forget: you’re just a person. “At the end of the day, so many artists become artists and forget they’re people! That shit is fucking wack. You were once a fan, too! Before you became whoever you are, if it’s music or not. If someone’s reaching out to you, that may take time out of your ‘busy schedule,’ but all fans want is some type of reaction. I pride myself on giving that to my fans.
“I appreciate it because, at the end of the day, I still ain’t shit! For people to care and to hold onto memories from 2016, 2017, 2018, and still ride with me to the end, I fuck with that because rap fans are so fickle!”
Learn from your failures, and let failure be okay. “My greatest failure, to me, was my ‘debut album,’ Fleurever. I say that because I went against the grain for who I was as an artist and totally allowed other entities to influence what I did. At the same time, from that moment, I realized who I was as a person, you know? That time in my life, I was in a different space, but it allowed me to grow into the man I am today because I can accept the failures and the process of trial and error. I can accept imperfection.
“As artists, we’re so obsessed with everything being perfect. For the first time, I felt like I didn’t live up to my own standards, and realizing that it’s okay. As of late, I’ve thought about that going into this album, and I’ve learned a lot from feeling like I failed.”
Photos by Bleu.