By Jillian Groening
Everyone knows The Lytics.
The five friendly faces of brothers Anthony, Andrew, and Alex Sannie, cousin Mungala Londe and “adopted” brother DJ Lonnie Ce have become household names in their hometown of Winnipeg.
After bursting on to the scene when radio DJ Ace Burpee — formerly of Hot 103, now of 103.1 Virgin Radio — got a hold of their single “Big City Soundgirl” in 2009, the group quickly became one of the most recognized musical acts in the city.
“People would come up to me in the strangest places and be like ‘hey, I just heard your song and I love it’,” Andrew Sannie remembers. “In my head it was just so crazy that people were actually listening to our stuff. We had just put it out and hadn’t thought much about it, but the response was instant.”
Instant may be an understatement.
The hip hop group played its first ever show in December of 2009 to a packed house at the Pyramid Cabaret, where the large open space fits a capacity of 400. Hyped up Lytics fans were lined up around the building in the cold waiting for a chance to see the buzzworthy band play.
Their self-titled, self-produced first album was released later that year to a torrent of requests for shows, tours, and management opportunities. They were promptly scooped up by booking agent Grant Paley and Paquin Artist Agency as well as Vancouver, BC and Portland, OR based label Camobear Records.
“They were really great and really talented and I wanted to help them out,” Paley explains. Still acting as booking agent for the group, Paley plays an important role as fan, friend and support. “Those guys are always pushing things with their live show. They are possibly the best hip hop group to come out of that city.”
What had started as kid brothers rapping over whatever music they could find in their parents’ house had quickly grown into a recognized and respected rap outfit known for an upbeat, smile-inducing live show. The throwback penchant for grounded optimism, influenced by the likes of Mos Def, The Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest, attracted a loyal fan base that spanned Canada-wide.
The Lytic’s highly anticipated sophomore album, They Told Me (Camobear Records), was released in October 2012 to rave reviews. It’s difficult to discern which gets the catchy rappers more press, their recorded beats or their energetic live shows. With attention from Exclaim!, Winnipeg Free Press, CBC, NOW Magazine, Beatroute, and various music blogs from across Canada, The Lytics sure know how to build hype.
Their hard work, self-promotion, and infectious enthusiasm has seen the group share the stage with the likes of seasoned pros Shad, Cadence Weapon, and The Roots. The Lytics have also had the opportunity to tour extensively and have played important industry showcases in Canada, the United States, and Europe.
From performing at NXNE in 2014 to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s (WSO) “Manitoba Rocks” JUNO Week 2014 event to the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival stage, The Lytics never stop growing and learning from the artists around them.
“We always want to put on a better show than anyone else that’s on the bill,” Sannie says with a laugh. The family competitive streak is definitely an asset. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing with. It doesn’t matter how unrealistic or how unattainable it is, we will try and make it the very best and that’s driven us in a lot of ways.”
Two pinch-me moments that stand out for Sannie have been sharing the stage with the WSO, which the group has done twice now, as well as having the opportunity to play Much Music live on Rap City in 2011.
“It was the anniversary of Biggie’s death and we happened to be in Toronto,” Sannie explains. “They asked us to play and as a kid who grew up watching Rap City, it was mind-blowing. That was a really big deal for us.”
Having just finished up showcases at Canadian Music Week in Toronto, The Lytics nonstop momentum continues into 2015 with showcases across the pond. The prairie group will be performing at industry events in London, at Brighton’s The Great Escape, Liverpool Sound City, as well as New Skool Rules Festival in Rotterdam. In June, they'll return to NXNE for a spot on Manitoba Music’s showcase at The Rivoli. Back at home, they’ll also hit Jazz Fest’s opening weekend at The Cube, as well as a performance at The United Way’s 50th Anniversary.
After weeks of being on the road, the rap outfit is looking forward to getting back into the studio to work on their third record, expected to be released in fall of 2015.
“It’s an interesting time right now because it just so happens that everything is bubbling at once,” Sannie observes. “It’s an exciting time for sure.”
An Essential Resource: Effects of Assistance and Support Necessary to Group’s Development
Navigating the music industry can be a highly intimidating experience. Between networking, finding funding, developing a realistic marketing plan, and developing a following outside hometown boundaries, energies can easily become devoted to administrative details rather than the act of creation itself.
For artist entrepreneurs like The Lytics, accessing programs for some critical career help to develop their business was a no-brainer.
The roles which Manitoba Music and MFM have played in The Lytics’ music career became especially apparent while on tour with American rapper Chali 2na of the groups Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli. The hip hop artist was in awe of the fact that an establishment existed purely to help musicians build their businesses and aid artists to get one step closer to their goal.
“When you really sit back and think about it, it’s massive,” Sannie reflects. “The opportunities they’ve provided are huge and they’ve greatly changed the situation for us.”
Travel, showcasing, and touring can be necessary factors for an artist looking to expand their fan base and build critical industry relationships, and that travel can be expensive, especially for a group consisting of five musicians. Apart from showcasing for key industry players at Manitoba Music events over the years, The Lytics have also accessed support through Manitoba Music’s Market Access Program to get to critical national and international industry events like North by Northeast (NXNE), Canadian Music Week, The Great Escape, and the Plissken Festival in Greece. Through Manitoba Music, the outfit was also able to connect with the UK-based industry team at Sound Diplomacy to help build its presence overseas.
Here at home, the crew has landed on big stages for some major audience-expanding events including collaborations with the WSO for Canada Day at The Forks in 2012 and again for the WSO’s Manitoba Rocks event during JUNO Week 2014.
“Being able to be a part of these events and getting our name and our music out there is mind blowing,” Sannie says. “It gives you confidence that you’ll be able to pull it off.”
Pursuing a career in music is difficult to begin with. Double that when you’re a hip hop group located in the middle of the continent far from bigger music centres. The ability to get out on the road and develop fanbases is other markets continues to be an essential element to The Lytics success.
“Manitoba Music has always been there 100 per cent,” Paley says of the role the music industry resource has played in The Lytics career. “It’s been supportive of showcases and instrumental in the band’s growth.”
Success in the music business is based on a whole number of factors and the ground is constantly shifting. For groups like The Lytics, Manitoba Music has been able to act as a pillar of stability when other aspects are in constant flux.
The hip hop group has experienced a revolving door of managers and publicists and the constant support from both Paley of Paquin Entertainment and Manitoba Music are welcome back-up from the sidelines.
“There would be no way to do it without [them],” Sannie states. “They are an integral cog in Manitoba’s music industry.”