To say that Sean Leon is deeply devoted to his craft is an understatement. After founding the IXXI Initiative, the 27-year-old Toronto-based multi-medium artist released a string of highly acclaimed mixtapes, Ninelevenne, the Tragedy in 2013, followed up by Narcissus, the Drowning of Ego the year after. By design, each of his projects arrives like a force of nature that nails the balance between personal reckoning and maintaining a magnetic accessibility to build his fanbase.
Musically, Sean’s personal soundscape matches his approach to art: on some tracks, his razor sharp lyrics and stormy beats effectively forecasts a dystopian Toronto landscape. Elsewhere, he opts for pristinely produced bedroom R&B, where flashes of soul feel like a brilliant respite from the storm. But Leon’s imminent rise, which has seen him perform at notable Canadian festivals like Manifesto and NXNE and collaborate with everyone from Jazz Cartier and WondaGurl, to Daniel Caesar and BADBADNOTGOOD, has as much to do with his raw, undeniable talent, as it does with his full conceptualization of his projects. While others might be content with creating art that’s good enough to get you noticed, Leon refuses to settle for anything less than the very best, while also raising the bar for everyone else in the process.
I learned early on in order to get what I wanted, since there wasn’t a lot to go around, I had to be creative in my speech. I had to be creative in my movement, I had to be creative every single day and I didn’t necessarily know that was creativity, but it was. Sometimes I think it’s like it’s something that’s super special, like a super power. Other times, I think it’s something that every one of us can possess. Sometimes I feel like it was something you’re born with, like an innate gift, and other times I feel like it’s learned through environment from person to person.
“Within a community is competition, and in an ecosystem where very few people are afforded opportunity or people are making enough off their work to do it full time, there are so few examples of that, the community is greatly exaggerated. But I don’t know if I’m the person to speak about community because I’m the black sheep. I’ve always felt isolated, I’ve always kinda felt separated.”
There is a group effort towards creating a better Toronto for the next generation. But us that are in it currently are facing lot of the same roadblocks, and I think that’s where the community forms: we share the same frustrations. Here, you’ve got to break your arm to get a little bit of respect.
I’ve made strides and efforts to bring people together and do things. But you also don’t want to be the martyr. I’m the first cowboy over the hill. I feel like blood, sweat, and tears have gotten to me just where I am here. And that’s why I’m in front of the camera verses somebody else, but that was just me willing to sacrifice. I don’t think it requires that much for individuals in other markets. In Toronto you’ve got to do a lot, just to get a little.
My perspective changes all the time, I try to have as many conversations with people as possible and not place importance on certain conversations over others because I feel like every perspective offers me something. And I think through that I’ve been able to practice empathy because now I’m seeing how other people are seeing things. I learned pretty recently that you and I can be at the exact same event, at the exact same time, at the exact same place and see it completely different. And it’s based on what I was taught, what you were taught, where you grew up, what you learned, what we’ve been through.