Emma Beko

Photo by Carole Méthot

Montreal’s Emma Beko goes solo with Blue

We spoke to Beko, formerly half of hip hop duo Heartstreets, about finding her musical self.

Emma Beko has grown to learn that growing up was hard to do.

At 29, the lyricist, singer, rapper and songwriter previously best recognized as one half of vocal duo Heartstreets, reconciles the trauma of growing up with the anxiety of actually becoming herself on her debut solo project BLUE, which dropped on the final Friday of January.

“Originally, I thought it was gonna be about heartbreak and love, because I was going through heartbreak when I first started thinking about it. And there’s actually not a single song on the project that’s about that,” Beko said.

“Maybe four or five years ago, I knew I was gonna make this. I knew I would make a solo project and it would be called BLUE. I was thinking about it a lot and I slowly started writing. Even the first few songs I wrote ended up becoming Heartstreets songs because I wasn’t ready to go on my own.”

As she grew closer with Montreal producer Beau Geste (with whom Heartstreets collaborated on 2019’s Why Make Sense), Beko found creative kinship in shared anxieties as they worked together in her home studio. 

“When I started doing the sessions two years ago and working on BLUE more concretely, I was putting all of my anxiety into my songs. I have really intense anxiety. And JP does, as well. So it was fun because we could definitely bond that way. Even our musical references, like, we listened to a lot of XXXTentacion and Lil Peep, and like, emo, dark, trappy rap.”

She recalls creating one song, “Party,” a collaboration with her friend, Quebec hip hop mainstay Rymz, in the wake of the XXX’s 2018 murder.

“Rymz had shown me XXXTentacion’s music at a SOCAN writing camp. When I heard he died, I was so upset because I’d only known his music for about three months. It makes me so sad that all these people I really enjoy are dying. For X it was violence, others it’s overdoses. It’s fucked up, because ultimately a lot of it is about mental health.”

“MHS” by Emma Beko

The songs that make up BLUE, Beko explained, help her understand what the actual process of growing up is really all about once people achieve the maturity we commonly take for granted as a natural evolution to adulthood. 

“Coming from adolescence, you’re kind of like, what the fuck am I supposed to be? JP is a bit younger than me and was consuming a lot of music from younger people, which helped bring me back in that mindset. 

“So BLUE is really about me growing up and then realizing all these things, and coping with them the ways I could in those moments and then realizing those maybe weren’t the healthiest ways. But also acknowledging that we get through things the way we do, and that we’re resilient.”

BLUE, Beko explains, is not an album or an EP or any of the semantics-based categories that she hates ascribing to music. She reasons instead that these are nine songs that simply exist together in the harmony by which they were conceived. 

And that’s true. While Heartstreets fans will hardly be disappointed, BLUE is fundamentally disparate from Beko’s previous duo work with bandmate Gab Godon (who has also been releasing solo material this year as Laroie).

It’s tempting to call the collection of tracks here dark or moody, but it’s more accurate to say they ring with honesty and a sense of joy that is not cynical, despite the themes Beko explores. The sensibilities of a woman and rap fan who came of age in the good kid, m.A.A.d city era are obvious.

“It’s the first time I’ve put out music that’s 100% me, that I feel that I’m really presenting myself raw and honest to the world in what I like to do. It’s really liberating,” Beko revealed.

“I create intuitively. I don’t really know what I do when I’m doing it. Sometimes with Beau Geste there will be just a sound, and the sound feels nostalgic to me. It brings me back somewhere and words come out. And then after I’m, like, shit. I had this to say.

“When I talk about anxiety in my songs, most of my anxiety stems from fear. When people hear it, I feel like we’ll be united in fear. But by being united, we’ll feel stronger,” Beko said.

“We shouldn’t live in fear. But it is omnipresent, and we can’t deny that. I feel a certain goodness when I’m with Beau Geste and I’m talking about a song or a line and he’s like, ‘That really resonates with me.’ 

“I’ll be like, ‘You feel that way, too?’”

“That feels good. That makes me less scared. Because I was already scared of being scared.” ■

This interview with Emma Beko originally appeared in the Feb. 2021 issue of Cult MTL. Emma Beko is performing live from Quebec City on March 19, 9 p.m., tickets ($15) available here.

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.