There’s something about driving while playing a great song that hits you emotionally like few other things can. The newest album by Montreal’s Nate Husser tries to capture that exact feeling.
Born Nathaniel Huskinson, the Little Burgundy-bred rapper first came up more than a decade ago as a member of local rap group the Posterz before stepping out on his own. He’s got no shortage of swagger and confidence — he’s even referred to himself as the LeBron James of Montreal hip hop — and the mental and physical toughness he acquired growing up in Little Burgundy can be heard through his music, too.
Released on Oct. 13 on +1 Records, Dark Songs to Drive To is Husser’s third body of work in as many years, though he began work on the project three years ago before his previous LPs Adult Supervision and All-Time High came out. Now that it’s out, he feels like a weight’s been lifted off his shoulders, and that it’s also a project he hopes will allow people to “finally fully understand me on a better, deeper level” while listening. “It’s like my business card to the world now,” he adds.
Upon the album’s release, Husser explained that Dark Songs to Drive To captures “the sounds and energies that came from me levelling up in new territories and in all aspects of life.” Moving to the United States to continue his rap career in L.A. while meeting and working with artists and producers he admires definitely helps with the levelling up part.
“As much as it is a blessing, you don’t really see too many Canadian artists doing it like that and having the opportunity to take it to the levels I’m taking it to,” Husser says.
For Husser, driving enhances the music-listening experience partly because he “literally lives” in his car, as he describes it. “I’m always driving,” he says. “I love driving. It’s my favourite place to listen to music. I make music with that in mind, for those environments. Smoking J’s, driving, living the ‘street life,’ per se. Just getting the job done.”
When asked which sonic elements first spring to mind when he thinks of music to drive to, Nate points to the bass, the tempo and the overall feeling it gives you. “It’s music to feel yourself to, feel your vibe, just turn up,” he says.
“It’s just good-energy music. When you’re driving, it’s almost like you’re in a trance, in a way. You’re focused (but) what’s playing in the background supplements the entire vibe and atmosphere. That’s kind of what it’s about — adding to that, and putting you in that zone. Putting you in the driver’s seat of every stage of my life, whether it was grit and struggle or coming up and flossing and feeling good.”
As for “Up the Pipe” boasts a feature that might pop out at hip hop fans: Merlyn Wood of Brockhampton fame, who lays down a typically boisterous guest verse. The two linked up via Husser’s good Montreal friend, who’s also based in L.A., and introduced him to Merlyn at a house party he threw.
“He was like, ‘Yo, y’all should have a freestyle session and shit!’” Husser recalls. “We just started kicking it, freestyling, vibing out. Then we were playing our music for everybody in the house partying.
“I was like, ‘Yo, I got some shit I might want you on.’ That was the song ‘Get Out’ from my last album. We linked up a couple more times, made a bunch of records, and ‘Up the Pipe’ was one of them. We’ve got more in the bank coming out — some on his project, some (for) my man Connor (Barkhouse). He’s the producer behind most of the tracks with me and Merlyn.”
The album leans heavily toward contemporary trap, but isn’t afraid to dabble in genres like the U.K. garage and drum & bass-flavoured “Lemons.” One could argue there’s a British flavour on the production of “Body,” too (specifically grime and drill).
Another standout track is “Itchy Palms,” which is carried by a distinctly groovier swing than the trap-oriented, 808-soaked beats you hear up to that point. Husser came up with this one alongside producer Brody Myles, with one beat in particular catching his ear.
“I had some flows in mind that just jumped at me,” he says. “It’s kind of got more of a real ‘hip hop’ feel to it, beat-wise. I always feel like that’s necessary to have on the album. I hit it with a new little flavour.”
The album closer and first single “Did It B4” is a two-headed monster, with the original version followed immediately by a funky disco/house remix. This comes from a remix contest Nate held for fans to reinvent the song for the chance to win $500 and a spot for the remix on the album — house producer Sorena ultimately took the grand prize.
“There were a lot of super dope entries, but I chose that one because when I drove to it, it just hit a different vibe,” Nate explains. “It was still Dark Songs to Drive To, but in another genre. I used to DJ a lot. I’m a fan of deep house — it’s really a deep house remix. I was like, ‘This would be a good addition to the album, especially to reflect my taste and love for deep house.’”
Though he now resides in L.A., Nate was back in Montreal when I chatted with him, getting ready for his album release party — aka the “(DON’T CALL ME NO) HYPEBEAST” pop-up event where the video for his track “Hypebeast” was premiered — in Saint-Henri the following night. Nate also sold new album-themed merch from his brand, E*W Studios, and even showed off a custom-made, album-themed Porsche “for the vibes.”
Saint-Henri is, appropriately, where the process for making Dark Songs to Drive To began at the home of friend and collaborator DJ Coco. While exploring and experimenting with some stems, Nate found himself “always gravitating toward” the darker sounds he’d discovered.
“(They) helped bring out my stories and the real me,” he says. “Three years ago, I started this playlist called Dark Songs to Drive To on my SoundCloud. I had just been changing and editing it and working on songs, removing and adding ever since, until it became what it was.”
Nate moving to Los Angeles is a career transition he admits is somewhat of a business decision, but a logical one nonetheless, even in our increasingly globalized and interconnected world, where it feels almost like you could blow up from anywhere thanks to the Internet.
“It’s what makes the most sense business-wise. It’s a life growth move. There’s more opportunity for anything entertainment- or music-related. I can’t really get the same opportunities and reach from being in Montreal or in Canada, at least. I had to make the move to open up the doors.”
Since moving to L.A. makes it much easier to link up IRL with collaborators, attend recording sessions, music video shoots and other events by living close to the action, life’s been good for Husser these days — especially considering his daily routine, despite a lot of late nights and early mornings.
“I wake up, meditate. Give thanks. Have a smoothie. Then most of the time, I’ll try to go to the gym, play some ball. Come back, shower. Then get some calls in, some meetings, some planning, some work in. Get creative, start creating. Go to the grocery store, come back home, walk the dog, make some food, and do it all over again.”
As far as future plans go, Husser’s intentions for the 2024 are to “just run it up,” making clothes and movies with his brand and production company E*W Studios, touring the world and bringing the same pop-up event — album-themed car and all — to other cities, in lieu of traditional tours and shows.
“I feel like I’ve kind of got to bring something new to the game and to the table, especially right now,” he says. “After COVID (restrictions), there’s a huge surge of artists all doing shows and trying to sell out places. They’re thinking the fans are just waiting for them.
“They’re overselling tickets, but fans could really just see 100 artists at a festival for the same price of seeing that one artist. I’m trying to make an experience that is worth people’s time and energy and money to come out and see me. I honestly don’t even really want to perform unless it’s in front of a crazy crowd. I’ll do a few songs for the vibe, but I’d rather just create a dope, immersive experience.” ■
For more on Nate Husser, please visit his website.
This article was originally published in the December 2023 issue of Cult MTL.
For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.