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The Lytics, Winnipeg’s rap brotherhood, work it out

Del Cowie

If you've ever had the chance to see Winnipeg's the Lytics live in concert, you can attest to their infectious, youthful energy. Although their stage performance remains a key element to their appeal, the group's new album, They Told Me, is a convincing testament to their burgeoning maturity. The five members of the Lytics — brothers A-Nice, Ashy and B-Flat, along with cousin Mungala and DJ Lonnie C — attribute their growth to listening to the elders around them.

“We're in Winnipeg here, we have other rap groups that have been around before us and have done their thing,” says Lytics producer and vocalist Alex “B-Flat” Sannie. “You had Shadez here, all the Peanuts and Corn guys, you have Grand Analog now, which was Mood Ruff before previously. All these people are now in positions where they might still be working on music or they might not, but they have experience and they're telling us what to expect and what we can learn from them.”

The lessons the group have learned are not limited to their musical peers and forerunners; they extend to familial ties and influences, which reach back to Sierra Leone and Jamaica, evident on album tracks like “Ring My Alarm.”

“If you look at the album cover [which is] a picture of a kid, that's why we picked that,” says B-Flat. “Everybody tells a kid something, so it's like, they told him, he's growing up. He doesn't know anything. So that's basically us. Growing up, not knowing much and listening to everything that the proverbial 'they' are telling us. Not necessarily believing and internalizing it, but definitely hearing what everybody is saying.”

The Lytics are evidently quick learners, as They Told Me delivers on the raw promise from the group's self-distributed EP, issued in 2009. B-Flat characterizes the process of making that EP as "a happy mistake," where his younger brothers would use his beats to make their own songs while B-Flat worked on his own projects in his basement. It was only when the EP was actually completed that he became a full-fledged member of the group.

Working on They Told Me was a fully collaborative process, with each member working together on a project for the first time. Although MCs A-Nice, Ashy and Mungala weave assured flows and reflective lyrical content over the jazzy, melodic sound the group had established previously, They Told Me also represents an eclectic expansion on the group's musical breadth, typified on the album's lead single, “Stay Calm.”

After listening to the New Pornographers on a friend's recommendation, B-Flat was inspired by the musical challenge. “I [listened] and I was like, 'You know what? I kinda like this feel of what they're doing. How would we approach something like that?' The end result isn't New Pornographers at all, but it's kinda like them, [but] taking that through our lens.”

For B-Flat, being the eldest brother and main producer means his group role is fraught with duality — a reality helped by the group's newfound maturity.

“It's great and it's nice, you get a little bit more juice behind what you say when we have different points of views,” says B-Flat. “At the same time you are an equal member of the group and sometimes it takes a while for people to realize that 'I'm not saying this as an equal, I'm saying this as your big brother.' So it has its complications, but it has its benefits. And in the end, because we are all family, people can get by situations a lot easier than another band might be able to.”