While he may still be young, that doesn’t mean he isn’t also wise, well-educated and full of useful knowledge… Enter Troy Junker, the Indigenous rapper currently creating waves off the recent release of his new single “We Up.” The track is meant to get you ready for the release of the brand new EP, The Path, which drops on July 20th. The Path is Junker’s first collection of new music since 2018 and also represents a new lease on life for the talented lyricist.
Thematically, the record is squarely focused on the concept of positivity with Junker intent on appealing to and inspiring young people, to give them a lift when they most need it. He reminds listeners to stay focused and remain hopeful through their growth and progression as human beings. Junker has emerged stronger than ever with his new lyrical approach, leaving the pessimism of his previous work in the past.
Junker’s backstory is an interesting and uplifting one, a native of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan of Métis descent who, prior to pursuing music, worked diligently as a miner after dropping out of high school. When he felt that mining had taken him as far as it possibly could, he picked up and moved to Toronto where he enrolled in the Music Business Management program at Durham College to pursue his dream of establishing himself in the music industry. While studying, he issued the EPs Time Capsule and Trilly Madison and began to get the word out about his music at local events and campus parties.
With the release of The Path quickly approaching, we caught up with Junker for a very enlightening conversation about his music, his new EP, his career as a miner, being a rapper of Indigenous descent, and racism in Canada.
With The Path, you’ve altered your lyrical focus away from more negative topics such as drug-taking and partying towards a more positive approach to music and life. What caused you to change your approach so drastically?
Troy Junker: “Where I’m from, there’s not much opportunity in music and it was my biggest interest. I had to move to Toronto to start building a career. Growing up in PA (Prince Albert, Saskatchewan), it’s easy to get sucked into shit and I remember only listening to artists whose messages were positive and encouraged you to do better for yourself. I think that by digesting the good messages from hip-hop, I was able to overcome the struggles I faced and levelled up into who I’ve become today.
In my early days, I was rapping about wild shit, and didn’t really think about it or care. I was rapping like what you hear on TV. Through hearing a lot of my earlier works, people thought I was an asshole and I was 18 years old. One night, one of my high school classmates got a bad batch of Molly and went brain-dead. Since then, I’ve stayed away from hard drugs and I don’t promote them in my music.
Not long after, I played a festival in Manitoba and after the show, the promoter came up and said, ‘Great performance but I wish the songs weren’t so dirty because so many kids listen to you.’ We went on to sign autographs for the next 30 minutes and that’s all I could think about. I slowly changed my content with releases and after changing my approach, I started getting messages from people around the world telling me that my songs helped them not commit suicide and also help get them through tough days in their lives. Once I started getting a few of those, everything seemed to be pushing me in the direction of creating more authentic lyrics with better messaging. I’m not perfect though, on some tracks I’ll still talk about partying and drinking but they’re not on The Path.”
With such a modified approach to lyric writing, how would you compare the process for writing lyrics for the songs that appear on The Path as compared to your previous album? Was it easier? More difficult? More liberating?
“On past projects, I was looking for hot beats, then I’d try my best to write hot bars. I mostly worked alone. At one point my friend Brennus told me that he hates rappers rapping about rapping (laughs). It’s a thing and as I’d listen to some of my old songs, I noticed that I was kind of doing it and that I needed to change asap.
In college, one of my professors, Jeff, always encouraged co-writing and working towards the best song collectively. Having been out of college for a few years now, I wanted to create this project with collaborations since most of my projects were done by myself. I knew the messaging was important, so it was a bit more time consuming but I’m fine with that! It’s much more liberating to know you did your project right and it is something you can stand behind in ten years and not want to delete down the road.”
As an individual, how has this shift in lyrical approach rubbed off on your general, day to day life? Did you previously tend to be more of a negative, glass half empty type of person?
“Creating, The Path shifted my thinking into being more of a positive person overall. I’m always a pretty chipper person to begin with but when I’m alone, I also have my down days. Getting past the boulders in my life is what usually inspires me to create the songs I make. It’s like a confidence boost for myself and it just turns out to do the same for the listener. I want the younger kids to feel like, ‘Hey, this guy came from nothing, he’s from where I’m from and I can do this too.’ Not just with music, but with anything.”
What was the writing process like for The Path? When did you write the album and how was it recorded?
“I wrote The Path over the course of a couple of months with my friends and people I look up to. It started with finding the right beats, so I hit up beatmakers through my friends’ and collaborators’ networks. A couple of the beats were made in person, over the phone, FaceTime and email (if the people were out of town). I knew the vibes I was looking for and knew what sounds I wanted to use to express myself. Once the instrumentals were put together, I started writing the overall concept of the songs and once I’d have my parts written, I’d reach out to collaborators to co-write with. We’d try to make each song better than my first draft most of the time. Most of the collaborations and co-writes were in person and then we’d go to the studio to do a third co-write with the engineer and record.
All my life, I’ve been recording my own songs and with this project, I knew I wanted to try and up my game and get a professional to help develop the soundscape. Living in Toronto for a couple of years now, I met a really talented dude named David Ariza. He’s great at recording, mixing, and playing instruments, we also get along well. I wanted him to work on the project because it’s hard to find people you click with and he’s super skilled. I also knew I wanted this to be my first mastered project. One mastering engineer I look up to is Phil Demetro from Lacquer Channel Mastering here in Toronto and he was more than happy to help me out and together, they did a sick job.
As I went on, there were some really cool moments. LUVR and I went to school for music business management together and got to collaborate a bit in Toronto before he moved to The Hague, Netherlands. Within a few days being there, he sent me the hook to the song, ‘4U’ and once I heard it, it motivated me on the spot to write the song about a relationship. I hit up Larisa Santiago to co-write and work on a song called ‘Waves.’ We met doing an internship at Arts & Crafts Productions in Toronto and have been friends ever since. I’m excited to see what Larisa makes in the future as she just got a publishing deal!
Joey Stylez is a long-time friend from when we both lived in Saskatchewan and we worked together around 2012. He’s someone I’ve always looked up to and now lives in British Columbia so I don’t get to see him much. We were texting here and there and he just said, ‘Let’s do something bro, send some beats.’ Shortly after, I sent him ‘Inhale Exhale’ with an open verse and he sent it back to me within four hours. I also wound up in an Indigenous songwriters camp and that’s where I met Thea May. She’s become one of my best friends and we’re both working closely together on a lot of projects with each other’s teams. Our first song was released in October and is called, ‘So Close’ by Wolf Den which charted #5 on the Indigenous Music Countdown on Sirius XM. She’s sick and has some cool things on the way.”
You’re currently based in Toronto but your former profession was as a uranium miner out west. I’m curious, what was it like working as a miner and what lessons did you take from this part of your life?
“Best lessons I learned: Don’t feed the wolves or bears. And don’t miss your plane!
Working in a mine was dope. Before working in the mine, I was a punk. I was living recklessly and I didn’t care about what I was doing. It got to the point that I needed a change and the mines were the only way out because I had dropped out of school. Through working in the mines, I became more organized, it built character and professionalism and I was drug-free because you have to pass drug tests. It gave me a getaway for half the year (fly-in camp) from a place I didn’t want to live anymore and it gave me the opportunity to make good money and travel the world on my days off. I even went back to school at that time and got my GED.
I met a lot of cool people and they always supported my music. After three years, I learned that mining wasn’t my passion and my co-workers didn’t like mining either. I was young enough to still chase my dream and they encouraged it. They told me, ‘Chase your dreams and if it doesn’t work out I’ll see you in 15 years right here.”
You worked with a number of different producers on The Path. How did these collaborations come about? Are these primarily people you already knew in the business?
“A lot of the collaborations with producers were done through in-person cook-ups or over email. We’d get in a room and just vibe for a few hours. If I couldn’t meet with the producer, they’d usually send a few beats and then I’d write to the ones I liked. I’d add or remove certain instruments and run it by them before the release just in case they didn’t like it. I knew some of the producers and a few were people I had never met. I just reached out and told them my vision and they were down to work with me on it.”
Being a hip hop artist of Métis descent, I’m curious as to what the hip hop scene is like among Canadian Indigenous people. Who are some other indigenous artists we should look out for?
“I grew up listening to rappers like Joey Stylez, Winnipeg’s Most and Rez Official and they set a good example of how you can tell your story. These guys gave me something to look up to and see the moves are possible to make. Nowadays with technology, there are a lot of opportunities, we just need to share friends’ songs, help each other out where we can and not be selfish about opportunities. Some Indigenous hip-hop artists I like are Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Times 2 Salute, David Strickland, Pyoot and K Niggz.”
It’s a little ironic that you’re releasing an EP that promotes a positive outlook on life in a time of disorder, uncertainty, and negativity. What’s your view on the current racially motivated protests and unrest within North America?
“I guess it’s kind of ironic but it’s what I’ve been working on for the last year, I think it just blends with what’s happening. The protests have to happen for change to happen and this is just the beginning. We all see the crazy videos online and the unrest that has been building for a time. People are sick of it, things are out of control, and people are standing up for their lives. I definitely support the protesting!”
Being Métis, what has your personal experience been like trying to break through in the music industry? Have you encountered racism and discrimination as you have tried to emerge as an artist?
“It’s actually given me more opportunities and I feel it’s brought me closer with my heritage. Sure, I’ve encountered forms of racism and discrimination as trying to emerge as an artist. I look white and get looked at funny for being a white rapper. I’m also not a Calvin Klein model either so people aren’t always the nicest about my looks. At times, those things bother me but at the end of the day, I don’t let them break me because I surround myself with good people. If people around me show racist or discriminatory traits, I end that relationship quickly. I’ve learned to have thick skin and keep moving forward.”
As a country, Canada has certainly had its difficulties recognizing the rights of indigenous people with its history of forced assimilation. Do you feel like there has been some progress with regard to how Indigenous people are currently being treated within Canadian society? Or do the same problems remain? What progress would you like to see in the future regarding the country’s treatment of Indigenous people? Where would you like to see some growth?
“There’s still racism and a whole lot of it. Canada sweeps it under the rug and pretends like colonization never existed and acts like there’s no systemic racism. The attitude still exists today and it kind of feels like nothing has changed. Just look at the country trying to push over the Wet’suwet’en Nation for the pipeline.
Having moved from Saskatchewan to Toronto, I see progress here but not at home. Maybe because of the population and infrastructure here in Ontario, but when I’m in Saskatchewan, I see a lot of hurt and not a lot of progression. That’s not to discredit anyone in Saskatchewan at all, people try very hard there. It’s just where things are at.
The progress I wish I could see would be the government fixing the damage they’ve done to Indigenous people across the whole country. There should be more investments in fixing communities, better health services, an increase in jobs for Indigenous people and better community programs. I think they could create more education on the true history of Canada and put forth more funding towards Indigenous heritage.”
What do you have planned musically for the latter half of this year? What’s next for you after the release of The Path?
“I’m working towards a live show that I can perform once concerts start returning. I’ve been doing a lot of demos over quarantine that I want to take to the studio when life is a bit back to normal and deciding if I want to drop singles or do an album next. I’d like to collaborate with more artists and meet new people and I’m excited to keep working.”