Left: Yancham; Right: Shah Vincent de Paul
A Jaffna-born rapper had caught the attention of Indians everywhere, with his Mrithangam Raps series last year. Shah Vincent de Paul, the creator of Carnatic Rap — an entirely new fusion of classical Eastern instruments with Western-influenced rap — has been at the forefront of the global South Asian arts renaissance. Now he is touring India all of this month on the back of a stellar mixtape. Known for his versatile songwriting, razor-sharp rapping skills and strong visual aesthetic, Shah Vincent de Paul also grew as a director in 2019, with six music videos to his name. We spoke to the talented artist about his journey and craft.
Could you tell us a little about yourself and your journey so far?
I was born in Jaffna and moved to Toronto with my family when I was six. I grew up in a suburb called Brampton and eventually settled in downtown Toronto. I studied English and Anthropology at the University of Toronto. After being a part of a different rap groups, I released my solo debut album in 2016.
How did music find its way into your life?
I’ve always been a creative soul, music was just one of the avenues of expression. It wasn’t until I heard groups like OutKast and Hieroglyphics that I was propelled to pursue it full time.
You found your passion in rap music when you were in high school. Tell me a little more about that time.
Those were my formative years. That’s when I fell in love with rap. Music and art weren’t prevalent in my house, which is why I fell in love with rap even more deeply. It was something I had discovered on my own and had an immediate love for. I started rapping when I was 16. My early influences were Nas, Hieroglyphics, Outkast, DMX, Biggie, Big Pun, Big L, RasKass, Fugees, and that era of artists. I was always drawn to lyricists growing up. I loved studying and revisiting verses, and discovering new things in them, each time I listened to them. Most of my time was spent practicing, learning the craft and sharpening my skills. I was still finding my voice, participating in various groups and learning about the industry.
What inspires you as a musician?
My experiences, my relationships and my daughter. Artistically, I’m influenced by a lot of films and visual art. Since I wasn’t trained musically, it’s easier for me to approach my music visually.
Do you find solace in music?
For sure, it’s been my saviour. There’s nothing that my art can’t get me through.
What defines your voice as an artist?
My songs talk about everything from love, perseverance, god, relationships, sex, culture, material wealth and spirituality. There is no limit to what I write about.
Living in Canada, how do you explore your identity through music?
My Tamil connection seeps down through my family. My parents would have the Tamil radio on most of the day. I grew up in a Tamil household but my neighbourhood was not Tamilian, as we were one of the few Tamil families in Brampton at the time. I’ve always felt connected to my Tamil roots personally, but artistically my influences were definitely American rap, that’s the culture that raised me to become the artist I am today. I was juggling two cultures, being connected to my Tamil roots while navigating through the western space of art and culture.
Could you tell us a little more about your latest, yet-to-be-released album, Made in Jaffna.
It is definitely my most autobiographical work to date. I’ve been working on it for the last three years. My first album, Saviors, was a conversation with God, and second album Trigger Happy Heartbreak, was a conversation with my lover. Made in Jaffna is for my community, my Tamil community, my South Asian community. It expresses many things I’ve held back on previous albums because I feared they would fall on deaf ears. I finally have a platform where people are listening, so I’m giving it my everything. There are no filters on this record, and I speak some harsh truths. I might end up losing some fans when I release it but the message is bigger than me, bigger than music. There are certain things that must be addressed, and that is what the record will do.
How has the India tour been so far?
Highpoint was definitely connecting with the fans out here. Performing at the VH1 Supersonic was quite an experience, especially for my first time performing in India. We purposely booked Chennai as the last stop because it has been the most supportive city. Chennai really does feel like home to us. The city has been treating us so well, so naturally I have high expectations for the show.
Lastly, 2020 will be?