By Frank Larue
Joey Stylez was born Joseph Laplante, a member of the Moosmin First Nations. He grew up in Saskatoon with a single mother and has said that his childhood was sometimes a lesson in survival. Drugs and alcohol were the route taken by many people he knew, but Joey found music and a dream that someday he would make it. “I never stopped believing.”
Black Star, his first CD, has garnished him a Juno nomination and has already won best pop CD at the Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Awards. Joey sees himself as more than a rapper; he can also sing, and his songs reflect a multitude of influences. “I prefer to define myself as new age music because of my fashion, music style and background, and ancestry. All those culminate into one unique thing. Once you’re pigeonholed as something, that’s what you are and you can’t ever branch out, so I like to be classified simply as an artist. I like Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Bob Marley, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Frank Sinatra. All of those musicians are influences on my music.”
Seven million people have seen him on YouTube, and videos for his songs Sugarcane, and Kool Running have established him as a new artist with a bright future. It also makes him one of the first Aboriginal Hip Hop performers to break out of his city and make an impression worldwide. It was no fluke or lucky break that the songs on Black Star were well received by audiences in Canada and the US. Stylez had worked on his material over the years; his writing matured gradually, but it was worth the wait. The final result was a collection of songs that are polished, well crafted, and showcase the unique talent of Joey Stylez.
He was driven to make the first CD and was determined it would be successful or he was going to die trying. An example of his commitment to the project was that he produced and directed his first video, with no budget and only his own determination and creativity. “I’ve been working on this album for about a decade overall, even though the songs are all new. I rap about what I’ve been through. It’s not art that imitates someone else’s life. When I first started, my songs were dark because I was going through a hard part of life, but now life’s been good to me. Songs are happier now, much more abstract and largely influenced by my traveling. “
The greatest influence on his music Stylez proudly states, is his Plains Cree grandmother whom he confesses, “She’s the last of her kind right now, practicing all of the traditional ceremonies; she’s still pure. Having never drank, done drugs, or smoked. She’s a pillar of strength for myself and our community as a whole. She’s had such a powerful impact on me and my music. My faith comes from her. I’ve never had any doubt, and it’s thanks to her.”
Joey Stylez toured with Blue Rodeo and Buffy Saint-Marie in support of residential school survivors and made many new fans on his Paint it Red tour. He also performed on reserves across Canada as part of a youth motivational workshop. The last time a First Nations musician has gained such mainstream attention was in the nineties when the Montagnais duo Kashtin’s first album went gold. “No one’s seen this side of Natives yet, it’s time to break the barriers and stereotypes.” Speaking about his breakthrough CD, Black Star, which may win him a Juno in March, he said, “At the end of the day, it’s an Aboriginal CD. I’m going there to win. I’m going there with my speech. I’m going there with my tuxedo. I’m going there to shine.”