If you want to write about real life you’ve got to live it and 21-year-old, Toronto-based rapper Casper TNG (The Neighbourhood Ghost) has – fully and without regret.
As he says in ‘Dope Boy,’ ‘The thing about life is you can’t live it twice,’ – a sentiment underpinned by his youth growing up in Toronto’s Alexandra Park. “It’s one of the most notorious neighbourhoods downtown. There’s a lot of history there. It’s still kind of fucked up, with shootings and lots of things going on.” But Casper TNG’s stomping grounds don’t get the spotlight shone on them like Toronto’s Jane and Finch or Regent Park: “A lot of people don’t know about the area because it’s isolated. So I’m trying to make my pocket of the city more known; to be the light that makes it glow.”
In his music, Casper TNG doesn’t mince words about where he comes from, his run ins with the law and how those experiences have led him to write songs that are as raw and honest as they are intensely hooky. And that resonates, hugely, with his growing online following.
Both the 2015 track, ‘Dope Boy’ and 2016’s ‘Know Me,’ have racked up well in excess of 1,000,000 YouTube views. And Casper TNG’s other tracks, like ‘Queen St. West,’ though lesser known, are also getting significant attention – all without any support from a label or a shout out from local celebrities. It’s purely word of mouth and the fact that Casper TNG makes music anyone on the streets or in the clubs can relate to.
As the son of a member of JUNO Award winning rap act, Too Bad to Be True (JUNO Rap Recording of the Year – 1994), Casper TNG was introduced to writing and recording early on. “Growing up I was listening to all my dad’s songs. He never stopped recording. I’d come home and listen to what he’d just recorded, the music he listened to, and, obviously, the music I was into; R&B, Trap, Hip Hop, soul from back in the day and 1990’s R&B. Then, when I got older it was Drake, The Weeknd, Future, French Montana and Gucci Mane – I have many influences.”
Casper TNG’s music is defined by struggle and his time in jail for robbery and firearm charges – charges that were ultimately dropped and removed from his record when someone else pleaded guilty to the charges against him.
“That influenced my music a lot. Everything in life does, right? If it wasn’t for those experiences, I wouldn’t have the music – It’s all real life. I’m sitting in jail and everyone else is out there doing their thing. I was still on an ankle monitor, making songs, working on a mixtape and I made a video for the mixtape and it showed the ankle monitor, so I ended up having to go back to jail for another month and a half.”
When Casper TNG got a call from his lawyer saying the charges had been dropped it was the first time he’d been truly free since age 19: “No curfew, no house arrest. So I was like, this is my chance to take music seriously, to focus less on street politics and more on how I could grow and reach out to my fans.”
If there’s one thing for certain, Casper TNG crafts a mean hook. Case in point, ‘Dope Boy’ – one listen and it’s going to stay in heavy rotation in your brain.
“I jumped out of high school when I was 17, but went to an alternative school when I was 18. I woke up one morning, got ready for school, smoked a blunt, and before I knew it I had the lyric, ‘I’m a dope boy or a rapper,’ in my head, I don’t know what I was thinking or what emotion I was having that day, but I wrote it that morning, called the studio and said, ‘Can I come in?’ They said, ‘Yeah. Come in right now.’ So I skipped school recorded the song and that was it.”
Then there’s ‘Know Me’ – “I linked up with a producer, went to his house, made a couple beats from scratch and dropped the video. Then, boom, the day after I released it I went to jail for 15 days. It had 3,000 views when I went in. 6,000 when I came out and now it’s like 1.5 million.”
Since the release of his original mixtape, Ghost Town Vol. 2, Casper TNG has made a mark by pure force of will and by incorporating his highly diverse influences into a unified sound that’s uniquely his own. And more music is on the way via Casper TNG’s upcoming EP, No Cosign, scheduled for release in Summer 2017.
“I came up with the title No Cosign because I don’t have industry assistance or exposure. It’s just the street, my city and whoever is picking up this shit just from word of mouth.”
As for the future – “Work. That’s it,” Casper TNG says. “Keep going, putting out projects and videos, making awareness and maybe, just maybe, I don’t need major a record deal. Maybe I can do this with just my manager and I.”