Debut albums are a funny thing. Most of the time, they aren’t even the first musical showing from a band, with an EP or demo often filling the role. Some artists build up a tremendous following before ever committing to a full record, relying on the work of touring and playing before recording their debut. First impressions, after all, are never something you can take back. And by the time a debut album lands, it’s inevitably loaded with subtext: what will this record say about the artist? What will they put out that will make people fall in love with their music, and return for more? When they do release it, will the world be ready for it? Will it want it?

Montreal jazz-rap artist L.Teez’s debut album, Studio Blue, was, in a sense, in development for over 20 years. Born in 1995, formal musical training began before the arrival of the new millennium. By the time he was 14, and he began rapping and singing, L. Teez had already learned how to play several instruments, including the trombone and trumpet. These interests only further coalesced with further intrigue in the great jazz masters, finding himself composing during his late adolescence into his early twenties.

By this time, in 2012, the new school of hip-hop had emerged. Anderson Paak’s emergence and the return of D’Angelo are just two examples of hip hop and R&B’s increasing emphasis on deeper instrumentation than the standard sample-heavy production. By 2017, L. Teez had already collaborated with Canadian producers on some EPs, but mostly focused on his appreciation for live performances. To that end, his pursuit of his live shows took him as far abroad as France, opening for the likes of Black Star and Earth, Wind And Fire. With that much leading up to a debut album, is it any surprise that it sounds like a jazz musician’s idea of a hip-hop album done well?

The very first moment that emerges from Studio Blue is a lo-fi vibe courtesy of glitch-touched piano keys, followed by a sexy, sultry saxophone. The two banter briefly before a bombastic drum fill drops in, accompanied by the full scope of L. Teez’s musical accompaniment. Swinging past the revolving door of kinetic, chaotic percussion and glitched-out backing piano like this is a rose thrown from the rafters of the musician/rapper’s musical palette onto the stage before emerging himself on the second track, the beginning of his flow.

With a delivery reminiscent of Andre 3000 or early Ye, L.Teez is intent on telling stories about bygone times. Oftentimes those ‘bygone eras’ are just a few years ago, but the baleful eye with which the Quebec native is able to regard his own musical and professional (as well as personal) history is one that dates him. It’s a type of black and white film, which pairs well with the bright, technicolour quality of the jazz bursting at the seams around the words.

There’s an air of sophistication on this album. Whether it’s the easy instrumentality, effortless flow, or the fact the tracks are subdued, it’s hard to pinpoint one sole reason. The Studio Blue moniker certainly reflects the overall vibe of the album. Any audaciousness comes from the musical or vocal expression, not from some well-known sample or cheerful lyric. Musically, this is an impressive album, and it shows and flexes it, but uses its powers for vibes instead of power grabbing. L. Teez and his band sound like true musicians, intent on making good music in the more classical tradition, albeit with the influence of contemporary hip-hop and R&B. It’s an impressive, technical effort, oozing with evocative melodies, earnest and clever lines, and overall laced with laid backs vibes.

If there’s anything lacking on the album, it’s perhaps the familiar allure of an identifiable single. This is a ‘record’ or ‘album’ in the strictest sense, which makes sense considering the source of it (read: true jazz musicians). No need for a runaway track – they’re all great musically. But the cynic in me finds the very real possibility that a musical act risks being overlooked because marketing can’t find something “viral.” For what it’s worth, let me put it plainly: this is a great jazz record for hip-hop heads and a great hip-hop record for jazz enthusiasts.

Studio Blue Track Listing:

1. Intro
2. Short Winded
3. They Say feat. Jason Valentino
4. Buzzin
5. Never Thought feat. Clerel
6. Waves
7. 5680 Rue Bach (Part I)
8. 5680 Rue Bach (Part II) feat. Melissa Pacifico
9. I Need You feat. Lea Keeley
10. Out There Lude
11. Soul Purpose feat. Burton White
12. 7/4
13. TMW feat. ELMNT
14. No Left Turns/ Café St Michel (Outro)

Run Time: 45:57
Release Date: October 13, 2022
Record Label: Hydrophonik Records


Director of Communications @ V13. Lance Marwood is a music and entertainment writer who has been featured in both digital and print publications, including a foreword for the book "Toronto DIY: (2008-2013)" and The Continuist. He has been creating and coordinating content for V13 since 2015 (back when it was PureGrainAudio); before that he wrote and hosted a radio and online series called The Hard Stuff , featuring interviews with bands and insight into the Toronto DIY and wider hardcore punk scene. He has performed in bands and played shows alongside acts such as Expectorated Sequence, S.H.I.T., and Full of Hell.