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Joe Impala is the trendsetter who helped influence the songs you couldn’t stop listening to this summer. Though he didn’t make the music himself, the singer-producer says he’s the one who brought dancehall-infused hip hop to the Toronto music scene. Popularized by local artists like Drake and Tory Lanez, Impala and long-time collaborator Ty Senoj were making traphall music before it even had a name—mainly because they came up with the term.
“Traphall… that’s my swag. That’s me,” Impala said about the musical style that combines southern American trap with Jamaican dancehall. “Traphall is the style of the streets right now influenced with my own upbringing.”
Impala’s Caribbean sound is found all throughout his music. As well as using dancehall elements, he also cites soca as a major influence. He credits this to growing up with a father who was well-versed in the genres.
Impala’s father, Tony “KB” Moore, was the pianist for 70s reggae band Earth, Roots and Water. The group’s 1977 album, Innocent Youths, is a rare piece of Canadian reggae history—the original LP is nearly extinct. In their heydays, Earth Roots and Water were opening for acts like The Police and The Stranglers.
Growing up with a father who was active in the local scene had its challenges, but also led Impala to understand music in a way many other local artists aren’t able to. “He’s very old school in regards to the way he does things. He’s a serious Rasta man and me putting the trap to it, or just the twist of hip hop in it, is the new generation. He doesn’t understand it. If I rap he’s not going to like it, but it’s my own path.”
And forging his own path is exactly what he did. When it came to music, Impala’s father didn’t let him learn the easy way. Instead of teaching his son how to play the piano, he made Impala figure things out for himself.
“Everything that I’ve learned has been me taking a few lessons, my dad telling me that I need to take lessons or I needed to learn things on my own,” Impala said. “He’d give me the recipe, like he’d say, ‘this is the recipe, but you got to figure it out.’”
Whether rapping or sitting comfortably in the producer seat, Impala made it a mission to create his own lane. His beats have been heard around the world, even being used by South Korean hip hop group It G Ma. Though being a producer requires compromise all the time, Impala says collaborations are enjoyable experiences that can lead to beautiful things.
“When I work with other people I find it very fun. It’s like you’re putting together a puzzle. You’re hearing their type of vocal or their style and you’re trying to incorporate it and making the best piece for them,” he says. “Once I hear what they’re trying to do I can kind of mold it to their style.”
But he does prefer working in-person, with artists in the same room. According to him, collaborating online doesn’t have the same genuine spark that comes when two artists share a space.
“If you’re far away from me and I’m just sending you beats, it’s not going to be the right vibe because you won’t get my initial idea, I won’t get your initial idea of what you want and that’s where the puzzle doesn’t come together,” he said.
Producing took Impala to L.A. this year. Working with Ricky Anthony and reggaeton artist Mr. Phillips, Impala says the L.A. wave—and weather—are different and unlike what he’s used to.
He ended up working on a compound that had 40 other studios in the same building. Toronto doesn’t have anything like this, yet, but he believes that’s a good thing.
“It’s sick, but people get distracted if you’re not focused. You can really tell who’s really bout their work and who’s not,” he said.“ There’s other people in the hallway that are just goofing around.”
So, what does the future hold in store for the artist and producer?
He plans to add entrepreneur to his title. In collaboration with fellow rapper/jeweller Mazz Amini, the pair plan to make 24K Recording Inc., a recording studio that would help mentor up and coming artists understand the music business and offer an affordable space to record.
At the root of it all, music is always going to be at the top of mind of this Toronto trendsetter.
“Anything that has to do with music, I just want to be a part of it. Engineering, producing and just me putting out music. I just need to be a part of music,” he said. “I’m just going to be working my ass off the rest of the year. I’m going to be working my ass off 2017 and so on and so forth. That’s what’s everyone’s going to see from Joe.”