Being the official DJ of an NBA team seems like a pretty cool gig, don’t you think? That’s the primary occupation of DJ 4KORNERS, the Toronto Raptors’ official emcee, who, in his own time, also writes and produces music. He has been DJing Toronto Raptors games now since 2005 and, of course, played a very memorable role in the team’s journey towards the 2019 NBA Championship.
4KORNERS is a veteran of the international club scene and still travels around, DJing various events with his mix of contemporary and classic afrobeat, dancehall, trap, Brazilian funk, SOCA, and Amapiano. Outside of his work with the Raptors, he also has DJd some pretty memorable events over the years at the Olympics, Cannes Film Festival, London Fashion Week, Abu Dhabi Formula One, and many more. He has also hosted events for people such as Drake, Kanye West, Michael Jordan, Justin Timberlake, Paris Hilton, and Justin Bieber.
In October, 4KORNERS releases his proper debut album, 4KORNERS of the World, which you could view as the final step in his transition from being a DJ to a full-fledged artist. The nine songs are, in many ways, a celebration of his hometown of Toronto, commemorating the city’s diversity and multiculturalism. Within these songs, he blends many different genres with a true vision of presenting a sound that is all his own.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with 4KORNERS about how he views his music, his debut album, how it was recorded, and who’s on his wish list of collaborators.
How would you describe your own music?
4KORNERS: “The best way I can describe my music is UNDEFINABLE! Truly, I dabble in and mix so many genres with so many cultural influences there’s no real way to specifically pinpoint what I do musically. There are no rules when I’m creating, and I like it that way!”
Tell us about 4KORNERS of the World. What was your experience of making it?
“The making of this album was really special. It was actually supposed to be an EP, but literally, two weeks before the release date, I got inspired and recorded a few more records (‘Hot Like Brazil’ and ‘Looking At The Sky’) and couldn’t bring myself to leave them out of the project! Specifically, ‘Hot Like Brazil’… Odreii and Pakø sent me a demo months prior, and I just had it sitting on my computer along with countless other unfinished song ideas. And one day, at around 4 am, I jumped out of bed with an idea for the song. I pulled up the files and went to work.
“By the time the sun came up, I had the song. I sent it to them, and they both went crazy over it. Such a special moment! But yeah, overall, I went into it with the intention of creating a global album featuring mostly emerging Canadian talent with roots from around the world. I myself am a first-generation Canadian (my parents are from Trinidad), and I’ve always felt like kids that grew up like I did or were born elsewhere and came to Canada; we have a really unique outlook on the world, on culture, on ourselves. I wanted to paint that picture with the music, and I really feel like I accomplished that.
“The nationalities of the artists on this album include Nigerian, Jamaican, Japanese, Moroccan, British, French, and more! And influences from all of these cultures and more, blended in strange new ways, make up the soundscape of the album. I love how it all turned out!”
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
“Ahhhhh! There are so many artists I’d love to collab with! Some are legends/heroes of mine; some are exciting newer talents… I can’t pick one, so I’ll show you a few of my top choices (in no particular order).
“Pharrell Williams, literally my favourite artist/producer/creative of all time. Sade, I’ve been in love with her voice my entire life! Jorja Smith, who, in my opinion, brings a similar energy but for a new generation, is so incredible! DJ Snake, who is actually a long-time friend and an extremely like-minded artist with a club DJ background, just like me. We’re going to make that one happen sometime!
“I think it would be super dope to work with Bad Bunny, he’s a no rules all vibes kind of guy, and I feel like we’d definitely come up with some next-level shit! Lous & The Yakuza… a super dope talent out of Belgium with impeccable taste. And while in Belgium, I’d also love to work with Stromae… just genius! Stevie Wonder… no explanation needed. Major League DJs, Burna Boy, BNXN, Kabza De Small, Wizkid… way too many to name out of Africa. Stormzy, A$AP Rocky, Skrillex, Diplo, Andre 3000, Martinez Brothers, Gordo… I could go on forever!”
What’s the best criticism you’ve ever received about your music or performance?
“I’d say the best criticism I’ve got about my music and performance is to push myself more as a vocalist. I’ve laid vocals on a few of my records, but for the most part, I provide the soundscape, and the featured artists fill that space. But the more music I release and the more stages I hit, I keep hearing feedback saying I should go all in on the mic and really express myself more vocally in the music. Ashton Adams, my partner in my group 401 WST, is always telling me this! I hear it, and I accept the challenge.”
If you could change anything about the music industry, what would it be?
“The biggest thing I’d like to change about the music industry is the profit share from music sales. It’s kind of always been like that, from physical record/CD sales to streaming, especially for artists signed to major labels. Yes, for sure, there are advantages, and yes, it’s dope that artists don’t need to sign a record deal to get their music onto the main streaming services now. But it’s still really tough for music artists to earn a decent living from music ‘sales’ in this current system, even those who are somewhat popular. Thankfully, there are moves being made to help artists who don’t yet rack up millions of streams to earn a decent living. That’s actually something I’m involved in, but that’s a topic for a different conversation.”
What’s the most dangerous thing that’s ever happened at one of your shows?
“The most dangerous thing that’s ever happened was entirely my own fault (laughs). So I was crowd surfing at a festival in Eastern Canada a few years ago, which is super dangerous in itself (laughs). You really have to trust that the people will catch you otherwise… yeah. So they caught me a few times in a row; it was all going great. But one of those times, instead of running around to the side and talking the stairs to get back up on stage, I had the bright, adrenaline-fueled idea to hop up on this high-ass stage from the front. I messed up the jump, my hand slipped, and I smashed my face on the corner of the stage, busting my top lip wide open. Thankfully it wasn’t gushing tooooo much blood.
“I was able to finish the show, but I could feel it swelling by the minute. By the end of my set, it looked like a balloon. This could also go in the ‘funniest thing that ever happened at one of my shows,’ but it definitely wasn’t funny to me at the time (laughs). Lesson learned!”
Do you ever get stage fright? What’s your solution for it?
“You know what’s crazy? I was SUUUUPER shy as a kid. Like my parents didn’t even know my true personality until I was well into my teens, I was that quiet. And public speaking? NEVER! I was horrified. But the two things really got them out of my shell were sports and music. I played piano as a kid and was in Royal Conservatory competitions, and was in school band all the way through. Never had an issue being on stage as long as I had a musical instrument in my hands.
“Same went for sports. I’ve played team sports from age seven all the way to university… loved the spotlight. So now, as a performer, I never get stage fright. I get anxious and excited but never nervous or frightened. I think that doing what I love and what I’m good at destroys all the fear in me. And with all of this, now I can speak publicly super easily. Music and sports!”
Your new album, 4KORNERS of the World, was recently released. Now that it is complete, how do you feel about it, and what has been the response so far?
“Yes, my debut album is out and honestly, I am so so proud of this body of work! I feel like it truly represents me as a human, as an artist, as a kid from the 6, a world traveler, and a student of art and culture. The reception has been overwhelmingly great, and I’m pleasantly surprised at how almost everyone I’ve spoken to or has reached out with feedback fully understands what it is that I was trying to say with this album. That part feels incredible. I really thought I was going to have to do so much more explaining of these genre-bending songs and the what, why, and how. But the people get it. It’s awesome!”
Along those same lines, do you take advantage of technology and email riffs and parts back and forth, or do you get together in a room in a more traditional sense and write together?
“The making of this album was a mix of all things. Some was definitely done remote as a few records were recorded while in full or partial lockdown. I’m thankful for Zoom, Facetime, email, etc., because I wouldn’t have been able to pull this project off without all that technology. But also, for some of the tracks, I was able to get in the studio with the artists and build them together in person. In hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing. I love how it all turned out.”
What is the story behind the name of the record?
“The story behind the album name is the story behind my artist’s name as well. 4KORNERS of the World… that saying which represents the entire world, all parts of it. That’s what this album is. A mix of sound and culture from the whole world in one project. It’s my upbringing in Toronto, the most multicultural city on the planet. It’s the influence and perspective I have as an extensive world traveler thanks to my life as a touring DJ. And it’s me as a person who will not be boxed in. I don’t care for rules or the way things have been done by others. I’m all about forging my own path and including all the elements of my life experience. To me, Toronto is the world, and the world is Toronto, and I am that too.”
Is there anywhere you would like to go that you have not been to?
“Yes, for sure. I’ve DJd in over 20 countries around the world, but there are still so many places on my hit list. I’d say at the top of that list are places like Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Brazil, and Panama. I’m such a fan of the music and cultures of all of these places, and I hope to have the opportunity to go experience all of them in person!”
If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only take three albums with you for eternity (assuming there was a solar-powered CD player), what would they be?
“The stranded on an island question (laughs). Ok, first of all, I’d prefer a record player over a CD player… and the three albums would be, A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory, N.E.R.D. In Search Of, and Sade Stronger Than Pride. And I’d sneak in my album when no one was looking.”
If you had an unlimited budget, where and with whom would you record your record?
“What about production and mastering? And why? If I had an unlimited budget, I’d set up a studio at the International Space Station and fly everyone from my ‘people I’d love to work with’ list to live and record the craziest, most out-of-this-world album of all time! Imagine what we’d come up with!”