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Dylan Sinclair is Ready to Step Into the Light

The R&B singer/songwriter’s No Longer in the Suburbs EP finds him poised to break out from humble beginnings.

by Daniel McIntosh

Photos by What I Like Studios

The journey toward adulthood is one of freedom, autonomy, and making yourself into whoever you want to be. For Toronto’s Dylan Sinclair, that journey began with tapping into his family’s love of music and singing in a church choir.

Now on the cusp of 21, Sinclair is making strides in more ways than one. He’s been championed by everyone from superproducer Boi-1da to fellow R&B upstart Emanuel. His 2021 EP Proverb even earned him a JUNO nomination for Best Traditional R&B/Soul Recording of the Year. 

Sinclair’s latest EP, No Longer in the Suburbs, continues his rise as he begins to address adult themes. His confessional songwriting shines throughout the album’s all-too-short runtime, with vocal arrangements harkening back to D’Angelo, wrapping listeners in a choir of harmonies.

On single “Too Soon?” he challenges a partner not to treat him differently after a confession of love. The drums are crisp, the vocal samples are slowed to a syrupy crawl, creating a textural landscape for Sinclair’s powerful voice. “Lifetime,” sees Sinclair questioning his personal resolve amid the trappings that come with potential fame and grandeur, crooning “I hope I don’t change like the wind.” The underlying acoustic guitar gives way to lush instrumentation, revealing his triple-focus on “writing, vocals, and energy.”

For now, Sinclair is excited to play bigger live shows and he’ll be hitting the festival circuit this summer for Troubadour Fest in Barrie, Ontario and Montreal’s Festival International de Jazz.

Below, Sinclair checked in with Range to talk growth, his inspirations, and the friendly competition in the R&B community.

Congrats on your new EP! What does an average day look like for you now?

Wake up. Say a prayer. Do a quick workout to wake me up. Read a little bit. Then I’ll go for a walk and maybe grab a coffee if I’m low on sleep. Get back to the crib and get some work done if I have any. I‘ll try to fit in vocal practice sometime in the afternoon. Later in the evening, I’ll usually kick it with the homies since we’re all living together right now and we’ll have a smoke, watch some ball, play 2K, play FIFA and deep dive into some music.

How did you get into making music?

I grew up in the church and come from a very musical family so I’ve always been surrounded by music. It feels very natural to me to be doing what I do now. I’ve always wanted to be the best at something and earlier on in life, it was all about sports and good grades for me. When high school came around, I started to experience heartbreak, depression, love, and just becoming a grown up. To be the best at something really required a certain level of commitment and I had to start figuring out what I was really passionate about. It became music.

How has your faith-based upbringing informed your work and the music you make?

Believing in love and believing that it can move mountains has always been the backbone for everything I do. The music will only ever reflect the type of person I am and since I was raised in such a strong foundation and choose to remain grounded in it, the possibilities of what I can accomplish feel endless. I just keep working to live in love and create music that reflects the world I live in.

Part of that feels alternative to the secular expectation of an upcoming musician. Do you feel like you stand out with your direct ties to gospel and the church?

I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t make gospel music. I just make songs about loving and existing. As long as I can communicate a perspective that makes people feel something, I should stand out and I’m sure my ties to the church impact my perspective and how I see things, but ultimately what should stand out is the art itself.

You’ve worked with big names in Toronto’s R&B scene, including producers Jordon Manswell and Boi-1da. How would you describe the city’s music scene at large right now?

There’s something really special here. Our artists are too creative to conform to anyone else’s sound and each of us kind of have our own sonic identity which is sick. We tap into emotions that certain other places in the world can’t experience as strongly as we do cause we’ve got the cold, and we go through seasonal depression out here. I love it here. It’s friendly competition amongst me and my peers to just do what we do as best as we can.

Beyond the local action, who are some of your musical influences?

I don’t know where to start. Everything influences me I guess, but only certain music inspires me. My three things are writing, vocals, and energy. My favourite writing ranges from Daniel Caesar to SZA to Drake. They speak my language: honesty. Vocally, it’s Stevie [Wonder], Usher, Donny Hathaway, and Jazmine Sullivan that do it for me. Their tones cut through their production so well and I love the riffs they choose. Energy wise, I love Solange, Frank Ocean, Playboi Carti and imma say SZA again just cause I love her. They have impeccable taste and so much range, so anything they hop on sounds good. That’s what I want for myself.

You’ve already been nominated for a Juno Award and you’re only 20! How was that?

It was a special moment because it just reassured me that I’m headed in the right direction and I gotta keep doing what I do. It’s nice when your hard work gets rewarded.

What does growth mean to you?

To try. To know what I want and try at it.

What other milestones are you hoping to achieve this year?

I’m gonna sell out a Toronto headline show.