I walk into the Rivoli around 12:30 hoping to see Tre Mission preparing for his closing night set for the Northside Behaviour Showcase only to see things have been running late, as most festival sets tend to be, so my search continued. It had been almost five years since I had last seen him; we had both grown up in Don Mills and started playing music in our first band, The Svens, at a young age. Expanding the musical appreciation and practical knowledge over the last twelve years has had a high impact on the level of artistry he has developed in that time – a rising star on the UK Grime scene, Tre recently released his full-length album, Stigmata that received critical acclaim, a Juno nomination, and now a hometown gig in Toronto for Canadian Music Week – Tre has been keeping himself busy and I was looking forward to catching up.
Kaydee was next to perform as the Rivoli began to swell up with guests, grabbing drinks, socializing and holding groups throughout the dance floor of the venue. An MC proud to represent his country, Kaydee, backed by a DJ and an entourage, created a dynamic energy that lifted the audience. An explosive energy of lyrical cadences amongst a barrage of gunshot soundbite squibs, and heavy bass beats captured an audience that nodded in unison. He gestured the crowd to sway along to cyclical rhythms and though the crowd kept their gaze set on stage, my Tre mission continued. After numerous searches out front in the patio, and backstage through a fire door, I saw Tre standing near the sound booth with his girlfriend. He smiled as I stuck my hand out to receive his greeting, “Yo, it’s been a while!” He reached out and gave me a hug, still as welcoming as ever.
“I’ve been looking for you!” I expressed wholeheartedly.
“Just wait ‘til I hit the stage, I literally transform!” He shouted over the crowd still cheering for Kaydee. He introduced me to his girlfriend and showed his gratitude for having me come to the gig. As the noise and ruckus began to overcome our speech I asked, “do you want to go for a smoke?” He nodded and invited his girlfriend and close friend beside him to go for a walk to the patio with me.
“Are you good to smoke before you go on stage?” I asked as I pulled out a joint from my doobtube.
“Yeah that’s fine,” he said nonchalantly, “I get fucked up.”
To my surprise his friend had just pulled out a blunt and was lighting it as a grin was drawn upon my face in delight. How was I not surprised that there would be a preshow ritual for the closing set of the night? The sparks flew and it was good to be back in the presence of a friend I first performed with from my youth.
“I used to be so shy when we played on stage back then,” he confessed. “Like I was nervous standing behind that keyboard. But now,” he paused to inhale and meditatively appreciate the smoke, “now it’s different. Like I could always rap, but it really takes that span of time in the recording studio, working with microphones, equipment, to learn about and truly find your voice.”
Parting ways to explore his own creations, Tre started recording his own beats when he was thirteen; it wasn’t until he was about sixteen that music finally took full precedence upon his world. “I used to make beats on Fruity Loops, and sell them to engineers at studios while everyone else was bringing in samples of other people’s work,” he told me in an interview the day after the CMW show. “It was really rare at the time that when we were making music, Youtube just came out when I was in grade 9, now you can get tutorials on how to use Ableton or Logic, when back then we had to just figure it all out.” It wasn’t until he started selling beats and being invited to studios to develop his craft that he gave into the passion his soul was dying to do. “This became my life, after school, through snowstorms, taking that bus out to Kennedy and spending time in the studio learning, staying ‘til everyone was gone, just making beats and recording.” All the studious work had paid off, after several years of releasing his own material on forums and trying to make a name for himself, did the connections finally come together.
“I started getting emails from grime artists in the UK who liked my work and wanted to help support me. After months of these exchanges I decided I had to go there. What was supposed to be a two-week stay in London ended up being five months,” he said about traveling overseas. This transition was the catalyst for Malmaison, his 2013 mixtape that became a huge success. Which lead to a record deal with Big Dada and the release of his full album, Stigmata, that was shortlisted for Rap Recording of the Year at the 2015 Junos.
We had walked a few stores down from the Rivoli to finish our smoke as Tre greeted and welcomed friends in passing that came to the show. “That’s the only thing I hate about show days,” he says looking down at his iPhone, “this phone never stops ringing!” After a few more breaths of the city night air, we headed back to the venue to catch the acts before Tre’s set. I walked back in with that subtle state of stoned, not too high that I was cerebral and not to heavy that I wanted to pass out, just that atmospheric awareness to acknowledge all of my surroundings without discomfort.
Redway was on stage, performing with the same veracity as Kaydee before him. The crowd was amped, bumping and feeding off the high-octane energy of the half a dozen or so members shouting hooks and rapping separate verses, creating a collaborative effort of theatricality and audience interactivity. Even Tre got excited at the fact that they were throwing YKTO (You Know The Ones) t-shirts into the crowd. He hustled to the front to grab one before they were gone. He walked back to his girlfriend and small collective of friends, folded the shirt and stood back watching the show. As the rowdy, large-scale bravado of the performance continued, Tre held a sturdy composure and level of stoicism to his presence. I asked how long he takes before a set to get into that zone of focus, “I never really thought about it like that,” he responded when, and after a beat, a meditative thought emerged, “ten minutes.”
Once Redway and his crew exited the stage, greeted the crowd and surged back into the mix of faces, Tre stood still in comfort, without any rush or urgency, sipping his Strongbow, probably entering that same ten minute zone before starting. His DJ, Freeza was already on stage setting up his laptop and cueing the ending skit from Malmaison’s “V Am,” a cockney girl leaving a message on his phone pissed off about how he took off early in the morning with her weed. Tre was already at the lip of the stage, and unlike his previous performers taking a backstage theatrical entrance; he side rolled and hopped up rather than taking the long trip around, anyways it was just him and his DJ. He had a laugh, took a sip of his Strongbow and when he grabbed hold of the mic I saw the transformation.
“The reality you’re livin/dreamin is privilege/reality is given/kill every enemy you’ll fight in the sequel,” he rhymes on “Introdeuce,” the opening track on Malmaison and usual set opener. His lyrics flow like subconscious poetry streaming through a channeled vessel layered with a mix of grime beats, trance melodies and emotional sweeps. There is no entourage, no gimmicks, no t-shirts flying through the air, just an artist spitting rhymes with sheer fluid tenacity, and when you rhyme over self-produced beats harnessed by a DJ you are in total sync with, there is no need for extravagancy. “At the end of the day it was gifts I was given/think about the money and the trips I was given/four months chicken and chips I was livin off in a new country/stick to the vision/you could do this Tre, I’mma quit for the Mission,” he flows on “Night Bus”, in relation to the sudden experience of starting fresh in London with the drive and passion to succeed.
Moving bullet speed through verses, only to cut a track short at will, to follow up by saying, “what’s next Freeza?” Tre’s set are usually structured with the fronts and backs, but he creates his own arc in song choices and knows when to wing it. “I like a performance more when it looks like its not rehearsed. There’s interactivity with the DJ and it’s honest.” Flowing through the title track off of Stigmata, “On Road,” and closing with his favourite song, “Flashlight Whoa,” Tre not only showed humility in his performance, a rarity in most rappers his age, but a strong theatricality of showmanship. Showcasing all the hard hours put into the work he closes to a rambunctious crowd, screaming and slamming the heating vents in applause. Such accolades are shown in his extensive resume, playing to large audiences at Dundas Square for NXNE, and opening for Kendrick Lamar at the Sound Academy where he received a powerful reaction from the crowd, Tre has a lot to show for the mission he started as a kid. He wants to explore the planet and is continuing on the creative process. “I don’t want to be tied down to one home. I just want to keep on breathing and live.”
Stigmata is available on his website www.tremission.com
Along with Malmaison streamed on his Soundcloud https://soundcloud.com/tremission