“Let me look real quick and show you. I gots the joints here,” said Jazz Cartier, smiling widely while thumbing through his phone. No, he wasn’t talking about new music, but instead virtual backgrounds during a recent Zoom interview with Complex Canada. And just like that, his L.A. living room was replaced by a red and white chessboard background on the video call that, coincidentally, matched the baseball hat he was wearing from Toronto brand Adidem Asterisks*.
The chessboard background is also fitting because the swiftly ascending Toronto-born rapper is working on a docu-series, in collaboration with rap legend Diddy and Compton MC Buddy, in which he tries to checkmate fellow rappers like Tierra Whack and Logic. The project finds Jazz turning a quarantine hobby into what he hopes will be an inspiration to “a whole generation of Black kids that look like us, and listen to the same music we do. We can show them they can play chess as well, that it’s not just a sport for people of other races.”
His quick-witted decision to put up the chessboard background on Zoom is also in keeping with the tone of “Nothin 2 Me,” Jazz’s recently released single with beloved Boston rapper Cousin Stizz. The single—like the rest of his forthcoming follow-up to his acclaimed 2018 debut Fleurever, which he says should drop before this summer—finds Jazz just having “more fun this go-around. Because sometimes I just get too in my head, and overthink things.” That sentiment also carries over to his demeanor in-conversation, during which he is good-humored, down to earth, and as deep-voiced and thoughtful as he is on wax, but also softer spoken and quicker to crack wise.
Below, Jazz Cartier tells us about working with Diddy, relocating to L.A., and starting a skincare line, before breaking down his writing process, shouting out his favorite Toronto up-and-comers, and much more.
What was it like to work with Cousin Stizz on “Nothin 2 Me?”
Stizz has been a very good friend of mine for the past six years. We have a lot of songs together that have not come out. But we both loved this one a lot— he was fuckin’ with it, I was fuckin’ with it, and we just put it out. He’s one of my favorite artists because of his storytelling, and his overall delivery. Knowing him as a person, I can confirm: the things he raps about are super authentic.
Will this song appear on your next album?
What else can you tell us about the new album, and how it is a progression from Fleurever?
It’s been three years since Fleurever. I’ve definitely improved my rapping, song making, and overall craft and delivery. I also just like to have more fun this go-around. Because sometimes I just get too in my head, and overthink things. My best in the studio occurs when I have fun. So it’s a collection of me having the best time possible on all the records.
That’s because people can sense when things are overthought, and not authentic. Too put-together, ya feel me? There has to be some sense of joy in the craft, for people to enjoy it. These are just things I’ve learned from being in LA, being in a lot of studio sessions, and seeing which songs come out and which songs don’t. The ones that do come out are the ones that start with everyone just fucking around, and it turns out to be something great.
A moment ago you talked about how your craft has improved. How did you achieve that?
Surrounding myself with amazing rappers. That definitely helps. I rap every single day of my life. I was in the studio until 3 a.m. last night. Any given night I can be in six studios. Someone might have a session, then you’ll bounce back to someone else’s. And you have to always be ready. I got a phone call the other day for a pretty big assignment to write for someone, and they needed a verse that night, in like six hours. I stay ready at all times.
Does that pressure make you the best you can be? Or can it be overwhelming?
This is what we dream of, you know? It’d be stupid to fold, now that you made it this far.
How has L.A. compared to your expectations?
People say L.A. is fake, but they’re around people that moved here. A lot of my friends are L.A. natives. So my experience is a lot more authentic. I’m grateful that I’m surrounded by people that can show me what L.A. culture really is. I love it, and wouldn’t change it for anything.
“We’re definitely tapping into the chess world, and excited to inspire a whole generation of Black kids that look like us, and listen to the same music we do. We can show them they can play chess as well, that’s it’s not just a sport for people of other races.”
And are those native Angelino collaborators excited to work with you, given how hot Toronto rap is now?
Yeah, I’m like a little dose of something from across the water. I’m always an asset in every room I’m in—personality-wise, music-wise, and just giving a different perspective.
Let me ask you a question: will this be a video interview, or a written one?
Written. I’m recording our Zoom call to transcribe the audio later.
Good, ‘cause I started off lying down on my sofa, and now I’m up walking around. Wouldn’t have looked good. So, just trying to make sure.
I appreciate you being so conscientious!
And is that a virtual Zoom background ya got there?
It is. My real walls are ugly.
I’ll have to get a background on mine too. Hold on, hold on. Let me look real quick and show you. I gots the joints. [Searches on his phone.] We gonna do a good one. Ya know what? I’m gonna do the chessboard. [A red and white vertical chess board pops up as Jazz’s background.]
Speaking of which: I wanted to ask you about the new chess series you’re working on.
Yeah! We played chess at the crib throughout the whole pandemic to pass time and clear our minds, and just to get inspired. And we got deeper and deeper into it, learning openings, counter attacks and strategies. We just developed this community of artists that play chess. Through posting a lot of our matches on Instagram, we got an opportunity to create a TV show about it. We’ll actually start shooting it this Saturday. Diddy is definitely a partner of mine on the show. I’m excited for the world to see it. And that’s about as much as I can say about it right now. But we’re definitely tapping into the chess world, and excited to inspire a whole generation of Black kids that look like us, and listen to the same music we do. We can show them they can play chess as well, that’s it’s not just a sport for people of other races.
Did you grow up playing, or pick it up cold during the pandemic?
I was in a chess club when I was like in second or third grade. So I knew how the pieces worked. But I didn’t get too deep into it. Not until the start of the pandemic. Then I locked in, was on chess.com, playing people across the world. It gave me the opportunity to connect with other people. Then we started getting really competitive—playing with clocks, some days playing four games simultaneously, even putting money games. Sometimes we’d wager close to a thousand dollars. We’re kind of ridiculous in that sense. I wouldn’t recommend anyone doing that. [Grins.]
So is it like the Queen’s Gambit of rap?
Yes, exactly. Buddy’s a part of the show. Logic can’t make the Saturday shoot, but he’s coming up Sunday. We definitely have some cool guests on the show that you’ll be able to see when it comes out.
Which of you gets the most checkmates?
I don’t want to toot my own horn. But I definitely hold my own.
Does Diddy play as well?
We spoke earlier this week. He knows of the game, but he wants us to give him a couple of lessons first, to help him be the best player he can be.
I can’t fathom what Diddy is like in person, because he’s such an icon. What impression has he left on you?
He’s Diddy, man. Just the way you’d imagine him to be. He’s the same off-camera as he is on-camera. He’s got that same drive he’s always been known for, and is definitely a forward thinker. And he’s just excited to see guys like us tap into a whole new space that needs to get shaken up a bit. And he’s all for that.
“My mom grew up playing Diddy, he was pretty much all I heard in my household. She put me on game. For me to even be in cahoots with him is pretty full circle.”
And like Diddy you’re diversifying crazily—I’ve heard you have a skincare line coming out?
I actually get my samples for it tomorrow. I’m super excited. Been working on it for the past few months. I’m not going to say an exact date, but it’ll come out soon. I’m super into skincare, and my biggest goal is to provide the same sort of luxury as the expensive brands, but make it affordable and eco-friendly.
Is this also an opportunity to educate guys who aren’t up on skincare? A few friends and I were joking recently, for instance, because one of the males in our group admitted to washing his face with dish soap when he was in a hurry. Much to the horror of the women present.
Wait, we can’t skip over your friend washing his face with dish soap. I’m going to pray for that man. Send his name to my publicist, and when the products come in, I’m going to send him pack.
My mom always instilled in me: “You can treat your body like a hooptie or a Bentley.” I want to treat my body like a Bentley with what I put into it, how I treat my outer body, and so on. Self-care is super important for your mental health, and overall mood toward everything. So this male narrative that you’re too macho to take care of your skin is outdated, and we need to start rewriting that for the generation behind us. Because what girl wants to talk to a guy with bad skin?
Are we talking lotions and creams?
The whole thing: cleanser, moisturizer, serum. And that’s just the start. That’s all I’m gonna say.
And is it too soon, or can you tell us what it’s called?
Hell no. [Laughs.] Not yet. But you’ll find out soon.
Is Diddy one of your inspirations when it comes to being so entrepreneurial?
Definitely. My mom grew up playing Diddy, he was pretty much all I heard in my household. She put me on game. For me to even be in cahoots with him is pretty full circle. She’s pretty excited. He’s an inspiration, so is Jay-Z. The music is just one vessel of expression that we choose to get into. I’m not going to limit myself to music. The chess show and the skincare line are a start, and I have other ideas as well. I’m just planting seeds for the next five to ten years.
Aside from the creative benefits, that also sounds smart financially.
God yeah. I’m trying to get to the chicken. Ya feel me? A big lesson I got from this past year is to be more financially literate. I’ve always been into crypto, but got even more into it this past year, and made some solid investments. I want to make even bigger ones, and take bigger risks. And also find ways to give back. That’s the biggest lesson in life: do what you want to do, make a good living off it, and give back, so that it comes full circle.
Do you take an equally socially conscious approach with your music?
I’m not trying to save the world. I’m trying to inspire. People who listen can change the world, by all means. That’s my contribution.
Can I ask about other collaborators on your new album, and if they have inspired you like you just described?
Nah. [Laughs.] Too soon. But the album’s coming soon. We’re finishing the mixes now. The world should be able to hear it before summer.
That’s exciting! So if it’s too soon to further talk about the new album, how about some of the best tracks from Fleurever? Like your song “Function,” with lyrics about a girl who “got plenty options” and doesn’t care about designer brands. How does it feel to lift your female listeners up, especially given the criticism rap has received over the years for misogyny?
It’s just some real shit. The brands you wear don’t make you any better than the next person. I met some of the realest women that don’t care about all that shit. So the song is just a real observation.
And what inspired your lyric about praying for missing girls on “Soul Searcher?”
That song was such an out of body experience, because as much as I wrote it, it also just came to me. It was just me, reflecting. I was on my way to the studio but took a detour, and drove around my old neighborhood back home. I took the TTC that day, just to clear my head. The whole verse was just me being as real as I can be, so that people can understand it’s OK to have flaws. And, at the end of the day, I’m still soul searching.
Do you often feel like songs just come to you, or is it usually a more active approach?
It varies. With my newer stuff, everything just came to me in the studio. Either in the moment, or I did mumbles and came back after listening to it for three days, and the words just came when I got back to the studio. And I just put it down.
Do you have favorite notebooks or pens to write with, or do you just write on your phone? Or is it off the dome, like Jay-Z?
I definitely come off the head. But I also keep notebooks, for reflection purposes only. I’ll write down how my days went. Or every birthday I’ll write down how I’m feeling, both the eve of and the day of. That way I can circle back, and pinpoint how I was feeling on certain days. Which definitely helps with music.
Did you have a mentor that taught you that process?
I just came up with it over time. I learned everything as I went. I wish I’d had a mentor.
On the flipside: are there young artists that you’ve taken under your wing?
I’m still close with a lot of young kids coming up back home. Every young artist I’m fucking with, if they have a song out I’m always sending it to the right people to get it heard, whether they know about it or not, to help them out.
I really like Duvy a lot. I should be careful, I’m going to miss people. Also Jugger. I’ll leave it that. I’m also always wearing Toronto brands. This is an Adidem Asterisks* hat. [Reaches up, grabs baseball hat by the brim and tips it back.] And this is a Going Ghost In the Suburbs sweater, and this is a Never Again Almost Guilty T-shirt. That’s because my sole purpose is to push Toronto forward as much as I can.