Lean Forward: Gangsta Rap, Toronto, and Big Lean

Slava P has reviewed 83 of the Toronto pharmacies on Yelp. If you’ve been paying attention to the emerging Toronto music scene, you may recognize Big Lean as the rapper who was able to snag a...
By    August 7, 2013

big_lean_2Slava P has reviewed 83 of the Toronto pharmacies on Yelp.

If you’ve been paying attention to the emerging Toronto music scene, you may recognize Big Lean as the rapper who was able to snag a Chief Keef cameo before Keith went to jail (the first time) in addition to Chinx Drugz & Juicy J features. It’s impressive for a novice rapper to secure these types of guests for his debut mixtape, considering he had little buzz outside of his resident Parma Court prior to “Can’t Stop Now” being released. But what’s most noteworthy is how different the finished project sounds from the singles.

Based on the Keef and Chinx songs, you’d except Big Lean to release a tape that caters to low level drug dealers and hustlers looking to make a name for themselves. “My Life Style” with Keef has Big Lean bragging about his ice, money, cars and hoes and on “Squeeze” we are regaled with more street bravado, this time featuring a Coke Boy. But when played in its entirety, Big Lean’s Can’t Stop Now provides a different feel from what these street-centric singles promised.

This is the album that French Montana wishes Diddy allowed him to make. It’s desperate, heartfelt and at times tender, while still maintaining a certain level of credibility. Throughout these 15 songs we’re exposed to all the different parts of Big Lean, sometimes rapping and sometimes trying to sing. He’s the hustler who doesn’t trust women unless they’re stripping, the adolescent who just purchased his first condo, the naive street kid who would fold his twenty dollar bills so they would look thicker.

For a rapper who was previously best known for being the most popular act in Parma Court, Big Lean has done a fantastic job of curating the supporting talent that’s associated with this debut. The aforementioned American ratchet squad of Chief Keef, Juicy J and Chinx Drugz do just enough to be interesting without stealing the spotlight. Meanwhile, the local talent delivers both on the mic and behind the boards. Harvey Stripes provides a solid guest verse on “I Know” and Andreena Mill sings a powerful chorus on “Run”, one of the mixtape’s standout tracks. Big Lean shows off Toronto’s deep production talent pool on Can’t Stop Now with slowed down, speaker-busting tracks from Boi-1da, DZL and Burd N Keyz.

The only critiques I have with the mixtape stem from Big Lean’s over-reliance on singing. Tracks like 3AM become grating after multiple listens due to the off-tune goon-croon. The other side of that coin is that songs like “Condo” become infectiously catchy exactly because Big Lean chooses to sing the hook, albeit slightly less. For now, we’re forced to take the good with the bad until we find the perfect dosage.

Toronto’s sociopolitical climate has been on pins & needles for the past week, thanks to a police force that’s quick to shoot first and ask questions later. When events like these take place, they cause a ripple of outrage amongst the general population that diminishes quickly in the following weeks, leaving everyone with nothing but a lingering feeling of doubt that the metropolis truly has the best people possible at every position of power. This feeling of impotence creates an edge and uneasiness that hangs around the city, and although you can’t prove that this type of environment acts an incubator for gangster rap, the amount and quality of it to come out of Toronto recently points to the affirmative. Artists like Big Lean and Roney show the gritty face of our city, but they are also faces that could have very easily been intoxicated and shot nine times by a police office on a downtown streetcar. In any case, artist’s like Big Lean getting popular on a stage outside of Toronto shows a refreshing side to the city. And though it may not exactly be a “positive” side for the world to see, it’s better to be known for having an authentic rapper than trigger-happy cops. That’s how Toronto becomes Detroit and Big Lean becomes Big Sean — ohmygod what have I done?!

ZIP: Big Lean – Can’t Stop Now

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