Rising hip-hop artist YSN Fab wants validation for himself — and for Winnipeg | CBC Music (2024)

Rising hip-hop artist YSN Fab wants validation for himself — and for Winnipeg | CBC Music (1)

"Not even just hip-hop, the city is just growing" | YSN Fab | Beyond the 6

This month we bring Winnipeg rapper YSN Fab with a live performance of 'Gave Up on Love' for CBC Music's Beyond the 6.

Giving hope to my hopeless city,
They've been waiting for a n---a like me to blow, and I'm ready.

When you listen to a YSN Fab track, the young Winnipeg rapper isn't afraid to stake his claim as one of the city's biggest rising stars. It's abraggadociousenergy that almost every rapper flaunts in their music, andYSNFab's stats back up his confidence, with millions of streams racked up in just four years. But it can feel rare to see the real person behind the bars sometimes.

That's what made my conversation with YSN Fab feel so refreshing. On multiple occasions throughout our hour-long talk, the 23-year-old would laugh at himself while discussing his music, his goals and the competitive nature of rap.

"I'm not going to take the credit and be like, 'Oh, I'm the reason why everybody's rapping,'" he says, of the burgeoning Winnipeg hip-hop scene he's witnessing right now. He quickly catches himself, though: "I mean, you're probably going to hear that in my songs, for sure, but you know, we're going to keep it humble here!"

On record, YSN Fab is a force. He wastes no time diving headfirst into a trap beat, firing off bars at a rate that can give listeners whiplash. (He's also capable of slowing things down and riding a melodic wave, though he admits he's still finding a balance between bars and melodies.) His drive is indomitable, and he makes that clear in his music, rapping on 2020's "Get Rich or Die Tryin": "I been counted out, sh*tted on, but it don't change the way I grind."

Over a Zoom call from Vancouver, where he's temporarily staying as a change of scenery during the pandemic, YSN Fab is just as assured, but decidedly more relaxed and open. His answers to my questions are long, akin to jam-packed verses, but carefully considered. Perhaps the most revealing moments are when he admitshe wasn't terribly confident when he first started making music. When asked when he first discovered he was good at rapping, he takes a slight pause before responding: "Never, really."

He even hesitates to call what he had a talent because he never received positive reinforcement when it came to making music. He notes that his younger brother was the one who got all the praise for rapping. "I didn't think I was bad," he notes, "I just never took it that seriously… But as a kid, you want validation and I never really received that."

Instead, YSN concentrated all of his energy into sports, where he was lauded. If it wasn't for a knee injury (​​patellar tendinitis), YSN would likely be on your TV competing in CFL or NFL games right now. When his football dreams were quashed in 2018, he figured he would try his hand at music. He began posting freestyles on his Instagram account, which gradually gained attention. One of the people who took notice was a local Winnipeg producer named Pascal Beats, who invited YSNto his studio to lay down some bars.

It took YSN several months in the studio before he graduated to the idea of, "OK, I'm pretty good." But about a year into it, YSN had committed to music as a career. His mom at first was skeptical, but he assured her that, "If I don't make it in rap by the age of 25, I'll go back to school." While YSN was adopted into a white family as a kid, he has always kept in touch with his birth mother, whom he's referring to in this interview. At the age of 17, he moved out of his adoptive family's home and haslived on and off with his birth mom since. YSN's lyrics are mostly fuelled by his experiences from age 16 and on,but on 2020's "World in my Palms," he references his childhood, rapping: "Never felt I belong in a white home."

YSN has been writing little raps since he was young —he often asked teachers in school if he could submit assignments in the form of a freestyle versus a written essay — but he wasn't always heavily immersed in hip hop. He grew up listening to more AC/DC and Metallica than he did Ice Cube or 50 Cent; the only rapper he was allowed to have on was Eminem. "I don't know if it was because he was a white rapper," he says. "That must've been my [adopted] pop's favourite rapper or something." YSN's real influences are more modern acts like Meek Mill, and his ultimate inspiration, Louisiana rapper NBA Youngboy, a 22 year old who is, in a lot of ways, YSN's contemporary.

Thanks to the help of Pascal Beats, and various other producers YSN has since collaborated with, the rapper's music began to take shape and pick up steam. Instagram likes and comments organically evolved into song streams. One of his earliest releases, 2018's "Nobody Loyal," currently has sevenmillion streams on Spotify alone, and he has since released three albums (2020's Made 4 More and Winnipegs Anomaly, and last year's Made 4 More 2), which haveearned millions more streams. In 2020, hip hop blog Lyrical Lemonade declared him the "Canadian Roddy Ricch."

Numbers are great, and have helped YSN exceed that goal he set with his mom where all he wanted to do was make "$3,000 a month, or something," but the most rewarding part of this experience for him is the fan response.

"That's the greatest feeling in the world," he says, grinning from ear to ear. "It was that validation that I needed."

Sometimes it can even be emotional, like when he gets direct messages from fans who tell him his music saved their lives. "I get goosebumps thinking about that because it's like, damn, that's how I explain [NBA Youngboy's music]," YSN adds."Now people say that about my music, which is the craziest thing because I look in the mirror and I'm like, 'Man, I'm just a regular person.' But to another person, you're their idol." A day after his first live performance (which took place shortly before the pandemic hit), where he saw an audience sing his lyrics back at him, YSNwent on Instagram Live and cried, brimming with gratitude.

With so much hype and success already, YSN is keen on remaining an independent artist until he can sign a seven-figure deal with a record label, which he says, with a smirk, is happening soon. But a big pay cheque and international fame aren't just for personal gain; YSN's love for his hometown runs deep.

"My goal is to shed light on where I'm from so all these people can have that chance, too," he explains. "I have big goals that are associated with Winnipeg."

When I press for him to reveal these goals, he is hesitant at first, sheepishly realizing he may have said too much. That's because his ambitions not only tie back to Winnipeg, but also his mom, who is absolutely supportive of what her son does today. He eventually caves in and reveals plans to help the homeless, especially Winnipeg's homeless Indigenous population, and restore old buildings to create safe spaces.

"I definitely want to collaborate with my mom somehow," he continues, highlighting her work with sexually exploited youth. "I tell her she's my hero all the time, but I don't even know if she even knows this. But money is power, right? If I get to a point where I'm successful, I want to help, and on a big scale."

Rising hip-hop artist YSN Fab wants validation for himself — and for Winnipeg | CBC Music (2024)
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