Leading by example instead of following trends, Killy’s melodic, dark, ambient, trap sound is redefining Toronto’s hip-hop sound.
In February 2017, a mysterious new rapper by the name of Killy dropped a video for a song called “Killamonjaro.” The music video was unlike anything on the Toronto hip-hop scene at the time, featuring a futuristic Matrix-meets-anime aesthetic that made Killy stand out from the growing wave of rappers from the city.
As of late April 2018, “Killamonjaro” sat at nearly 16.5 million views on YouTube and proved that there was indeed a lane in hip-hop for someone as unique as Killy. His subsequent music has also done very well and his debut album Surrender Your Soul accumulated millions of streams and spawned his popular follow-up single “No Sad No Bad.” The 20-year-old rapper has been able to capture a younger demographic than a lot of his Toronto peers and make music that is connecting directly with the youth on deep level.
To fully understand why Killy has been able to find such a loyal audience, it’s important to have an idea of his background. Many have referred to him as a “Toronto rapper” and that is true — to an extent. Killy was indeed born in Toronto to a Filipino mother and Barbadian father, but he moved to Victoria as a child and spent plenty of time in a white suburban neighbourhood growing up. He then moved back to Toronto when he was in high school and eventually went on to pursue music seriously while there.
That background is a big part of what has made Killy such a standout star among his Toronto hip-hop peers. Unlike some of the city’s biggest acts like Drake and The Weeknd, his musical palette is made up of influences from eastern and western Canada. That might not seem all that important at first, but when you consider how he was initially labelled as “emo rap” by a lot of blogs when he first came out — things start to click a little.
That experience of living in a white suburbia while having both black and asian roots is a life experience all in itself. Killy cryptically addresses this on his song “Stolen Identity,” but you really have to listen to his music from a sonic perspective to get a real understanding of his influences.
There are the obvious hip-hop influences that inform his sound, but there are also some subtle emo and punk undertones that allow him to exude a different emotional vocal range than most rappers in his bracket. It’s not farfetched to think a lot of those influences came from being around young white middle schoolers who were probably listening to a lot of Good Charlotte and My Chemical Romance.
The sound that Killy has cultivated is truly unlike anything else on the Toronto hip-hop scene. There are rappers who have integrated a dark and moody aesthetic to their music, but no one has really bent the style and delivery like Killy has. He feels like someone from a different place and at the same time familiar and that’s a big part of why so many young white kids from the suburbs seem to be able to relate to him and his music.
Killy isn’t some kind of lyrical mastermind here to save hip-hop from self-imploding into a sea of mumbles — he’s simply living his truth through his music. He isn’t a one-dimensional hip-hop artist and he can distort his vocals into whine-like singing and more conventional rapid-fire bars.
At the core of it, Killy is really a product of multiculturalism and while his journey to hip-hop stardom is far from finished, he already understands that you have to reach the youth in order to make the greatest impact on the culture and there are millions from that same youth pool who can relate to his look and sound that will continue to discover him in the years to come.