Skiifall Montreal rapper

The sky’s the limit for Montreal rapper Skiifall

Since dropping a year ago, his track “Ting Tun Up” has become a radio staple and underground anthem in the U.K. as clubs rise from the pandemic, a beacon of hope from halfway across the world in the darkest of moments.

It was just a year ago that “Ting Tun Up” hit the internet.

Since dropping on YouTube Nov. 10, 2020, made-in-NDG rapper Skiifall’s primarily recorded-in-Côte-des-Neiges track and filmed-in-Rosemary-Brown-Park video has since travelled the world at breakneck pace. It’s become a BBC Radio staple and underground anthem in the U.K. as clubs rise from the pandemic, a beacon of hope from halfway across the world in the darkest of moments.

Lightning struck twice with second single “Bentayga Dust” and then three more times on August’s Woiiyoie Tapes Vol. 1, proving quickly he’s no fluke.

With the world gradually returning to normalcy, Shemar Mckie is prepping an in-the-flesh takeover. The 20-year-old Saint Vincent native been biding his time and honing his craft with planes grounded and venues silent, and now the ascending star is ready to go where no local rapper has gone before: blow up internationally. All that, in just a year.

Skiifall recently got back from a trip to the U.K., and it’s likely he’ll be jet-setting more in the future.

“Going there, it just showed me how much people really do listen,” he said. “I’d be walking outside in the streets and people would come up asking for pictures. People recognized me. It felt real, being there.”

“Ting Tun Up” by Skiifall

Although Skiifall’s rise occurred during the pandemic, the seeds were planted well before. He moved from Saint Vincent to Montreal when he was eight to live with his mom. He left behind his grandmother, but upon arrival, found he couldn’t shake his accent and use of Vincentian expressions, which has since become his calling card as a rapper.

“I have a pretty good memory of living there, at least the things I want to remember,” he said. “Growing up with my cousins, music wasn’t part of the plan. I wanted to become a doctor or engineer. In a way I still fulfilled that dream, since I became a sort of sound engineer.”

He remembers boarding the flight figuratively kicking and screaming. He hasn’t been back since.

“I thought I was coming for vacation, but my mom wanted me to stay so I can have a better life. It turned out to be a good thing for me, but at first coming as a young kid, I was crying a lot, even on the plane.”

As a Montrealer, he hasn’t moved far from NDG, and still lives around the corner from his first home here. If his childhood in Saint Vincent lives on in his lyrics, his teen years in NDG are all over the music and visual sides. They filmed their half of the “Ting Tun Up” remix video with U.K. rapper Knucks at Marché Fruiterie Cité on Harley, and that’s him rapping on the steps of alma mater École secondaire Saint-Luc in “My Gully” from Woiiyoie Tapes Vol. 1. Don’t forget a Mr. Patty cameo in the latter video, as well.

“A lot of people in the U.K. think I shot the videos there,” Skiifall said. “I guess they have a similar look and architecture in a way. We didn’t want to make it obvious that it was some spot in Montreal, but we still wanted to shoot here. It was easy to pull it off to get the visual style we were looking for.”

Behind every talented MC is a producer or multiple producers supplying them with steady heat. In Skiifall’s case, that’s another Montrealer, Yama//Sato, an engineer and prodigious beatsmith at community studio NBS in Côte-des-Neiges. The two first met when Skiifall was 12 and his music teacher sent him there to record, but it wasn’t until later they reconnected by the invisible hand of NBS director Jai Nitai Lotus and found a winning formula.

Skiifall said he’s pretty hands-on when working with Yama//Sato or anyone. He’s not a “pay for the beat and send his vocals” kind of guy.

“It’s more about me being around and solidifying that project so I can share with the public something I know is good. If I put something out, it’s because I put the work into it,” he added.

And not to sound overconfident, but they both knew they had a hit on their hands when they recorded “Ting Tun Up.”

“I played a snippet of the first bar (on social media) and people were going crazy,” he said. “I knew it was going to work because it felt like a new sound for what it was. Everyone wants to be that one person who discovers something new for the first time, and this had that quality.”

Skiifall Cult MTL November issue cover

It’s not only at NBS where Skiifall cut his teeth. He also frequented Jeunesse 2000’s recording facilities on Décarie. To say he’s a success story for anyone who’s ever pushed for government funding of the arts at the grassroots level for young people is an understatement.

“I haven’t paid a dime for studio time,” he said. “They allowed me to use the studios and build on the talents I had.”

If you’ve ever set foot along the western edges of NDG, you likely know there’s a vibrant anglophone Caribbean community there. When Skiifall first dropped and people heard the Vincentian dialect, there was no surprise the U.K. and grime fans would immediately latch on, but it’s less common here compared with the multitude of Haitian expressions in the Montreal lexicon.

But not everyone knows that, and Skiifall is here to say his accent isn’t made up or a marketing push. In truth, walk anytime on Harley or Fielding, and you’ll hear people speaking the same way.

“One-hundred per cent it’s how people speak in Saint Vincent. A lot of people think I stage it. I remember when Montreality posted the video, people thought I was acting like I was from Toronto. People aren’t really informed when they say things. That’s where I come from, that’s why I speak this way. People don’t come to NDG, they don’t come to places where there are people like me — so they won’t understand who we are. I haven’t been back home, but I haven’t lost it.”

To properly channel his roots, he thinks about his grandmother whenever he’s in the studio. She looms large in his words and was a major influence on his life. It’s important, he said, to reference the people you love in your music.

With the pandemic gradually entering the rear view, it’s time for Skiifall to take his live social media presence, where he spent many nights bopping around NBS Studios performing his tracks, to real stages around the world. He already accomplished a Montreal victory lap earlier this summer at Mural Fest. It’s a transition he’s looking forward to but is still working on.

“Meeting people is still a bit awkward, I still get a weird feeling, but it’s all part of the challenge,” he said.

Skiifall said he’s waiting on the rain to subside so they can shoot another video, but otherwise he’s laying low until 2022. After the first year he’s had, it’s a rare pause on a rapidly climbing career.

“We’re getting ready for next year, so at the top of the year, straight up, there’s new music. I’m really excited for what’s to come.” ■

This article originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Cult MTL. 

For more on Skiifall, please visit his website.

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