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Portion: Make It Beautiful

Following his major label debut, the Toronto rapper is poised for a breakout year.

by Daniel McIntosh

Portion has no time to rest on his laurels. When we connect via video chat he’s recently jetted off to a writing camp in Miami, and by the time we hang up he’s lined up a flight to Atlanta where he’ll be setting up shop for the year, working on his next album. Such is the life of an emerging rapper on the rise. Last year saw Portion sign to a major label, and his recent debut LP, I Am Nothing Without, positions the Toronto rapper for an even bigger 2022 with a a deluxe version of his EP and a new single on the way.

A series of samples bounce through my tinny, laptop speakers in the background of his speech. “It’s been a journey,” he says of his odyssey. “I’d say I started at like 12, just recording and being in the studio for the first time.” At the time, he admits, he was all swagger and limited substance. “I was just rapping about whatever really, like whatever I saw around,” he says, laughing. “For me it was more about just finding flow, I guess, rather than standing on whatever I’m saying in the music.” He even dabbled in beatmaking, following the styles of hip-hop heavyweights like 50 Cent and Young Jeezy, introduced to him by his older brother. 

Portion recalls a pre-Internet experience of waiting for Kanye West and Twista’s “Slow Jamz,” to air on the radio so he could tape a cassette. From there he would write out the bars by hand, revealing the triple entendres and tricky wordplay that gets compressed into its three-minute runtime. “That era built me to the way I am now, where it’s like I’m able to adapt to the new era, but also, I know the importance of lyrics, the importance of having a message.” 

The time spent mirroring his older brother in the studio may have been somewhat aimless, but committing to his music kept Portion focussed and away from the “hustling and regular kid shit” of the streets. He was working just enough to pay for studio time and to take care of bills at home, while carefully tweaking and rolling out singles. “Before, I used to just go to the studio, once, two times a month, make one song and if everybody in the studio liked that song, that’s the video that we would be shooting for two weeks.” 

His process relies on a steady stream of consciousness. Of I Am Nothing Without’s nine tracks, Portion says only “No Purses” relied on a written verse. “Other than that, it’s just straight from the soul, straight from experiences and bringing it to the studio and laying out all the blueprints.”

Of course, it was his ability to purge soulful feelings that garnered him a fair bit of early attention. His first major single, “Fif’s World” was a tribute to a well-known figure in Toronto’s rap community, and a personal friend of his. After his passing in 2017 he was memorialized in an image on the back cover of Drake’s Dark Lane Demo Tapes. Portion’s own contribution reflected the serious nature of his personal life, but it wasn’t exactly how he wanted to present himself. “At a point in 2017, when I was just starting to take it seriously, my music was a little bit darker. I didn’t want to put it out because it was so personal.” So dark in fact, that Portion found it hard to listen back to, much less release. 

“I wanted to gain the fanbase first, and then start opening up, talking about stuff that I’ve really been through.” 

While the local attention he got from fans and peers was good, it didn’t translate to online buzz, or getting placed on the elusive playlists that can spell fate for many emerging artists. “At the same time, [I was] not believing or doubting myself, I was at a point where I was frustrated with it.” In the end, Portion decided to cut out all the noise. By the summer of 2020, he developed a rigorous system for his time spent in the studio. He would record alone, in his house if need be, moving between the cathartic flow of rapping and the technical process of organizing tracks by himself. On occasions when he would share his space, only the inner circle were allowed in: his brother, his photographer, an engineer, and a couple of friends. The tracks began to stack up and over time, the amoeba of a project formed and he pitched his sound to potential labels. “I sent maybe nine songs to the label, and all of them I recorded myself,” says Portion. “So I pretty much got signed off of work that I put in myself.

Then, while making “99 Prblms” in January 2021, the void answered back. He was in the process of being courted by a label, but with the regular complications of the music business, the process stalled. “It took a couple months to figure out the situation in terms of all the details, but during that time, I kept on working.” 

Portion turned back to the single that got their attention, making a video to go along with it. “I think once they seen that, they figured I was more serious, that I was very serious about my craft. I think that kind of pushed everything.” Portion leans on a collective of friends and artists in bringing his vision to life. “I don’t really like to put director credits on my name because I like to let everybody around me try to reap their flowers.”

As a new signee, Portion wanted to present a new vibe to celebrate his new success. His newfound levity and freedom seeped into his stream of consciousness. His bars reflecting the dire reality of his Scarborough neighbourhood beginnings are still around, but newly buoyed by a sense of celebration. Listeners respond in turn. Across Instagram and TikTok, he’s become the soundtrack of success. A Call of Duty sniper racks up a kill-streak to his song “Muddy.” A soccer player deftly strides past his opponents and scores, seemingly driven by the bombastic horns of “Wave.” The mirth translates back to the studio. Portion says his commitment to this was reaffirmed when he first approached his label. “They opened up my eyes, everybody in the building is so diverse, so many different faces, so many different races, so many different stories that everybody has. I kind of just wanted to make it relatable for everybody.”

Despite the banner year Portion had in 2021, when pressed to reflect on his recent successes, he draws a blank. “I’m always looking forward.” He is chronically fuelled by growth, and even when it comes to his recent release, he says he’s onto the next chapter, musically speaking. “This year, I’ve probably had the most numbers of my career, but it’s not enough for me. I just always see the next level, the next step, the next song, the next hit. I’m starting to realize there’s no formula to this shit, so I just got to make music and put it up.”For now, he’s putting that focus toward the deluxe version of I Am Nothing Without, out in February, with additional features. He’s preparing some video treatments, and has an eye trained on vlogging, before he sets his sights on new music. “I just want to give my fans something more raw.” “I feel like on this project I wanted to make beautiful trap, next album I just want to make beautiful music. Just everything, I want it to be…beautiful. It doesn’t have to be trap. I just want it to be beautiful.”

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