COVER

Pressa

Rises Above Pressure

By Gabby Sgherri

Q

Quinton Armani Gardner, professionally known as Pressa, promptly logs onto our Zoom meeting and immediately asks if the interview is video or audio. “I was just gardening now so I’m all dirty,” he says as I assure him only the audio is being used for the story. That’s not the Monday afternoon activity I would expect a young rapper like Pressa to be doing—his last name unironically means keeper of the garden—but this is the first of many surprises throughout our call. 

Pressa grew up in Toronto, Canada, a city well known for spawning superstars like Drake and The Weeknd. More specifically, he grew up in Driftwood, an area he refers to as a recycling bin because “everybody goes through the same thing, the same thing that happened 10 years ago would happen 10 years now.” For many Torontonians, the word Driftwood comes with negative connotations because it’s portrayed in the media as an area plagued with street violence and police raids. Pressa acknowledges the tension with law enforcement and referring to the police he says “they would come [to] do a sweep in my neighborhood every four years and give us all charges and then we’ll all be in the system. So we’ll know every four years they’re coming type shit.” 

Pressa’s explanation of hardships in Driftwood doesn’t surprise me but what does is his follow-up. “They say it’s so negative but the love there is stronger than anywhere else,” he earnestly says. In comparison, he moved to the Greater Toronto Area and found the neighborhoods to be unfriendly and unwilling to help one another with simple favors like bread, milk, or salt. “In my neighborhood, you could ask ten people in just your row of houses. It’s more like a loving village where everybody knows each other and everybody helps each other [out].” As we’re chatting about the early days of his life and his career it becomes clear to me that Driftwood is a part of Pressa’s identity which he confirms by saying “the reason why [I am] who I am today is because I grew up where I grew up.”

Quinton Armani Gardner, professionally known as Pressa, promptly logs onto our Zoom meeting and immediately asks if the interview is video or audio. “I was just gardening now so I’m all dirty,” he says as I assure him only the audio is being used for the story. That’s not the Monday afternoon activity I would expect a young rapper like Pressa to be doing—his last name unironically means keeper of the garden—but this is the first of many surprises throughout our call. 

Pressa grew up in Toronto, Canada, a city well known for spawning superstars like Drake and The Weeknd. More specifically, he grew up in Driftwood, an area he refers to as a recycling bin because “everybody goes through the same thing, the same thing that happened 10 years ago would happen 10 years now.” For many Torontonians, the word Driftwood comes with negative connotations because it’s portrayed in the media as an area plagued with street violence and police raids. Pressa acknowledges the tension with law enforcement and referring to the police he says “they would come [to] do a sweep in my neighborhood every four years and give us all charges and then we’ll all be in the system. So we’ll know every four years they’re coming type shit.” 

Pressa’s explanation of hardships in Driftwood doesn’t surprise me but what does is his follow-up. “They say it’s so negative but the love there is stronger than anywhere else,” he earnestly says. In comparison, he moved to the Greater Toronto Area and found the neighborhoods to be unfriendly and unwilling to help one another with simple favors like bread, milk, or salt. “In my neighborhood, you could ask ten people in just your row of houses. It’s more like a loving village where everybody knows each other and everybody helps each other [out].” As we’re chatting about the early days of his life and his career it becomes clear to me that Driftwood is a part of Pressa’s identity which he confirms by saying “the reason why [I am] who I am today is because I grew up where I grew up.”

The reason why [I am] who I am today is because I grew up where I grew up.”

The reason why [I am] who I am today is because I grew up where I grew up.”


A lot has changed for Pressa, who now lives in L.A. full-time and is more concerned about linking up with U.S producers and filming music videos than finding bread from a neighbor. When I ask him if there’s anything he misses about Toronto he says “I miss my family and friends but besides that America is way more lit” with a smile. It’s been two years since he moved to the U.S and he cites the moment he crossed the border as one of the top two moments he’s felt successful as an artist. The first? “When I was on tour for Drake because that was my first show ever, I never touched a mic until that day.” He continues saying “that shit was crazy.” The show he’s referring to was in 2017 when Drake brought him out to London, UK for the European leg of his Boy Meets World tour.

That same year, Pressa released his platinum-certified single “Canada Goose” featuring Tory Lanez and to date, the music video has racked up over 23 million views. An accolade many Toronto rappers only dream of achieving. “Canada Goose” has sentimental meaning to Pressa as one of the craziest moments he’s experienced since he started making music but he’s quick to say he doesn’t think he’s gotten to the highlight of his career just yet. The moniker “Toronto Rapper” is a name that Pressa has grown out of and his music isn’t defined by the hip-hop sound tied to the city. It’s never been top of mind for him or the late Houdini—another rapper from Toronto that Pressa often collaborated with. “Even Houdini would tell you that we don’t try to sound like Toronto rappers. If we’re rapping we sound just like ourselves, it’s not that heavy Toronto accent. Sometimes you’ll catch me doing it but [the] majority of songs we just be on some melodic vibes.” Any Pressa fan will know exactly the “melodic vibes” he’s referring to, from “Canada Goose” to his last album Gardner Express his flows and beats have that signature Pressa melody.

 

I’ve been living under pressure my whole life, I’m numb to it and it’s normal to me."

While on the topic of his music, I ask about his upcoming deluxe album and he confidently says that it’ll be different from anything he’s put out before because these are his American flows. His affinity for the US trickles into production as well, claiming the production there is better and he’s been enjoying linking up with US producers in the studio. His time living in America may have shaped this upcoming project but his lyrics always tie back to his roots. “When I’m speaking it’s relatable and it’s real and I’m not out here painting fake images and fake messages that I ain’t go through,” Pressa says.

With every question I ask, I notice that he’s very straightforward and has a calm but confident demeanor. His come-up has allowed him to employ people in his inner circle, giving them an opportunity that could change their life too. That community mentality indubitably comes from his surroundings growing up but there has to be a high level of pressure when a friend’s livelihood is tied to his career. Once again, his mentality about pressure isn’t what I expected. “I’ve been living under pressure my whole life, I’m numb to it and it’s normal to me. The guys in my inner circle I support because it’s like the trap, I give them an avenue to make money, and [they] kind of run it up [but] it’s up to [them] how hard [they] go.” It’s a level-headed dynamic that sounds like the most logical way to approach mixing business and friends. He continues by saying “I’m here to shine light wherever it needs to be shined” but he clarifies the spotlight is just the beginning, anyone he lends a hand to has to put in the work and that’ll determine how far they go. 

Pressure isn’t the only thing Pressa is numb to, being in the public eye opens the floodgates for fans, haters, and the media to comment on everything from his music to his personal life. He’s been in a public relationship with Coi Leray since early June—they go by Cressa as a couple—and the internet has been giving their two cents about the relationship ever since. That might rattle some but Pressa’s unbothered attitude extends to the lack of privacy that comes with his career “I don’t really be caring what the internet has to say, I never did and I never will, you feel me? I’m just trying to live my life regularly and find ways not to care about a lot of shit” he candidly says in a mellow tone. The comment about living life regularly reminds me that he was gardening right before our call, an activity that can bring a sense of normalcy to an otherwise abnormal life.

Despite changing area codes, Driftwood isn’t too far away, from the looks of his TikTok, with a photo of the area prominently displayed in the background of a recent video. The comments drew attention to the photo with TikToker u/luvagyalneens saying “it’s the driftwood portrait in the back for me” and TikToker u/rkjxo commenting “respect the photo in the back.” Not that Pressa is concerned with the comment section but like most of his generation he has a knack for making viral videos. Trending sounds? Check. Meme-like videos? Yup. Cressa appearances? Of course. His content is never forced “if I didn’t like doing something I wouldn’t do it” he states matter of factly but follows it up with a smile saying he likes TikTok. 

There’s one last revelation before we wrap up our call while discussing the importance of heritage, Pressa reveals that he’s half Asian, Filipino to be exact, and half Jamaican. A fact many of his fans don’t know and are taken aback when they find out. He elaborates saying it’s unexpected because “ there’s not [many] Filipino’s that be talking the way I be talking and be in these streets.” Besides his heritage, Pressa is no doubt unique, taking values of resilience and community from his upbringing and using them as inspiration for his melodic hip-hop tunes. He rises to the occasion under pressure and his multiple co-signs from industry heavyweights—Drake just threw him and Giggs a joint birthday party—are an indication of his cemented place in the industry and star power. We say our goodbyes and it’s back to gardening and living life in L.A for Pressa.



Photographer: Out Here Visuals


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