Photos: Joseph Morrison
In a space defined by viral, meme-worthy tracks like Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" and RMR's "RASCAL," enters Calgary-born artist and producer Turbo. The country/hip-hop crossover artist and his latest single "Heart Stop" combines traditional rap beats with acoustic guitar and catchy lines like "you wanna party with a rock star?" The song is confident and honest, honoring the defining features of each genre without the exaggeration typically seen in other crossover tracks.
The son of a prominent bluegrass guitarist, Turbo grew up with country music but also drew inspiration from unlikely sources. Drawn to rap and hardstyle at an early age, he cites Avicii's "LE7ELS" as the reason why he began producing.
After quitting music for years, he ultimately came back to it after high school and became obsessed with production, perfecting his skills. Eventually, this persistence led him to the creation of "Heart Stop," released via 10K Projects / Homemade Projects / Internet Money Records.
Ones to Watch got to ask the rising artist about his father's influence, taking his friend to the hospital during the making of "Heart Stop," and his thoughts on country/rap crossovers.
Ones To Watch: You grew up the son of a famous bluegrass musician. How has your father’s career in music influenced your own? Has he given any good advice?
Turbo: My father's talent has always been a huge inspiration. He's also very wise and gives good advice for the decisions I've been making here. Bluegrass is a very unique form of country music. It's almost an acquired taste, once you appreciate the skills of a bluegrass musician, you can't get enough of it. I've always admired my Dad's confidence and presence when he's on stage shredding brass and singin'.
You started producing at a young age, but you stopped working on it for a few years until you turned 18. Why did you take such a long period off, and what was the turning point for you that made you want to commit yourself to music again?
I set aside my creativity around the age of 12 and became enveloped in trying to make friends at school and fit in with certain groups. I can't remember a time where I felt secure/safe in school. My grades were awful. I was both bullied and the bully at times. I eventually got sick of trying to fit in and just went with the flow and by high school I made an amazing group of friends that actually supports me and trusts me, and I would die for them.
Like I said, my grades were bad, so I didn't get into university after high school. I didn't even know what I wanted to do with my life, I just wanted to go to school with my friends, wherever that be. I enrolled in online courses at a learning centre to upgrade. That ended up being a disaster… At the end of the first semester, I was jumped in the school parking lot by group of idiots. I dropped out because I refused to go back to the school itself, and the school never transferred my grades online…. rubbish. My parents felt a lot of concern for me, so they let me hunker down and take time off school. I got a job at a liquor store.
It wasn't long before I picked up old hobbies, including producing music. I remember I would lay on my bed after all of this happened, listening to the new music that was coming out, becoming obsessed again, sparking a vision. I pretty much spent 100% of my free time producing music after that. Every day it slowly pieced itself together, I had no idea I'd make it this far.
Your music has both hip-hop and country influences which, before the days of “Old Town Road,” was practically unheard of. Did you ever expect this kind of crossover to become mainstream, and why do you think people are finding hip-hop and country crossovers so appealing?
In the 21st century, there's heaps of music, let alone genres. People don't tend to listen to one genre. As a matter of fact, people will just name the genre they don't like instead. Musicians are like this too. Music inspires music, so I think country-hip-hop was inevitable. I tried to be the first big artist, but Lil Tracy x Lil Uzi beat me there. Then Lil Nas X came shortly after. I believe that meme culture is the gateway for this genre. It's not being taken too seriously. That's the fun in it. Just let go and get hillbilly and be open minded. My mission, though, is to show people that this is the start of something enormous, not a temporary trend.
How did your debut single, “Heart Stop,” come together?
I made "Heart Stop" with Alec Wigdahl, Cody (CXDY), Henry (Pharaoh Vice), Edgard Herrera, Taz Taylor and myself. Right away I went in the studio with a large group of Internet Money producers and the mission was to create brand new music on the spot. Nothing came out of me. It wasn't looking good for Turbo.
The session came to an abrupt stop when Taz suddenly got rushed to the hospital because he wasn't feeling well. A few hours later we found out Taz was doing okay, so we got back to work. The vibes were now really strange, aside from my nervousness. We sat back down in the studio and started from scratch again. I wanted guitar, so the famous, Alec Wigdahl, laid it down, and then Cody, Henry, and Tanner laid down the beat.
I was freestyling a bit but couldn't come up with much, so Alec stuck around and wrote the chorus with me. I started with, "You wanna party with a rockstar?" Alec rhymed it with "I'm not afraid to make your Heart Stop," and we just looked at each other and smiled because it was such a fit for the night that just went down. I wrote the verse myself, Edgard engineered it, and the next day Taz woke up in the hospital bumping that shit. I'll never forget that feeling.
You are quoted saying “the best songs come from me sitting in a room alone and just taking my time.” What part of song creation do you love most?
My favorite part is writing hooks. I know how to make something stick in your head. There's no formula, I usually just imagine a crowd at a concert or party singing the lyrics. I like to be alone because when people are in the room, it feels as though you have to perform for them, which may not be 100% genuine. Although collaboration does go a long way and Alec was the first person I made a song with, and it went great. Most of my songs on my new project were written when I was alone.
What is a typical day in quarantine for you?
Typical day of quarantine contains waking up around 2pm, making a cup of coffee while FaceTiming my manager Niall, playing guitar for at least an hour, then I hit the Xbox with the fellas. The past few weeks has been busy with my music video and song release. No time for toys, boy's gotta work. I haven't worked on too much new music since quarantine because I'm stuck at home… I'm ready to get back in the studio soon.
Who are your Ones to Watch?
My Ones to Watch are currently Alec Wigdahl, lil spirit, Ty Fontaine, Moe Young. I know these are people beside me, but this roster is honestly unmatched. Taz Taylor has the next generation under his wing, and it's a matter of time before we take over.
Listen to "Heart Stop" below: