Maturity, though not often mentioned when discussing music, may be the most important ingredient to success in the record industry. Talent is, of course, also a requirement, but there’s no shortage of talent in hip-hop; at this point, it feels like there’s a new breakout artist every day. Many of those talented individuals fall victim to a misunderstanding of the work that it takes to establish themselves, though, or choose fifteen minutes of fame over thriving long term. Maturity, then, is the force that guides those who possess it away from the “easy way out”, and towards the choices that will lead them to a long, fruitful career. It’s also the word that best sums up the demeanor of NF Portion: mature and thoughtful, with a keen grip on his personal journey and work he’s done, and will continue to have to do, in order to complete it.
Speaking to Portion over Zoom, he tells Sidedoor that he began to truly recognize the workload that comes with being an artist in the past year or so, and it’s what led him to seek out a record deal. He’d already found success doing things independently, but as he continued to grow, he recognized the vast benefits that come with having the support of a major. “At that point, I started to understand the value of things like playlisting, and how much more your music is heard when it’s placed on playlists. Labels have relationships with DSPs, so if you don’t have backing from one, it can be incredibly hard to get onto them.” Portion also saw signing to a major label as a way to commit himself fully to his craft. “Unless you’re signed to a label or making a lot of money off of [independent distribution service] DistroKid, you’re not really in the music industry. At that point, the job you work outside of music is your main source of income, so rapping is really just something you do on the side.”
Rapping was clearly not a side hustle for Portion; he’s far too good at it. Warner Music Canada thought the same, and signed him earlier this year. It wasn’t just his talent that got him signed, either; it was his tireless work ethic. “When I sent ‘99 Prblms’ [one of Portion’s newest singles] to the label, it took a while for them to get back, so I just shot the video myself, to get it ready.” Portion says. “I think once they saw that I wasn’t sitting around waiting for them, it showed them how serious I take my work.” Since being signed, Portion’s found the major label experience bringing a new level of consistency to his career, something he’s embraced. “There’s something to do every day. Before I was signed, I’d take a month and do tons of music, and then take a month off. Now, it’s really my job.” The relationship between Warner and Portion has paid off since it was formed, and only grown stronger; the two singles he’s released on the label, the aforementioned “99 Prblms” and his latest effort, “Ties”, have accumulated over 500,000 streams across YouTube and Spotify, and he’s become a regular on the latter service’s “Northern Bars” playlist, a showcase for the best hip-hop that Canada has to offer.
The momentum that Portion has built up is unarguably due in some part to his smart business moves, but even the best decision-makers still need to have the songs to back it up. Portion’s catalog is one that can compete with any of his Torontonian peers; often backed by silky, guitar-heavy beats, he’s a five-tool artist with a strong sense of melody and a lyrical style that’s equal parts introspective quotables, personal anecdotes, and fiery punchlines. His newest single, “Wave”, is a departure from the eerie tones of his other 2021 singles, a triumphant anthem full of horns and some of Portion’s best rapping to date.
“I’m feeling really confident about myself at this point, and I wanted to give my fans a record that they could feel confident to… Something you can play after every other Friday, when you get paid. It’s a feel-good song.” The song’s celebratory nature is also geared more for the live experience than any of Portion’s work to date, and he’s looking forward to performing in the near future. “I can’t wait to get in front of my fans, and I’ve prepared for it. The album I have coming on the way has more fun songs than pain songs for that reason. It’s music I’m more confident to play around people, as opposed to the ones that share very personal things about my own life.”
When explaining his approach to music, Portion also mentions that he doesn’t believe in glorifying violence; he’d rather provide positivity and inspiration to listeners. “I want to rap in a way that inspires positivity”, he explains. “It feels good to motivate fans, especially the youth, in the right way. When I say ‘I’m verified without a blue check’, it’s relatable, and makes people more confident. Everyone can relate to a line like that in some way or another.” Part of the reason for this is also due to his own upbringing in Scarborough, a time in which he saw his older brother go in and out of jail. That’s not to say his brother wasn’t a positive influence, though; when he was home, he’d preach the importance of staying out of trouble, and his own affinity for music affected a young Portion’s passion for it as well.
“As far back as I can remember, I would listen to songs over and over again, and then type them out and practice rapping them. It’s how I learned the structure of bars”, Portion says, an indication of how embedded hip-hop is into his life’s story. The city of Toronto itself also plays an integral role in his creative process. “I didn’t really notice how much influence it had on my music until I went to work in the States”, Portion says. “I went to Atlanta to sign my deal, and after doing that, I stayed for a while to work at the studios there. But I found it was harder for me to make records like “Wave”. There’s so much more going on when you’re on the road, and I didn’t feel as comfortable. As soon as I came home, that comfortability came back, and I was able to finish the majority of the new record.”
As far as the near future is concerned, Portion’s excited to get his newest project out, and perform in support of it. Further down the line, though, he hopes to be able to transition into a mentor role for younger artists. “A lot of artists have the talent, but don’t know the steps to get where they want to go.” Of course, Portion’s goal for now is to reach the ceiling in terms of what he’s capable of achieving, but it’s another sign of his aforementioned maturity. His interest in sharing knowledge instead of keeping it for himself is something that not all artists would do, and that selflessness is just another quality that separates him from the pack. That’s a long way down the road, though. For now, let’s just be grateful that one of Toronto’s most talented musicians feels like he’s hitting his stride like never before.
Listen to “Wave” above, and follow Portion on Instagram and Twitter @nfportion.