Toronto-born rapper Jazz Cartier is winner of the 2017 Juno Award (Canada’s Grammys) for “Rap Recording of the Year,” a favorite artist of Lil Wayne’s and an orange. Or at least if he had to be a food (as Barbara Walters is famous for asking interviewees) he would be an orange. It’s a versatile thing, he says: an orange slice in the morning, a splash of juice to top a mimosa or an infusion to mix up a happy hour cocktail. The versatility seems an apt metaphor for Cartier, who kicks off our discussion by saying that he is a man of “many lives.” A constant traveler who went to 13 schools throughout his childhood, Cartier is currently gearing up to release his third album, Fleurever, with Capitol Records.
He’s also a picky eater.
Cartier is meticulous, both in the music he creates and enjoys, as well as the food he eats. As we sit down at Café Mogador, a family-run Mediterranean-style restaurant cemented into the foundations of NYC’s historic Lower East Side, I watch him peruse the menu, ruminating over the potential dangers of combining French toast and fish pasta (he went with the pasta), and the beautiful voice of our friendly waitress. He folds up his menu and looks around at the decorative mirrors and the speakers humming above our heads. He’s finicky, yes, but also cultivates a great appreciation for the way food interacts with music and art.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What’s the first thing you want someone to know when they think of you?
I’ve lived many lives. Growing up, I moved around a lot. It was weird to experience so many different cultures.
Why were you traveling around?
My stepdad worked for the US State Department.
Where did you travel?
Barbados, Kuwait, Gambia…Currently they’re [Cartier’s family] in Turkey right now, just chilling; they were here for a month and just went back. So yeah, they’re still doing it. I had to escape. Thirteen schools was enough for me…
Thirteen? Wow. How did you deal with that?
Thirteen schools is too many schools for a kid to go to. So that’s why, certain days, I just don’t really know how my personality is. Certain days I feel one way, other days I feel another way. I just woke up ready for all the bullshit in the world, you know?
Where did you live the longest?
The longest? It probably would have been the last five years in Toronto.
How have you found it? What do you like and not like about it?
I love it because with all the places that I’ve traveled to, I always wanted that connection back home. I’d visit every year. I always had that connection there, but it just wasn’t the same. So when I finally moved back and started to find myself and experience different things, it made me a better person. I guess I needed it. It’s definitely the longest I’ve been in one place. Now that I look back at it, I’m like, I’ve been here too long. It’s time for me to go.
Where do you think you would go then?
I’m not too sure. Somewhere though. Depends on how I feel that day.
That’s a cool attitude to be able to have.
All I need is my clothes. I’m not really attached to things. My clothes and my TV. That’s all I need.
Is there one thing that you did every time you went somewhere to adapt yourself, or to ground yourself somewhere?
Every time is different, because I just didn’t know what I was going to experience, you know? I went from being in a school filled with gangs in Texas to a school filled with like the worst type of kids in the world at this private school in Woodstock, Georgia. But then I transferred schools and went to another public school, which was sick. After that, we went to Kuwait, which was a culture shock. I spent two years there and loved it. I still talk to some kids there to this day, and that was probably the most fun I had. It was such a detachment from Western civilization.
How did you adjust to the different foods in all those different countries? Especially as a kid where, if you’re picky now, everyone’s usually pickier as a kid?
I knew what I liked and what I didn’t like. A lot of things were foreign to me. It was very weird, because I grew up in a very Jamaican household, so every Sunday my grandma would cook dinner for the whole family — back when like I was a kid my family was together, before we got older and everything got weird. That was a time where we all came together over food. Me and my grandma were super-close, and she would always make specific dishes for me because I just didn’t like everything else.
There’s this Jamaican dish called “ackee saltfish,” but I hated the ackee.
What is it?
It’s like a fruit. I think the ackee just like looks gross, it smells gross. I just don’t like it. I just like the fish, but they always mix it together, so I was like “Grandma can you please just give me the fish?”
Is there any food you want to try but haven’t?
Yeah, there’s a lot of things I haven’t tried because I just never liked them. But as I get older, the one thing I always regretted with all my travels was not experiencing all the food. That’s my only regret, ironically enough, but as I get older I start to appreciate things more. Now that my life has come full-circle and my job requires me to travel, when I go to Europe I’m out a lot more than I used to be. Before I used to be like, “Oh, let’s do the show, hotel, sleep and travel,” but now I’m like, I need to explore.
What do you think about food becoming such a cultural thing?
I love it. I think Instagram is sick, especially out in L.A. — all these food trucks have Instagrams. I think it’s super fire, and you can be like, “You know what, these guys are cooking today, let’s hit them up.” It makes it engaging. People are pushing food. It’s cool. I’m not a guy to post food —
But you can respect it?
Yeah, I can respect it. I follow a couple of chefs. A good friend of mine is a chef back home. She’s opened up multiple restaurants back home. Actually one of my best friends is a chef, so it’s like, I’m always around food. I just like where it’s going, how creative people are getting.
The flip side of this food culture is that you lose some of the smaller, family-owned businesses to these bigger chains and restaurant groups. What do you think about that?
Yeah, like my neighborhood in Toronto is called Kensington Market. It’s like a little market within Chinatown. It’s like the spot within Chinatown that’s not Chinatown, but it’s everything that you can imagine: Jamaican food, Italian, fish tacos. It’s the last un-gentrified place in Toronto for now, and that’s my home base. And they’re trying to bring a big grocery store there. So I’m pretty familiar with the big businesses coming for the locals and the people that have been there for years, you know? Anybody can go to McDonald’s, but at the end of the day when you meet up with your friends and they’re like ‘what did you do today’ and you’re like ‘I went to McDonald’s,’ that’s not interesting. What’s the name of this restaurant?
Café Mogador. It’s like you want to say you went here.
Exactly. And it’s like, where is that? Oh, it’s the spot here and there. And it’s that word of mouth; it’s not as powerful as posting on Instagram, but it also comes from a better place. And if someone recommended this place, I would come here and be like, I trust this person.
It’s the same as going to a big venue or finding a smaller underground band at your favorite venue. I can definitely see the connection there.
Yeah, and it’s just taste, you know? Like me and music, I hate…I don’t hate, I strongly dislike when people play bad music. I’m not saying that some music’s bad, because it’s all subjective, but there’s certain stuff that you’re like, my ears should not be listening to this right now.
I think there definitely is a creative overlap between food and music. Food can be an art form. Do you agree with that?
I’ve always admired anybody that can cook. That’s a special talent and it takes a kind of special person to be able to cook for people. It’s something that I have yet to develop. I feel like some people are advanced in things early on. I feel like I’m the kind of guy to probably hit 30, 33, 35 and then start getting my culinary game up.
Is that a goal? To step up your culinary game?
Yeah, eventually. I feel like it’s the same way that I make a song, leave the studio, and from the time I leave the studio to the time I go to bed, that song that I made is on repeat, you know? And I wake up the next morning and I’m still on a high from the song. That’s like the best feeling. When the song’s bad, it’s like, “You know what, I should probably take a few days off.” I feel like when you make food every day, you’re trying. And the satisfaction of enjoying a movie after, or enjoying some wine after you just like killed it in the kitchen — that’s super fly.
Food and music…
Food and music go hand in hand. Chefs are the new rappers.