Canadian rapper Ollie recently released his first full album, Maybe This Was Suppose To Happen, a 14-track collection of songs of love, pain, and self-doubt. The record is a fervent adventure, honest and on occasion very emotionally raw. But then again, in a very calm and collected manner, so is Ollie.
Denton Oliver, but we’ll just call him Ollie, did not grow up in a particularly musical household. In the early days, music was something you experience during a church service but in time it became a personal hobby, entertainment of a sort, as it does with many teenagers. Ollie came up with the new age of rap, the deep underground YouTube “pockets and scenes” he shared, “I thought they had this kind of new sound, which I think has been taken in and is pushed into the mainstream now but I think it started with grassroots a few years ago,” on channels like Swagytracks and Promoting Sounds.
A few years back Ollie and his brother lived through a car crash that had put things in perspective: “I kind of thought, like I could literally die tomorrow, and I have no control, there’s nothing I can do to control what happens tomorrow, I can swerve across the road…so I might as well do something that I like to do, see if I can turn it into something because I’m going to regret not doing it.” Prior to the accident, Ollie was rapping for fun, “we’d put a beat on YouTube and I would rap something I wrote. It was like, funny for us, I would perform for [friends] in the basement and stuff for fun,” but after the accident, Ollie started recording music as a form of therapy and releasing independently.
The first track on Maybe This Was Suppose To Happen, called “5th line,” is layered with 911 dispatcher call response to an accident. “I wanted to have that in there, it was the first thing that happens to me in music that made a big difference, that accident, it kind of like brought things together in a way,” Ollie explained.
The record took roughly 10 months to make collaboratively with his long time producer Chris Stiliadis, guitar player Chris Godfrey, and Jimmy Nguyen on piano. Stiliadis and Ollie work on the foundation and then bring in the rest of the team to fine-tune the beat after which Ollie writes the lyrics on his own. Stiliadis, who Ollie refers to as an incredibly talented artist, also appears on the track “Change” under the moniker of Chris Yonge, while “Blessings” features another up-and-coming voice, Annamarie Rosanio. “I found her on Instagram three months ago, and I thought her voice was insane, I thought it was pretty rare to find someone who had that kind of voice, it blew my mind, I was like holy shit. This girl should be famous.”
When reflecting on the album reception so far Ollie admits it has been cool, “It’s the first actual album I put out, I had an EP [Lost] out a while ago, but this is the first like album album. So it’s been exciting to see the reactions and finally have a complete body of work that we mapped out from song one to song 14.” The album is a reflection of Ollie’s reality, not all stories are personal stories:
“They are something I’ve gone through and something people around me have gone through. I’m not always writing about things that necessarily happened to me I’m writing about things that I’ve seen happen first person to someone next to me, like a friend of mine…I keep [who they are] to myself [for their anonymity] but I just kind of write my reality.” In many instances, the reality Ollie speaks of is quite intense, like the emotions in “Broken Down,” they are so honestly raw you can almost hear the tears. This vulnerability extends beyond the music and Ollie openly speaks his truth on social media when sharing the new track. I asked him if he ever feels vulnerable and without a beat, he responded:
“Yes. Definitely. It’s like the weirdest feeling ever and I sometimes don’t even know why I put it out there. It’s so hard for me to be in music because I’m the polar opposite, I’m a very shy person I don’t like to be in the limelight and have the worst time on stage, I just like to make the music part of it, and I feel like I don’t know… sometimes it’s like I can’t not be vulnerable because it’s so powerful, sometimes even just for me, as a fan of music when I’m listening,” he admits.
“When I was writing “Broken Down” I would say some lines and they would hit me, that made me feel like ‘holy shit’ that was super emotional, made me feel something, and I’m like if I can do that for someone else and hopefully have a positive reaction to that, I felt like that would be a good thing.”
Naturally, we got into a bigger and deeper conversion around hip-hop, the kind of hip-hop you find on Swagytracks versus the mainstream, radio-friendly hip-hop: “I don’t hate the mainstream, I just like to make music that really has a message, has something positive that if your kid listens to it, however many years old, he can take something from it, that’s not just negative in a way, not to say that most music is negative but I feel like a lot of the substance is just not always there.” When Ollie was starting to freestyle in high school he was one of the few local future rappers (admittedly many of us knew one or two of those), and the typical schoolyard game is to rap about “things like drugs women, and cars” – I thought back to a few of the more popular songs in my head, okay yeah, for sure – “all that just made me cringe because I was like, you’re talking this way but I know you’re in grade 10 and you don’t have the stuff you’re talking about,” he continued pointing out how that content is not most relatable to an average person. At that time Ollie promised himself that one thing he will “never ever ever do is be flashy… I’m going to be the polar opposite because normal kids, like the people that I grew up with, [they’re normal guys like me and] that was not my life, and I want to be the voice for someone who’s in the same shoes as I was.”
“I guess there’s a time and place for everything, but if I’m going to pick a side I’d rather be on the side of giving someone something of value, maybe it’s not value to some people but like something that can make them feel a certain way or go home and be in a better place mentally.”
Ollie’s fans have been responding to this openness, vulnerability, and honestly very well. Over the last few years, while building his fanbase and presence in the music industry, he admits that he made every mistake possible on stage, “I guess embarrassment makes you build some character,” he said as if to himself. But every artist has to go through it in the early days and performing live is a part of the package for any musician.
“Now I own it a little bit more and I was like okay, you know, people want to see you win, I think I forget about that sometimes people in the crowd, the fans they want to see you do good. If you mess up, they’re not going to hate you, it’s just another moment you know, it could be funny. It could be something that only happens at that show. So I’m just gonna learn that people are genuinely good.”
In the past, Ollie has toured through a few hot spots in Europe, Canada, and the US. Looking back at those tours he observed that the European audiences, for his type of music, are much more involved, regardless of the size of the room and number of people. As of right now, his only planned live show is in London at Colours in Hoxton in September. But one of the other shows he wants to do again is a live set in a public park with just his mic, computer, and a suitcase speaker. Ollie would speak into the mic under the light shade of string lights threaded through the trees to an audience gathered around him. Having done a similar show in the past, he really enjoyed the organic feel of such set and its true, back to the hip-hop roots nature.
As a parting note after our long Zoom chat, Ollie expressed his thankfulness to the fans: “I am very thankful for the people who supported the album, took the time to listen to it…that means a lot to me.”