By Jenn Wint
As a young artist, Joseph “Joey Stylez” LaPlante never had a mentor. “It’s something I never experienced; I had to learn everything on my own,” he explains. “I know I would be way better off if I had someone that could have taught me a lot of the little tricks and told me what not to do.”
LaPlante is a prominent Indigenous music performer who has spent almost 20 years carving his own path, cultivating a career in the Canadian music scene. The Juno-nominated Hip Hop artist has produced an extensive body of commercially released work with a strong, recognizable style and sound. In addition to recognition as an award-winning singer-songwriter, he is a rapper, activist, visual artist and fashion designer. His divergent journey to success is one of the major drivers behind his latest project, Ble$$ed Street Studios, an Indigenous recording studio located on Haida Gwaii.
“Throughout my career, I had to figure it out on my own, and it cost me a lot of money, a lot of hours I’ll never get back, so now I’d like to see other artists, especially those I respect, succeed and not have to go through some of the challenges I had to go through.”
Ble$$ed Street Studios is a new media and video production facility founded by LaPlante and business partner Curtis Fullerton. The studio offers collaboration space, recording equipment, mentorship, funding support and tools necessary to advance creative expression and production to established and emerging artists, musicians, and other music professionals. The project was awarded $30,000 funding from the First Peoples Cultural Council and $15,000 from Creative BC. This financial support allowed the team to take the studio from a vision to a reality.
When he began his music career 20 years ago, LaPlante never dreamed he would have a studio of his own where he could collaborate with world-famous artists. “I’ve always been one that did everything myself,” he shares. “I started off in my bedroom with a cassette, then moved to smaller multi-trackers, finally a computer, and then I kept getting more and more equipment. I’ve always been fascinated with the creation of sound.” LaPlante has won three Aboriginal Peoples Music Choice Awards, one Saskatchewan Music Award and one Indigenous Music Award in addition to his Juno Awards nomination. He has also been named one of the top 25 Canadian Rappers of all time. He is the founder of Stressed Street Lifestyle Club, a cooperative of artists and entrepreneurs that promotes a positive lifestyle to urban youth.
Ble$$ed Street Studios’ Market Development and Finance Manager, Fullerton, was a fan of Joey Stylez and his music. When he got the opportunity to meet him, the conversation quickly turned to the business side of music. “We started talking, and a friendship was formed. From there, we realized with our two skill sets combined, we could make something happen,” explains Fullerton. “My role is essentially pairing the talent with available public sources to support them in practicing their art. I manage the administration, reporting and finance, which allows artists to get out there and create.”
Prior to Ble$$ed Street Studios, there was limited sound recording infrastructure in BC’s central and northern coastal regions. Logistically this made it challenging for artists in this region to record, access funding and collaborate with other artists. LaPlante and Fullerton recognized that Indigenous musicians outside major cities or on reserves face the barriers associated with remoteness. Distance from performance opportunities, low visibility and no local recording studios in addition to time and money spent accessing music opportunities has limited the production of Indigenous artists in BC.
LaPlante, who was born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, raised in Saskatoon, understands these obstacles. “I’ve faced a lot of challenges. There were a lot of years where I was on my own, and I had to go through a lot of lessons to get to where I am today,” he explains. “I was going down a very dark path. I lost count of the funerals, of the friends I lost to incarceration, to suicide and overdoses. All those heartbreaks made me into the man I am today and gave me an appreciation for how lucky I am.”
His experience with music, fame and perseverance inspires his passion to mentor emerging artists, especially young Indigenous artists. “I really enjoy working with Native Americans. As a Native American myself, I understand in the past it wasn’t easy because people thought of us as being less than other musicians. They didn’t think we could be as big as Justin Bieber or Post Malone. There’s doubt we would have the same skill level, video production and marketing promotion level. But no, we can make music as good as anybody if not better. That’s definitely where I want to help artists, I want to increase visibility and showcase talent.”
The Juno Awards, Canada’s best-known music recognition, only began recognizing Indigenous Music in 1994. “Joey’s done a lot where other people have not come before him,” explains Fullerton. “We have Buffy Sainte-Marie and a few others but he’s really created his own genre. The infusion of traditional drum beats, rattles and flutes horns with more modern types of music produces some cool sounds. When you merge industry experience with indigenous music, modern voices, modern lyrics, and high-quality production several genres emerge. You get music that has global appeal.”
Ble$$ed Street Studios will work with industry stakeholders to advance the Indigenous music market across Canada. The focus is on producing high-quality music, mentorship and industry experience for innovative new artists, producers, directors, sound engineers, technicians and creative professionals. This project will support emerging and established Indigenous musical artists to undertake sound recording, content creation, video production and other creative development to facilitate opportunities both locally and across Canada. It will be a Creative BC approved recording facility and exemplify the First Peoples' Cultural Council’s mandate to support the revitalization of Indigenous languages, arts, culture and heritage in British Columbia.
LaPlante, who resides on Haida Gwaii with his family, knew the community of Skidegate, BC was the perfect location to foster creativity and mentor emerging talent. With a population of 850, the area is remote and entrenched in nature. “Having a studio here is a dream come true. We wanted it to be somewhere with a magical type of vibe and Haida Gwaii has that. There’s a mystical and spiritual presence that fills this island, it’s next level. Any given day you’ll see a whale, eagles and beautiful, lush forests. This place is someone thing else.”
Ble$$ed Street Studios is operational and local artists have begun producing music. When permitted, the space will be ready to invite artists from elsewhere in Northwest BC and around the province to record their tracks and absorb LaPlante’s mentorship and expertise.
When asked what type of artist he aspires to work with, LaPlante’s answer is simple; he wants artists that are hungry. “Natural talent is awesome, it’s a blessing, but I’ve seen so many talented artists get passed over by the artist who’s hungry,” he explains. “Out of my friends I probably had the least natural talent, but I surpassed many and my skills improved only by the amount of hours I put in. If I can I find someone that’s hungry and they’re ready to learn, that’s who I’d like to mentor.” The studio’s goal is to work with up to 15 Indigenous music artists over a three-year period.
While he waits for the pandemic to subside, LaPlante stays inspired. “My family is my superpower. My kids and my wife keep me charged,” he says, smiling. “I’m definitely more conscious these days of what I’m working on. In the past, I’ve put out some pretty toxic music which I don’t regret, I‘m proud of that music because it’s what I was going through, battling in the street, battling for my life. Now that I have kids, I’m making more positive music filled with love, a deeper message of redemption for people, for myself. I want a better world for them.”
The excitement for Ble$$ed Street Studios’ potential is palpable. “This studio has a contribution to make,” says Fullerton enthusiastically. “COVID-19 forced us to pivot and adapt to travel restrictions. But with challenge and adversity comes new creative outlets for expression. This past year has allowed us to focus and ensure this studio opens up opportunities in Northwest BC. Haida Gwaii is a jewel in our province and artists will feel that. There’s a vibe there.”
“Sure, there are bigger studios in Toronto and Vancouver,” adds LaPlante, “but if you want a certain type of magic, it’s here. I’m pretty sure we’re going to be producing some world hits. With everything we have going on right now, we're set up to do anything we want.”
To learn more about the First People's Council and funding opportunities for music programming and scholarships in British Columbia visit their website. Artists interested in opportunities at Ble$$ed Street Studios can inquire here.