INTERVIEW: Toronto's rising star Pressa talks to HNHH about working with Murda Beatz and Tory Lanez, performing for the first time as Drake's opener on the "Boy Meets World Tour" and prospering while the odds are against him.
Over the past few years, Toronto has become a hotspot for new music. Of course, artists like Drake, The Weeknd and Tory Lanez have helped put a spotlight on their city and the talent that emerges from it. Those three artists in specific have helped open the doors for other artists from Toronto to get their foot through. One of those artists in particular is Pressa. Hailing from the Jane and Finch neighborhood, an area with a history of poverty, violence and gangs, Pressa’s gone from making viral hits in his home studio while on house arrest to being personally invited by Drake to open up the “Boy Meets World” tour.
Despite the success he’s seen over the last year, his past is still something that haunts him. The Toronto Police dubbed him as a leader of the Young Buck Killers. In addition, both his brother and his father’s criminal history also put weight on him. However, he’s constantly doing his best to not only maintain his career as a rapper, but eventually have an opportunity to help others out from his neighborhood.
While singles like “Deadmihana” and “T.B.H.” grew a local and national buzz throughout Canada, what really helped launch his career was a collaboration he did with Murda Beatz for Keep God First. “Novacane” instantly blew up upon its release and garnered the attention from an American market. Meek Mill and The Weeknd ended up posting it on their Instagram page while Drake went on to dub the song “a classic record.”
Since then, the rapper released two projects within a year span of each other. At the beginning of 2017, he released Press Machine and by the time the year ended, he dropped off Pressa Brick. The latter carried his second and most successful single with Tory Lanez, “Canada Goose.”
HNHH: You had a buzz going in the streets with songs like “Wassi Gang” “Deadmihana” and “T.B.H” but “Novacane” seemed to be the song that really helped things pop off for you, in Toronto and globally. How did that song come about and how did you end up linking up with Murda Beatz?
Pressa: I know “Novacane” probably got me like maybe, American [fans] because I had a lot of people posting it and stuff but in Toronto, my first couple songs were like the biggest in the city at the time they were out, you know?
When “Novacane” came out, it was more hype [around the song]. [Murda Beatz] hit me up saying “I’m doing this Keep God First mixtape.” So I was like “Yeah? Alright.” He said, “You want a song [on it]?” He said it’s dropping in two days, right? So he sent me the beat like two days [before]. I recorded “Novacane” in my room while I was on house arrest. I was on house arrest for some charges. And I just recorded it in my room but I sent it over to Murda to get it mixed.
I had my set up. As soon I got on house arrest, I just invested in my home studio right away. I ended up banging out that song right away. He sent me the beat, I sent it back to him in 24 hours. Got it mixed in the next 24 hours. And we made the Keep God First mixtape.
Soon as that came out, I was getting hella feedback. Meek Mill posted it and then when [he] posted it, that’s when “Novacane” kind of went up more too as well. It was on the mixtape, it had its buzz because it’s on his mixtape but it had my city buzz and then after Meek Mill gave it a extra fire and then after, the Weeknd also posted “Novacane” on his story and a bunch of other people were posting it as well. That’s how “Novacane” came about. Then I went to Europe with Drake and I was performing “Novacane.” I toured with that single, as well.
Your music is rooted in Toronto streets. It’s evident in the lingo you use and how you describe certain scenarios in your music. However, your music’s gained global appeal. How is it seeing people from all different backgrounds that differ from yours sing along to your music?
I always keep my city, I’m always focused on my city as well, right? [As long as I] keep my city hot, they’re always going to feel me.
It’s nice [seeing U.K. audience enjoying my music] ‘cause I want to show my life and they’re catching on to me, slowly but surely. It’s nice for them to watch me grow as well. I like how they’re paying attention so they’re [following] me because they want to know what’s going on in my life and pick out whatever they can relate to and they want to see what’s up with this artist and just watch me. Social media is kind of big now, because they could watch your life. It’s not just music videos, they see you. They see you everyday now, they feel like you’re apart of their life. When they’re seeing me, like my background and stuff, where I come from and my history and the culture that I come from, it’s a very popular culture already. It’s a culture itself, you know? Like what I come from. All the rapping and the gangster music and the singing, whatever. All that culture is its own culture and its all over the world. So you’re just tapping into everybody all over the world and then they feel apart of you now. You’re building your nation, you could call it. ‘Cause now you see people look at a lot of artists. They have like 50 million followers and stuff, as well. That’s like a whole nation. So that’s like a whole nation following you.
On “Wassi Callin,” you said “Cops keep tellin’ venues not to book my shows.” It’s something that seems to ring true. Your first show in TO was booked in the city then had to get pushed to Oshawa which ultimately got cancelled. How are you finding booking shows these days in your own city?
I don’t even bother with it, honestly. I don’t even try no more. I’ll be a surprise guest, that’s the only time I’ll come out in my city. ‘Cause I know my whole city listens to me already so like when I hit the stage, they’re like “what the heck?” I couldn’t go to Miami and do that and just jump out and have like 5000 people just already rockin’ with me. I could do it in my city, though. That’s why I don’t bother bookin’ in my city. But I do book everywhere else. Like around my city [and] out of the province. I’ll do a lot of out west shows or east coast shows. I’ll work with all those but [when it comes] to my city, I’ll just be a special guest just for my fans or just to do it, too. I’d love to perform for Toronto all the time but my situations as of late, the curriculums I’m under and stuff, it puts me off path and stuff so I can’t do what I want. Like I can’t go rent out a venue and sell my own merch, book my own tickets and find someone with a liquor license and now they could sell liquor. That’s what I’ll always try to do like try to exceed the maximum profits out of my shows as well. Sometimes I take shows like if [offers] come through like 7 racks, 8 racks, 10 racks. I try to do the whole set up myself.
Yeah so if I do a show in Toronto or anything, I’ll just have an artist bring me out. Like [Lil Uzi Vert] brought me out last time. I wouldn’t do it for money, I’ll just do it for the city.
Speaking of shows, your first was in the U.K. alongside Drake for his “Boy Meets World” tour. How did that come about?
This is after “Novacane” popped. Drake also said it was a classic record so he liked it. And then, they were in Europe doing a show. I just came back from Jamaica that January and when I came back to Toronto, I was on house arrest ‘cause I was on charges. I stayed in Toronto for maybe a week. I knew they were in Europe and I have friend who’s the OVO basketball coach names Banana Coach he’s from the same area as me.He comes from Jane and Finch which is my area. And he’s connected with them and I was kind of communicating with [OVO] Niko. He’s one of the people that really reached out to me from OVO. I used to always have conversations with Niko over Snapchat and what not. So I had a couple people vouching for me and other people saying, “Pressa’s good. You should do some stuff with him. Like you should Bring him to Europe and stuff.” They told me come through to Europe. I was on currently under house arrest but I had trouble getting permission from the courts. And eventually, my lawyer got me in. And then I went over to Europe and I went to meet Drake at a club called libertines in London. He had a little backroom and we just kind of went there and we were just chillin’ and drinking partying. He added me on Snapchat randomly, but before I went to Europe, I’m a big fan of his stuff like his music since best I ever had.
I’m a big fan of his stuff like his music. I was used to listen to his music in jail and stuff. So they told me, ‘Come through to Europe.’ I met Drake at Libertines and the next day, he hit me up [like] ‘Yo, you should open up. You should be the opening act for the tour.” I was like ‘yeah’, I’m excited. I went to Birmingham and that’s where my first show was.
Drake received backlash by Toronto authorities for bringing you on tour. A detective that’s on your case said he found it troubling that Drake, who he said is a literal mentor to the youth, had you overseas opening his tour. What was your reaction to that?
I just felt like I’m always… I live my life with weight on my back. I live with something that’s dragging me all the time. The media attacks me but I’ve just been trying to make it out of poverty and change my life and environment. They claim I’m a gang member because of where I come from. I was born in the projects, a recycling of gangs. The same thing I went through, kids are going through now. And they don’t even know it. The thing with that is like they talk about me in the news all the time in my city. So, I just kind of try to stay under the radar. the media’s just on my name because my music is going well and they say I’m a bad guy so it gives them a bigger story to sell and they try sell it the best way they can plus my brother got 10 years and my dad got life in jail. He’s from my area as well so the police division there has a history with my family so all that adds to the fuel. My older brother, he got 10 years. They just think that I’m trying to follow in my brother or my father’s footsteps and I just want to do music. I just want to get this money and be a global superstar. I was just trying to work through everything else. It’s like I’m in a burning house, I’m out of the house [?? 17:13 ] and my feet are still in the fire. My whole body’s out but my feet are still in the fire. And it’s people dragging my feet, keeping me in the fire and its people dragging my feet, like keeping me in the fire when I’m trying to get out. I’m just trying to do right for me and my family.
I been on tour and I’ve been on their page and stuff and my name’s so hot and me connected with [Drake’s] name I felt is ruining their brand. I thought I wasn’t going to do no more shows. So, I was talkin’ to them and I told the guys at the OVO camp, “Yeah, it’s all good, bro. If it’s ruining your guys brand, there’s no feelings if I can’t work no more.” Then they said, “No, your crazy bro! Don’t worry bro, that’s just the media talking shit.” But I was just telling them, I was lookin’ out for them, as well, as a brand.
I’m not going to just look out for myself, I’ll look out for other people’s stuff too. Whatever makes sense in life, that’s what I run with.
Tory Lanez has a friend named Nyce under the Umbrella movement. Nyce who is tory’s good friend, got caught with my brother back in the day, Also Tory Lanez has people around him connected from my hood. Also VeeCee he is Tory’s DJ, he went to school with one of my close close friends, then after that Tory tweeted my lyrics from my first song that came out “Wass Gang”. We were also chilling with him in Europe.
And [Tory] tweeted out one of my lyrics to one of my first song’s that came out, “Wass Gang.”
We up to fuckery in my ends/ I’m talkin’ dirtbikes in the A.M.
I was chillin’ with him in Europe and shit. Now, I just send him records. I sent him “Canada Goose” and he got on it. But, I had a song with him before with him, “Oh My.”
What’s been the biggest shift in your life since garnering this attention?
I don’t have to do things that I used when I was younger to get money. Now, I could just try and do a feature or something like that or I get my mixtape royalties. Or I get an advance from like a song from a label, you know what I mean? So now I get money in a different way and it keeps me out of trouble and it keeps me just working and living the life. I live a good life. It just gets better and better.
“Press Machine” and “Press A Brick” seem to capture two different parts of your life even though they were released within the same year. What was your mentality when making Press Machine compared to Press A Brick?
So, Press Machine, I was on some charges around this time my name was hot but I wanted [to drop] my mixtape. Then, they threw me in the media and stuff so that always bothered me with my music and stuff. So I wanted to be able to be a global superstar, you know what I mean? I just don’t want to be a rapper. So my first mixtape, I said, “I’m not going to give it to them too rough” because I know I’m already so heated in my city as well. I just said I’ll just keep them a bunch of like, school, girls, radio type vibe songs. Like “T.B.H” and “Diamonds Dancing.” Press Machine, is like a mixtape you put on for like an Uber driver, let’s say.
I’ll ask him what kind of music he likes and if he likes rap, I’ll be like, ‘listen to Press A Brick.’ But if it’s a girl Uber driver, I’ll say, ‘here, listen to Press Machine,’ and I’ll put on something that she could relate to or she likes. I just wanted my music to be able to play all different genres. If I could do like different type of music, like reggae or anything else, I’ll do it. None of my music is ever the same. Like, I’ll never come [and] use the same flow on a song. My music is always different, I just always go with the beat and create.
So yeah, the difference between Press Machine and Press A Brick. Press Machine, those songs on that mixtape, it’s more you could play [at] a high school. And then, Press A Brick is more for the streets and I recorded it in Europe and I was like tired of the heat. ‘Cause basically, Press Machine now I get a lot of feedback from girls, young kids, adults…
I made Press A Brick for the streets so the streets could be like ‘Yeah man.’ So I could give them something to listen to. I’m playing with two different crowds. That’s what I’m doing. And I don’t like to mix them too much. I rather just do different genres. I just make music for people. Press Machine’s music for people like that go to school and PressaBrick is more for the streets.
You’re part of this new wave of Toronto hip hop with the likes of Robin Banks and several others. Who are some other rappers in the city that you’re rocking with these days?
FB, Robin Banks, Big Billz, GD, Tall Up Twinz, Burna… That’s who I’m really like kinda rockin’ with in the city. And Killy too. Killy’s one of my dawgs I met in the Toronto industry scene. In Vancouver, I always see him a lot. We got in the studio together me and him got something coming. But I’m just kind of more focused on like people from my area that want to rap ‘cause I want to give people I grew up with a career. I don’t really have time for people right now unless its beneficial or a friend of mines
How’s your perception of the world changed since touring around the globe?
You know what it is, it opens up my eyes. I’m really like [focused]. I’m always trying to pick at something that I like so if I like something I’m locked and focused on it like the industry so I’m learning right now as we speak It’s like reading a textbook, you know?
I’m focused on the industry, right? So while I’m focused on the industry, I always have my head on something. If I’m interested in something, I put my head at it and I break it down and I need to know all about it. So now my head is on focused on the industry and how to break it down, how to market myself better, building connections, tapping into other routes and etc. I’m dedicated and focused on BFR, Blue Feathers Records my own label because that’s my brand and that is what I’m learning, I’m learning everything that’s revolving around Pressa as an artist and taken notes. So while I’m learning all that, it’s opening up my eyes. I didn’t finish school but I understand, I’m hella street smart and I understand knowledge, you know? And right now, I’m trying to soak up all the knowledge from here. Who knows, my head could switch and my head is interested in a whole different lane, that’s just the person I am. I won’t do something I don’t like just to succeed, I kind of break it down life from good and bad so I guess that’s what I’m doing with my life as an artist. So, I see and meet a lot of people and organizations so I just pick out the good and bad Berry’s, I travel a lot and experience all different people and places.
‘Cause I’m living in the industry world, you know what I mean? So everything in my life is going to revolve around and this industry because that’s what my heads focused on and I go to sleep and I wake up thinking about music and stuff so my life is dedicated to music at the moment.
What’s the next move for you in music?
I’m working on a few things. I won’t touch too much what I’m working on, I like to surprise my fans and stuff. I don’t really like to preview my work. I rather them see it and get attached to it right away. I don’t want them to get attached to a preview and then they thought something else. I just give it to them.