“I believe I’m here,” my phone buzzes as I receive Lou’s text. He pulls up with his durag still knotted around his head, shielding his fresh cornrows from any fraying.
Lou Phelps, born Louis-Philippe Celestin, has been around the music scene for a minute now, but his musical inspiration stems way further into his childhood. Growing up, his home was a melting pot of influences; his mother being in a choir, his father starting a Kompa band, and his brother becoming a successful producer. The house was certainly filled with sounds coming from his mom singing, his father jamming out or his sisters first introducing him to hip-hop by playing a curated cassette tape for Lou to digest, “MTV Jams type shit,” as he says. It almost seems as if Lou was destined to follow suit in the pursuit of music.
His first venture into music was through a group called God Monsters, but “that was lame,” he says, elaborating that him and his older brother, Louis-Kevin or better known as Kaytranada, wanted to start taking music more seriously. This is what the Celestics was born out of. Lou tells me that he always saw it as, “a fusion of mainstream lyrics and old-school sampling type beats.” It was a fun experience while it was alive, but ultimately, Lou and his brother split into developing themselves under their own monikers.
While Kaytranada toured, Lou was still hitting the books, but with a push from his mom in an effort to help his brother out of a touring depression, she told him to leave school and accompany his brother. “She knew I can do my thing […] they needed openers for the show, so I can open for Kay,” capitalizing on his DJ talents. The tour life was a complete switch from the usual suburban life, but this is what Lou wanted, and was a precursor to his career.
Growing up in Montreal as an artist, he explains that the producers have it easier than the rappers, “first of all, nobody looks at Montreal to find rappers […] you go to Toronto.” However, with the internal fusions of all the influences in Toronto, every song seems to sound the same, which is why many Montrealers squirm around to find out what’s hot without sounding the same. Still, the biggest challenge, he says, lies in learning how to make a song: structure and proper content. “Literally anybody can rap, you can rap, we can all rap… but if you’re sounding like the Migos, why would I wanna listen to you, I’ll just listen to Migos.”
“I usually don’t speak about my feelings on tracks, but it’s the purest type of music I’ve ever made.” This was the first time of our talk that he mentions his new album. Titled 002/ Love Me, it is his sophomore project inspired by a breakup that he had experienced. The album is not only cohesive in sound but also in themes. Through excitement for friends with benefits, to referencing that “this breakup shit will only get worse”, and finally regaining braggadocio confidence and flex on the closing track, the album is an evolution of feelings and experiences that Lou has opened up for his listeners. “I tried to make the whole concept of the album, being me seeing a girl, falling in love, taking it for granted—like oh yeah I got money now—to her telling me that she’s done, and me being broken…”
The craft of this album helped him get through a lot of the feelings he was going through, putting everything down on a beat. “I call it the reflection track, it’s called August Rain, it’s like I’m talking to myself- but she’s also talking to me at the same time. I guess you can call it therapeutic”. It felt as if he took his work to a whole other level, stating to me, “I used to never rap about shit, but after you get hurt you feel alive—like I ain’t never felt like this—this is crazy.”
The studio process of creating the album was completely different from his other projects. As he got signed, he had more resources at his disposal, going out to different studios and even going out to Toronto to spend time to record. Still, this newfound way of recording an album like a “real” artist wasn’t always his reality.
Earlier in his career, when he felt that he had to make his hit, his affiliates at Huh? What? Where? pushed him to put out just that song. He hopped on a beat with Goldlink, “but then Goldlink blew up… and I didn’t,” he chuckles, albeit more was under the surface, “I sort of went through a depression; I realized I can’t be doing this shit with my life, I needa go to school and be an accountant. So, I waited.” After he took some time off, he came out with his first project 001/ Experiments which gave him his first Juno nomination.
As he was coming up, he seemed to be overshadowed by the KayWave as he calls it. Earlier on in his career, his name was always accompanied by his brothers whenever an article or blog post title appeared. “As I said, I went through a depression, even when I see Kay being unhappy about this- me seeing that, I felt like I was a burden for Kay, as if he had to be dragging me, and I’d never want to be in that position. That was part of why I stopped making music.” He figured that he had to change his sound, but after letting me know about some horrible auto-tune shit, he realized that his actual sound still existed in the Kaytranada space. A sound in which him and his brother grew up around and fed off of. Upon reflecting however, “this is the most honest shit I’ll ever say in an interview, I don’t think that my music deserved recognition on its own – now I feel like it does – but back then, it wasn’t supposed to be on the blogs, so now I understand those headlines.” Looking at platforms now, even with the release of his single Want To, he noticed that, while produced by his brother, it seemed that those article titles which used to hurt his mental are starting to disappear. “Still, I wouldn’t be who I am without Kay, and Kay wouldn’t be who he is without me. That’s my brother.”
Towards the end of the interview, he gets interrupted by a text from his manager that says they are pushing his single Come Inside on to the radio. “That’s what I’m talking about, let’s get this money!” he says jokingly.
The next time I see Lou is a month later at the airport with three of his best friends ready to depart to Miami. We are going out to shoot a music video for Squeeze featuring JAHKOY, track three on the new album. The music video is being shot on Super 8, something that was exciting for Lou, who cares greatly about his visuals as an up and coming artist.
Being with Lou for the first time outside of the interview, he made me instantly feel at home with his close friends. Sooner or later, other people at the gate were turning heads because we were laughing a bit too loud.
As soon as we enter the rented home for labour day weekend, he is baffled by how it looks. High ceiling beach house, open windows, infinity pool, and its own dock. The house was ready to be the backdrop for a scene of a rapper performing with a bunch of “Instagram models”. But, “I don’t think they would work for my video,” he says, thinking it would be too corny. Still, the scenic quality of the home reminds Lou to point out every couple of hours that he needs to live in a house like this one day.
On the third day of shooting, once JAHKOY finished reciting his chorus for the camera, we sit and polish off the UberEats order. Lou talks about how he was so surprised at how good of a chorus his featuring artist came up with. Squeeze was turning into one of his favourite tracks on his album. After JAHKOY played us his album, Lou returns the favour. Bobbing our heads to every track, Lou would always add some commentary here and there. From praising Planet Giza, one of the producers of the album, to explaining the process of how he and his brother produced together on Miss Phatty, his insights were interesting lenses into the small moments of what makes the album.
Its September 21, 12:00 AM, Lou is manning a mic behind the DJ booth, his album just dropped. He addresses everyone who came out to see him at the listening party, sending love and appreciation. The tracks start and everyone is enjoying themselves with his biggest fans being ever present right beside him. Lou’s whole family is there for his moment, he even shares a small heartwarming jam session with his arm wrapped around his mother behind the booth
I found myself moving past the crowd to get a break from the body heat in exchange for a fresh breeze outside. As I sit outside, a group of drunk girls stumble by as they ask me in loud voices, “Is this the place for Lou Phelps?”. I nodded to their excitement and thought that this just might be Lou Phelps’ time.
002/ Love Me is now available on all streaming platforms.