Emerging from a pocket of Vancouver’s nightlife, Shaylen D is the latest homegrown Canadian rapper who’s slowly rising out of obscurity by embodying indie rap’s penchant for the relentless grind.
Her “#RainyDayBarsWithShay” a series of freestyles she releases on Instagram, have racked up hundreds of views, even earning the attention of Dipset’s Cam’ron.
Last month she released her first EP entitled The Lost Files, a collaboration with Vancouver-based duo Chronicle Are Us. Her verses on its three songs shift from conscious and introspective to outright visceral, delivered in the vein of artists like Missy Elliott and Foxy Brown, an artist Shaylen once became an impromptu hype-woman for.
As she recounts in the song “Important,” hip-hop held an important role in her family life and personal development from early childhood. Rather than adhere to the parental advisory warnings affixed to albums, her father instead chose to introduce her to the works of artists like Naughty by Nature and Warren G.
“Growing up he was always into hip-hop and R&B, I remember driving around in his car, he’d have the windows down, music blaring, he’d take me and my brother to concerts growing up,” says Shaylen.
Her older brother is also a rapper, and she idolized him from an early age. Rapping under the name Chadio he was part of Imaginations Treetrunk, a crew with a discography stretching back to the middle of the 2000’s.
“When I was growing up, I was just a huge fan of his, every show front row rapping along, I knew all the words, he’s definitely a huge inspiration for me, he’s been rapping forever,” says Shaylen.
“When I was super little he’d be calling into these radio stations for these freestyle competitions over the phone before I’d go to school.”
Despite the pervasiveness of hip-hop in her formative years, Shaylen never saw herself becoming an MC in the same way her brother was. She did, however, love to sing along to it and had a desire to perform it, and at the start of this decade she found an outlet that allowed her to do just that.
In 2009 Vancouver’s Fortune Sound Club launched “Hip-Hop Karaoke,” a monthly event. Despite its name the night was less of a traditional karaoke night and more of a showcase for serious artists and hip-hop enthusiasts.
“You go up on stage, there’s no TV with the words on it, it’s just you rapping over the legit instrumental with the DJ behind you, and you’re basically performing for everyone,” says Shaylen.
Attendance levels can reach the hundreds, and some artists come prepared with choreographed dance sequences and flashy outfits. In the past acclaimed Canadian rappers such as K-os and members of Sweatshop Union have performed there, and recently New Orleans DJ Mannie Fresh was brought in to oversee the anniversary celebration.
It was shortly after the night’s inception that Shaylen began performing there, and soon it became her stomping ground.
“I was performing at that every month for about seven or eight years,” says Shaylen.
The night also gave her a community, something she says is hard to find in Vancouver.
“People don’t support each other enough, there’s so many people here doing dope shit, there’s so many talented artists, but I don’t know what the deal is, we just want to support our couple friends,” says Shaylen.
Despite the splintered nature of the city’s rap scene on the whole, the community at the Forward Sound Club embraced her wholeheartedly, and she was dubbed the queen of Hip-Hop Karaoke.
“As soon as I went on stage everyone just knew that I was about to tear it up, which is pretty awesome,” says Shaylen.
Although the words she was rapping weren’t her own, hip-hop karaoke gave her the opportunity to work on her stage presence and delivery. More importantly it gave her confidence in her own abilities.
“It was a cool outlet, and I’m glad the city had that sort of thing for us to come up,” says Shaylen.
“Without Hip-Hop Karaoke I probably wouldn’t have the confidence, and just all the practice being on stage and rapping and shit, so I’m very grateful that I got to do that for so long.”
Two years ago, emboldened by the positive feedback and the desire to progress as an artist, Shaylen finally decided to try her hand at writing her own verses for the first time.
“I love rapping and performing, but I always told myself I can’t write, so I just never tried,” says Shaylen.
“I never really thought myself to be that much of a creative, but then one day I was just like fuck, I love rapping, I’m just going to try it, I’m just going to try to write a song.”
From the onset she decided to use her foray into writing as a way to vent about the trials and tribulations of everyday life in working class Vancouver, a trait that’s come to define her verses.
“One of the first songs I wrote was a couple years ago, and it was a song about an ex-boyfriend a bunch of shit that we’ve been through, and it was kind of like one of those songs that I’ve been waiting my whole life to write and just get it out there,” says Shaylen.
Since that initial song Shaylen has rapidly made the move from cover artist to notable emerging MC. This past December she reached a significant milestone in her rap career when she was asked to open for Merkules and Juno nominee Checkmate.
It was also a full circle moment because her brother Chadio was in attendance. After a lifetime of watching him perform the roles were reversed now, she was the one on stage and he was in the audience being the proud sibling.
“He was like I like this song and this song, and you did really good when you did that, and it just made me want to cry, it’s the best shit ever just to get his approval,” says Shaylen.
“He’s the one person I want to make proud with this music shit.”
The names she’s shared the stage with are evidence that she’s headed in the right direction career wise, but she remains humble and acknowledges that being a rapper is still very much a work in progress.
“I’m still trying to figure out how to properly structure my songs, and hooks and bridges, and all that shit,” says Shaylen.
“I’m still learning and still excited about it.”
Many of the rappers from B.C. that have received national acclaim in recent years all share one trait in common, they used a strong DIY mindset to create a platform where none stood before. After spending close to a decade gradually turning appearances at a local cover night into a blooming rap career, it’s evident that Shaylen D is cut from the same cloth.