Toronto Hip Hop – Funk Connoisseur John Orpheus Heats Up The Summer By Taking Us Back

Baggy jeans and Timberlands for everybody! Toronto hip hop – funk connoisseur John Orpheus teleports us back to the salad days of the late 20th century on his new single, “90’s Fool.” And young and old alike take notice: What we have here is a throwback with real pull.

From one listen to this irresistible faux time capsule, it’s clear Orpheus hasn’t missed a period detail—whether it’s the Dre-like siren song of the long, held keyboard notes or the lyrical references to everything from the Fugees’ breakup to Janet Jackson’s infamous encounter with Tupac on Poetic Justice. And if all that namedropping goes over anyone’s head, the joyful chorus refrain underlines just where—and when—Orpheus is coming from:

I came up in the ’90s fool
Never playing by no rules
Yeah we used to play it cool
Now we still do what we do

“I wanted to make a song where I could reminisce about the past, celebrate the present and see the future, all in the same place,” Orpheus says. “It’s catchy, singable, danceable and will make your uncles and aunties do funny dances and tell stories that make no sense.”

The kinfolks’ tongues will really be wagging when they see the accompanying music video, in which Orpheus takes a colorful walking tour through the street art and other visual iconography of the decade. Over to director Agata Waclawska, who shot the clip:

“’90s Fool’ was a journey back in time, a nostalgic exploration of an era defined by its music, its style and its attitude. Bringing John Orpheus into this vibrant landscape, surrounded by the relics of the past, was like watching a modern-day time traveler embrace his roots. With each step through the city streets, we aimed to capture not just the sights, but the essence of ’90s cool. It’s a celebration of authenticity, of staying true to oneself even as the world changes around us.”

Yet for the performer himself, the point of the single and video wasn’t to simply wallow in nostalgia, but to use yesterday as the foundation for an artistic identity that’s very much of the moment.

“I’m not trying to live in the past,” he explains. “I’m trying to understand what my vision of myself is, so that I can live here and now. That vision was formed in the ’90s. So, I guess what’s unique is that the song is my version of the ’90s and the things I liked and that shaped me personally.”

The song is yet another tasty appetizer for Orpheus’ forthcoming EP, Get Right! Like the title track that dropped back in March, the record mines the same vein of vintage funk and R&B the artist first began to explore on his 2021 album, Saga King—with sprinkles of everything from dancehall to Afrobeats mixed in to give it all a unique flava. The new EP was tracked in a frenzied nine days’ worth of activity at Copper Sound in Guelph, with musical director Adam Bowman and producer Mike Schlosser helping to preserve the immediacy of performances that prioritized good, old-fashioned live instrumentation. Expect a dynamic re-creation of the energy and spontaneity Orpheus has brought to the stage in festival gigs and show-opening slots throughout Canada, the U.S., and the UK—high-octane affairs that have been known to erupt into bouts of audience participation, chanting and impromptu dance-offs straight out of a Caribana road party.

It’s all a distinctly different high from the one Orpheus gets from writing under the name of his literary alter ego, Antonio Michael Downing. As Downing, he’s published a well-received memoir and two children’s books, with his first-ever novel, Black Cherokee, soon to follow.

In its own way, maintaining two distinctly different yet complementary personas is great ongoing practice for the balancing act he’s pulling off so winningly as John Orpheus. “90’s Fool” may revel in back-in-the day boosterism, but its author says the real agenda of his music is to break down the barriers between then and now, erecting a playing space that’s beyond the limits of mere time.

“There were no ’90s or 2010s,” he muses. “We are people living lives that are much more fluid than that. So, I want to make music that’s neither trying to be old school or new school but is a place where we can all can hang out: THE WHOLE SCHOOL.”

Class dismissed … for now.