Bubblin' Up: Lou Phelps

The rising Montreal rapper reflects on his career to date and muses over new music.
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Trace through the musical lineage of Montreal artist Lou Phelps (born Louis-Philippe Celestin) and you'll be hit by obvious cue points leading to a career in music. That's not to say success was handed to him on a platter; rather, Phelps, now 24, actively—and naturally—chased an innate interest in music from the age of 10, recording beats and rhymes with a family that shared his genetic connection to creativity. Alongside his brother Louis Kevin Celestin (a.k.a. Kaytranada), Phelps formed The Celestics in 2011 with the release of Massively Massive, a 15-track long-player that, although being gritty and slightly clunky (it was, after all, recorded with a Guitar Hero mic and a ripped version of Fruity Loops), presented an evolved sonic vision from two artists with a wealth of promise. Supreme Laziness then followed in 2014, further refining their sound with another 15 head-nodding cuts—"Charles Barkley" and "173(pipo version)" ft. Waldo are of particular note from this era.

During his time in The Celestics, Phelps released a wealth of solo outings as Louie P, including Cause I Wanna, an 80-minute DJ mix—quite interestingly—featuring Kyle HallMr. Oizo, DJ Rashad, and RP Boo. A handful of singles then followed under his Lou Phelps moniker before last year's standout debut, 001: Experiments, which fused the electronic experimentation of the artist glimpsed on Cause I Wanna with deeper influence from Madvillain, Slum Village, Jay Z, and Erik B & Rakim. Just as he's done his whole life, Phelps recorded 001: Experiments alongside his brother (who produced it)—with guests including Innanet James, CJ Flemings, Bishop Nehru, and KALLITECHNIS—putting a stamp on his life in music up to that point and outlining an impressive mission statement for what's to come. With more releases on the horizon, including a new album, XLR8R caught up with Phelps to learn some more.

Lou Phelps will perform at this years Igloofest in Montreal, Canada, alongside DJ Esco, Boi-1da, Nate Husser, and more. He's scheduled to play on Thursday, February 1. More information can be found here.

Your debut solo album arrived last year, but when did your musical path begin?

It began when I was the age of 10 years old, messing around with a cheap computer microphone and my PC recorder with my brother and my cousins. We used to have a rap group called The God Monsters. Seeing 50 Cent and Jay-Z on television made me wanna become a rapper at a young age but we only did it for fun. Things became serious when I saw Kevin’s talent and began discovering more underground hip-hop music in high school.

It’s interesting that both you and your brother have both found success in music. Do you come from a particularly musical family?

Yes, our father used to be in a Kompa band, and our mother used to sing in a choir. One of our sisters used to sing every day out loud in the house, etc. Our family is basically very art oriented; Kevin is a great drawer, dancer, and actor. But music is what I wanted to do because I can't draw to save my life and I can't dance either so I naturally gravitated towards music.

Has it always been clear to you that you wanted to pursue a career in music?

Yes, I've always had music as my "plan A" but always had a "plan B" too. So I went to school to have a fallback plan but I realised that if I didn't put all my focus on it then it wouldn't work.

Looking back, did you instantly feel a connection with rap when you heard it?

I feel like rap music was always around me. So it just feels natural. I used to hear songs like "T.R.O.Y." and go crazy because of the usage of the samples—without even knowing they were samples. Jazz music had a deeper connection with me. I was too young but I remember hearing Ella Fitzgerald play in my Dad’s car and going crazy because she was saying gibberish but making it sound so good.

When did you begin writing lyrics and performing in public? 

I remember that I started writing my own lyrics when I got into high school because I made a mixtape with me rapping gibberish and showed it to my friends—and they laughed at me. I would laugh at it too if I heard it now. But I only started performing at the age of 16.

Where did you first begin performing your raps? Did you go to events?

The first time I performed was when I auditioned for a talent show at school, but they didn't take me because rap wasn't relevant for them.The actual first time I performed in front of a crowd was when I was 16. It was at the fourth ArtBeat Montreal event. (I believe the video is still on Youtube.) The producer showcase part was over and Kay and the other Alaiz members were doing a DJ set. There was a microphone and I was like, "Fuck it, let's do it. Kay played “Kolanget” from our first The Celestics mixtape and the crowd went wild! The chorus sorta became an anthem for a moment in the scene.

What did your early experiments sound like?

Basically, me doing covers of popular rap songs and switching up the words for gibberish.

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What was it like growing up in Montreal, more generally?

We grew up in a suburb of Montreal called the South Shore. So I can't really explain to you what it's like growing up in the city. From what I heard, it's a completely different world from where I grew up. There is sort of no culture and diversity in the suburbia of Montreal. Everyone looks the same, they look up to the same people, listen to the same music, etc. There wasn't much to do except play sports, go to school, and do all the other things teens do.

How is the rap scene in Montreal? 

The rap scene in Montreal is interesting. We have great artists, rappers, producers, DJs, etc. The thing is rappers in Montreal have no camaraderie. Everybody is in competition to be the first one with that blows up out of here. The French rap scene here is pretty poppin' tho.

When did you begin involving yourself in Montreal's rap scene? Are you still very involved today? 

I started to get involved in the rap scene when Kay was 18 and our parents wouldn't allow us to go out. Some people from Montreal discovered Kaytra through Soundcloud or whatever. And I was the one who would convince our mother to let us go out and from going out to these Montreal underground hip-hop events I got to see the nightlife and what the scene looked like.

Did you perform at all in these Montreal hip-hop nights? Did you learn a lot there?

When I started taking rap seriously, I used to perform everywhere. But then I feel like the promoters weren’t interested in what I did so I wasn't doing as many shows as before. They were more into the DJ sets. But I remember opening for Cam’ron, it was probably the most enlightening experience of my life. I've never seen this many people not caring about what I did at the same time. So I was like, "Yo, I gotta find a way to make better stuff to make the people turn their heads when I perform. I gotta find a way to make people ask about me." And then when I started touring with Kay, I was killin every show I was performing.

Which Montreal artists are you into right now?

I really like Planet Giza. They’re most likely the most talented people to come out of Montreal after Kaytra. I fuck with High-Klassified, Da-P. This group called Alaclair Ensemble, they aren't from Montreal, they're from Quebec city but they represent well.

Besides rap, what sort of music were you listening to growing up? Who were the artists that inspired you?

I was open to listening to different types of music as I grew up, including Billy Talent, Coldplay, 50 Cent, Erik B & Rakim. I think the main inspiration for my music right now would be Madvillain, Anderson .Paak, and SlumVillage.

What is it about these three artists that you appreciate—and in what ways do you try to bring this into your own music? 

Madvillain is the Madlib beats and the way Doom flows over them that sounds amazing to me. Anderson .Paak’s soul is just incomparable. The way he sings and finds ideas of flows over tracks is simply amazing. And Slum Village is the Dilla beats with the flows and subjects that they rap about.

You actually began your career as Louie P. with The Celestics—releasing in 2011. What was the inspiration/idea for the project? How did it come about?

Madvillain was the main inspiration. I was trying to be like them. I thought I had a talent that no one around me had and I also saw Kaytranada’s talent. It just worked well. No one used to want to rap on my brother’s beats at the time. Who else can understand more his vibe than his own blood? That's what The Celestics was all about.

When did you guys first enter the studio together?

We didn't have a studio. All of this was recorded in our mother’s basement on Guitar Hero microphone with a sock over it!

Is your studio still in the same place?

Yes, we're still in the basement; that's where we make beats and lay down the ideas. But to record the final versions, I go to a studio near where I stay. The Gold Labs is the name. They got a dope set up, drums, guitars, TV, drinks. All a brother needs to keep his mind flowing.

How was it going to the studio with your brother? It must be a funny experience.

It was normal, to be honest. Kay is a computer nerd. He’s always making beats or listening to samples. The way we “hit the studio” was basically Kevin playing his new beats and I would randomly pop up and say, “ WOOOOOOOO, I like this beat” and he would give it to me. We would work our separate ways. When I'm done with my part, he would listen to it and tell me if there were any changes to make. I would listen and switch what I had to switch. Then you’ve got yourself a Celestics track!

You also released a wealth of solo outings as Louie P during your time in The Celestics. Talk to me about these. 

It was basically me doing my own thing. Sometimes Kevin doesn't have time to work with me and you gotta make music on your own. Also, people heard about The Celestics and my raps, and they love it and they asked for features. If I liked the beat then I rapped on it.

So you've been rapping for many years, but you've also produced some of your own beats. When did you begin experimenting with music production? 

I only just started producing music last year. But I began understanding the mechanics of FL Studio back when Kevin was making beats with “virtual DJ” but wanted to add his own compositions to the music. He didn't understand how it worked so I took the pieces to the puzzle and made it work and explained it to him. The rest is history.

What was it that inspired you to begin producing music last year—was it just an important step in becoming a solo artist? 

Basically, it’s an important step to have control over the instrumental you're rapping on, even if you haven't produced it from head to toe. You always have to have your two cents on it. I think you have to produce to reach the creativity that you envisioned in your mind.

Looking back, did you have a clear idea of how you wanted your solo music to sound?

At first, I wanted it to be "underground beats with mainstream lyrics." But now I'm just doing what I think is dope.

And one of the first releases was 001: Experiments—your first solo album. Talk to me about the recording processes behind it.

It's produced by my brother and Tek.Lun. It's basically a bunch of dope things that I wanted to work on. I didn't really have a concept to it so I called it Experiments. It took about three years to build—three years of being uncertain about if a song sounds dope or not; three years of doubting myself because I knew it wouldn't have the same impact as The Celestics. All I wanted to do with this one was to show that I'm still here and I can still deliver some dope music.

"He's a musical genius but don't want it to look like its a side project for him when its my own thing."

How much of a role did your brother play on the record?

Kay did most of the production—but 001 and the other projects that I will be putting out are completely my things. He has a great musical mind. He's a musical genius but I don't want it to look like its a side project for him when it's my own thing.

Why did you begin working Lou Phelps rather than Louie P? 

I switched my name because I was on Worldstarhiphop and I saw another rapper named Louie P. Also seeing #LouieP on Instagram its mostly random rappers from the States. So I had to find something original that nobody had and that sounded cool.

It’s interesting that you collaborated with some other Montreal-based artists on the release. What’s the reason for this?

I always want to showcase what my city has to offer and also I work with the resources that are around me. If you sound dope, then we can work together.

Your lyrics are at times funny and playful. Where do your lyrics come from? Are you always writing?

The way I write my stuff is pretty much how I would act or say things in real life. I used to write verses without even hearing an instrumental at the time. But now I feel like I'd rather ride on the beat than take some pre-written stuff. It's sort of like eating frozen food or cooking it yourself: sometimes the frozen food is the quicker option. But it's always better to cook it yourself.

How reflective of this vibe is reflective of your personality?

To be honest with you, I’m a shy dude, very reserved, introvert. But once you get to know me, I’ll be cracking up the jokes, making people laugh and shit. So I think it does reflect how I am.

What's does 2018 have in store for Lou Phelps? When can we expect some new material?

2018 will be touring, and hopefully some modelling contracts, hopefully, some acting deals. Joke! 2018, album 002 dropping this spring. Debut single coming out very soon.

Will your next solo material will be produced by you?

I don't feel confident enough about my producing to have it make most of my album but there will be like two or three songs that are produced by me. Hopefully, they turn out to be the most banging tracks on the album in the public’s eye.

Can we expect more material from The Celestics?

I hope so.