My struggles have made me humble — A profile of Ottawa rapper Above Forward

Above Forward is an emerging rapper in Ottawa who writes lyrics based on the real-life difficulties he personally experienced. Rising from the lowest point in his life, we met Above Forward in his new home to hear about some of his tough experiences and their impact on his music.

Above Forward. Photo: presszo.ca

When asked what percentage of his music reflects experiences in his own life, Above Forward put this proportion at eighty percent. But does it concern him at all to put so much of his personal life out there, through his lyrics?

“At first yeah, it did,” noted Above Forward, before adding: “I was hesitant at first, but I could see that people like to hear music that’s about real life.”

Above Forward grew up in Ottawa and was raised by his grandparents. When asked about his childhood, he described it as having been hard, even though at the basic level, he had everything that he needed. Yet he spoke about how, as a child, police would often arrive at his home and how he lived through a home invasion. Above Forward only completed Grade 8 of school, before getting expelled. He tried to return to adult high school four years ago, attending St. Nicholas and hoped to become a nurse. But he felt that due to a low attention span and negative influences from the neighourhood, this form of formal classroom education was not for him.

“Not finishing school is one thing I regret. This is my biggest regret. I was good at playing basketball and I probably could have gotten a scholarship to continue my education. Above Forward had his first daughter at age 16 and moved out from home a year later, to live with his child’s mother. At first, Above Forward tells us that he was doing very well–he had found a steady job and had a regular income. But at age 18, he separated from his partner and moved back to his grandparents’ place. The real problems started when he turned twenty. Things went downhill when he mingled with the wrong crowd and got involved with drugs. He stopped producing music for a number of years.

Much of his music speaks of the struggles he experienced during these years, such as losing friends and having to sleep on the floor in a “dope house.”

“Many of my friends went through the same things, so in my music you’ll hear me talk about them as well. I always try to add my friends and their life experiences into my music. We went through the same stuff together. In a sense, partying led to addiction. But the experience, especially being nearly homeless and sleeping a floor, made me stronger as a person. Yet at this point in my life, I would never go back to that,” Above Forward explained, adding that he has been sober for six months now.

When asked how his struggles in life made him stronger as a person, Above Forward reflected for a moment, before noting: “It made me a lot more humble.”

Above Forward. Photo: presszo.ca

Sometimes producing music based on personal experience can become emotional and this is what happened with Above Forward’s most recent track, “Hold it Down.” He mentioned that one of the people in it, Above Forward’s best friend, is looking at incarceration. “In the track, I talk about sleeping on the floor with him and when I created these lyrics, it brings back those memories. That was a hard one to do, for sure.

Above Forward works on his music every day. He had just completed a new track a couple of days before we interviewed him and he was working on a brand new video.

“I mostly free-style my music,” he explained. “I memorize everything and I haven’t written on paper in ten years,” he added. When preparing to produce a video, Above Forward and his crew creates a shot list of specific locations, exactly what they want to portray and who is going to be in it. As part of this process, they also scout out potential locations. When asked about costs and finances, he noted that he pays $30 to produce each track and $50 for each video. Costs are low, thanks to friend of his who has professional training in video editing and who assists with each production.

Above Forward said that promotion is the most challenges part of producing music. At the moment, he does his own promotion, mostly making use of social media platforms like Facebook and Youtube. He told us that he can make a track in as little as fifteen minutes through free-styling. “I keep all the good stuff in my head, Above Forward remarked. But promotion is a much more time-consuming process. In the near future, his goal is to get onto Spotify.

Above Forward. Photo: presszo.ca

Above Forward also has shows, as an opener, at the Bourbon Room in downtown Ottawa, and at other locations. His most recent one this past May was nearly sold-out. In most cases, he participates in shows that feature local Ottawa talent, but was proud to note that recently, he opened for prominent rapper Aaron Cohen, who was visiting from New York.

While Above Forward does find support in Ottawa for his music, he added that jealousy among artists is a problem. “I think that we’re all from the same city making music, so we should all help push each other and do a better job helping each other out. If Ottawa were like Toronto, music-wise and in terms of helping each other out, I think we would all be doing a lot better,” he noted.

One of the best supports that Above Forward has comes from his grandparents. “My grandma is well into her sixties, but she still comes to my shows, even though they are full of these twenty-five year olds. Yet she enjoys it and is really supportive of me,” he explained.

Above Forward has a message to his listeners and to others looking at getting into music, even if they have had a rough life. “It doesn’t matter where you start. You just need to set a goal and you can achieve it. If I can start from the bottom, from sleeping on a floor and slowly working my way up, finally getting myself together, then anyone can. Just stay humble, stay real and do your thing,” he emphasizes.

Today, in addition to focusing on his music, Above Forward takes care of his young son every day and has clearly settled into the role of being a father. His face quite literally lights up when he sees his child play in front of him.

Above Forward. Photo: presszo.ca

Above Forward tells us that with each song that he produces, his goal is to put his best music out there and top his last one. “If you look at my music, you’re always going to see improvement with each song I do,” he said. In total, Above Forward has seven videos on YouTube and over one hundred tracks. It’s clear that with a new positive focus in his life, Above Forward has many more songs to come.

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