Published Oct 22, 2019Ottawa artist City Fidelia is celebrating the release of his long-awaited debut LP, PainKiller. Since he started, he's amassed millions of streams and heaps of buzz, including recently securing a spot on Rolling Loud's Hong Kong edition (recently cancelled amid security concerns related to ongoing protests).
It's clear that he is reaching a vast audience outside of his hometown, yet, as he told Exclaim!, it was reconnecting with Canada's capital that led to the creation of his opus and redefined what he hopes will become his legacy.
"I started working on the project in Toronto," he explains, "I moved there five years ago. I wanted to get away from family issues." As he describes it, when he first began creating content, he was trying to fit in, rather than being himself. He originally moved to Toronto to be with his girlfriend, but the two split only weeks into his stay. This transition was one he captured on his 2016 EP FreeDumb.
"I didn't know myself, and I felt like I was still trying to figure out who I was; I was trying to replicate a lot of the things that were playing in the clubs."
Ultimately, it was by confronting the issues that drove him to Canada's hip-hop Mecca that he realized his purpose and found himself artistically. "When I moved back to Ottawa to face whatever issues that I didn't want to deal with at that point. I realized that I needed to get back to what I do best: talking about hardships and real-life situations," he says.
The process of quarrelling with his demons guided the narrative of PainKiller. "This album is all about trying to overcome battles that you have and finding different ways to numb the pain."
As he breaks down, the loose narrative is a well-rounded approach to examining not just coping — but the consequences of chosen vices. "The stories on here look at the reasons why we feel like we need to get on these painkillers. It also looks at what happens when we're on these painkillers and what comes with overdoing them — whether it's sex, drugs, or alcohol," he says.
There is an almost therapeutic aspect to the music. As he describes it, his project is a loose allusion to that period in which you're awaiting the effects of your chosen coping mechanism to take hold. "Hopefully, [PainKiller] helps you like overcome whatever battles that you're trying to fight."
Probably the most intriguing part of City is his sense of the bigger picture, and the role he is attempting to play within the tapestry of Ottawa's music community. The most significant by-product of the album's creation process was reconnecting with Ottawa, and tapping into its breadth of musical talent. "95 percent of the production is from Ottawa," he says — adding that all the features are from the capital as well. "It was just my way of bringing local talent globally."
City is not the first artist to find himself reaching a broad audience outside of the 613 area code. Artists like Belly, Eternia, and more recently, buzzing upstart Dax have made a significant impact on the hip-hop world south of the border. However, their journeys have, for the most part, made them synonymous with cities other than Ottawa.
City Fidelia is taking a road less travelled. He likens his vision to that of Toronto's Remix Project — creating opportunities for up-and-coming artists to cultivate and monetize their skills. This, of course, would be opposed to getting caught up in harmful lifestyles that often allure youth engulfed in lower-income environments.
"That's the culture I want to start building in Ottawa. That's my mission."
City Fidelia's PainKiller is available now via his own Ensemble label.