O.Z’s career is firing on all cylinders! The RAC grad’s hot new collab with PETiTOM, “Je Sais”, is just the opening salvo in a year that has already seen the launch of his new studio and record label, and promises not one, but two full-length albums featuring some of the biggest names in Quebec hip hop. Look for them in May and July.
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Osvaldo Marrero-Sarduy has got talent in spades. At only 19, the young Quebecois-Cuban rapper, who performs as O.Z, has already shared stages with the likes of Loud, Koriass, White-B and 5sang14. The versatile creator, who raps in three languages, has garnered over four million streams on Spotify since 2019 and has collaborated with Canadian hip hop mainstays such as Yung Tory. O.Z will be the first to tell you, however, that while talent and opportunity do play pivotal roles in building artistic success, dedication and a tireless work ethic will always speak loudest. In 2021, O.Z will be dropping no less than 12 music videos and two full-length albums while promoting the launch of his new studio and record label, Diamela Records: dedicated to providing independent artists with services in sound engineering, brand-building, and more. Following the release of his melancholic yet highly danceable new single “Je Sais”, RAC sat down with the talented alum to hear the tale of his meteoric ascension on Quebec’s hip hop scene.
RAC: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! We know you have several projects on the go at the moment. Can you start by telling us a little about your childhood and upbringing?
O.Z: Both my parents are Cubans born in Havana– they met at a very young age. Because of the political climate in Cuba, my father came to Canada to look for better opportunities. My mother and sister were only able to join him about three years later. I was born in Montreal and grew up on the South Shore. Even though I wasn’t born there, I feel a strong attachment to Latin culture. It lives inside of me!
RAC: Were you passionate about music from a young age, or did that come later?
O.Z: Before getting into music, I was involved in sports– American football, specifically. It was more than just a passion for me; it was what I wanted to do with my life. I started playing at the age of eight with the Saint-Hubert Rebels and then later with the Charles Lemoyne Dynamics, where I become one of the team captains and even won the “Dynamic of the Year” award. Football really allowed me to learn and understand several fundamental principles that I integrate into my life every day, such as: ‘Without teamwork, there is no touchdown’; ‘Work hard, play hard’; and ‘No pain, no gain’.
RAC: So, how does one make the jump from football captain to rapper?
O.Z: To be honest, I never thought I could earn a living from music. It wasn’t something I thought was possible. It started when my friends and I used to play beats on YouTube, and we’d try to come up with toplines. Subconsciously, I knew that if I wanted to, I could become a good rapper since I was the best among my friends [Laughs]. But the urge to get into music didn’t really come until my last year of high school when my friend DRYB started rapping. I wrote my first song, “Remember”, when I was in class. At first, I was embarrassed, but after performing the song in front of my friends, the motivation to record came quickly.
RAC: How long before that actually happened?
O.Z: I had just started CEGEP at that point. I remember that session like it was yesterday. After finishing school on a Friday afternoon, some friends and I went to a home studio that was about three hours away from the school. It was a basic studio, but I was completely dazzled and impressed. I could see my excited friends through the “booth” window while I was singing, and this ecstasy I felt inside me was the same one I felt during a championship. When I went into the mixing room, I was fascinated by what the sound engineer was doing. I found it amazing to see how many plugins he was using on my voice. Later, I released “Remember” on YouTube and Soundcloud. Within a month, I already had over 30,000 views on YouTube and 10,000 streams on Soundcloud. I couldn’t believe it! I decided to release it on digital platforms and make a music video. Within a few months, I had over 100,000 streams on Spotify, and everywhere I went on the South Shore, people my age started to know who I was. But despite these encouraging numbers, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and becoming a rapper was not an option. I didn’t believe in myself enough, and I was afraid of my parent’s reaction. I felt lost.
RAC: When was the turning point?
O.Z: I was noticed by an emerging label. The owners had a lot of ambition and saw in me what I couldn’t see: my talent. They made me understand that a career as an artist was possible, and they were going to do everything they could to make it happen. With them, I released my first EP and saw my fanbase and followers grow. I started putting on shows and was astonished when 350 people showed up for my first show. Afterwards, I decided to quit school and devote myself to music full-time. I gained confidence, and I started making a name for myself in Quebec. Shortly after that, a producer named Benjamin Nadeau contacted me and introduced himself as the partner of Louis Coté– one of Quebec’s biggest and most internationally successful producers. Frankly, I didn’t really believe it, but I decided to go check out the studio, which was bigger than the ones you see in the movies with lots of gold records hanging on the walls. The producer was very happy with our session, and he decided to let me meet the studio owner, Louis. When Louis listened to my songs, I could see the excitement on his face. I had never seen anyone so enthusiastic about my music. I felt as if I was in a dream– this producer with a top 10 international hit and 17 #1s in France was telling me that my life was going to change very soon. I was offered to sign with them and travel to the US, France and all over the world.
RAC: Did you end up leaving your label?
O.Z: The fact that the two producers wanted to sign me proved to us that the dream was possible and that we were going to make it happen. I ultimately decided to stay with the guys who believed in me from the start. My label was surprised but proud of me at the time. They knew I could have let them down and accomplished everything we dreamed of right then and there. At that time, we thought we were invincible and became even more united. We started opening for Loud, Koriass, 514, White-B, and our own shows were attracting more and more people.
RAC: What led you to study sound engineering at RAC?
O.Z: DJ Vito V contacted us, saying that he wanted to help us out. He was introduced to our music by a friend of his who passed away suddenly and whom he had promised that he would help us. He started playing my music on Virgin Radio, promoting me as an up-and-coming artist. He also made sure we got studio sessions at Cherry Production Studios, a studio with an SSL 4000 console. That’s when I first felt the desire to become a real sound engineer. I was always interested in the field, but what really pushed me into it was the fact that I didn’t know the language of sound engineering, and I wasn’t able to express myself on many aspects. My parents were happy that I took the initiative to go and study sound engineering. I visited several schools, but it was at RAC that I felt at home– the teachers and staff were passionate and dedicated. I signed up for the fall 2019 semester. I had found the right place, and I had a great time learning about music.
RAC: Where did you go from there?
O.Z: While looking for new opportunities, my label and I decided to go back to Louis Coté and Benjamin Nadeau to co-produce an EP. We wanted them to sign-on to the project but not my career. So, I got to go back to their studio again and even started working as a topliner and writer for other artists. I eventually decided to leave my label but offered them the opportunity to become my managers, which didn’t turn out quite as I had hoped. I continued to work with Louis and Benjamin and even moved into the studio/mansion. I was living the life of a rock star without being one, and my head was in the clouds. I was still a freelance artist, and I was just about to sign with a major label. I met so many people at the studio, and I was working with major artists in the industry. After a mutual disagreement, however, I finally decided to take a step back. It was time for me to become an independent creator and take charge of my career.
RAC: Let’s get back to the here and now. You’ve kicked off 2021 with a new single with PETiTOM. Tell us about it.
O.Z: I wrote “Je sais” more than a year and a half ago. When I listened back to the music, I knew it was going to be sick because the energy that the melody inspired was very unique. This song took me almost no time to write. I think I finished it in an hour and a half. I finished it about five months ago when I was building my release plan for 2021.
RAC: Speaking of the release plans, can you tell us a bit about it?
O.Z: You can expect two albums this year: one entirely in French, featuring some of the biggest names from the Quebec music scene, and another in Spanish and English. I also plan to release 12 music videos this year.
RAC: Is there anyone in particular who helped you on your artistic journey so far? Anyone you want to give a shout-out to?
It’s thanks to the contribution of each and every person who has passed through my life that I’m in this position. I would like to give a special shoutout to my entire team at Diamela Records, the team at RAC, Benjamin Nadeau and PETiTOM.