Nicholas Craven brings Fair Exchange No Robbery to life in Montreal

Hoodie on display at the Fair Exchange No Robbery pop-up event on Jan. 13. Photo by Stefano Rebuli // The Concordian

The local producer hosted a pop-up event on January 13 for his 2022 joint project with Boldy James.

Montreal-based producer Nicholas Craven has been building an empire in the underground hip-hop realm for years now, both in and outside of Canada. His work with Griselda signee Boldy James, a Detroit rapper, led him to one of his biggest breaks yet. 

After initially linking up during a tour stop in Montreal, Craven later made several trips to Detroit to record a collaborative mixtape with Boldy James. Released in 2022, Fair Exchange No Robbery became a staple for underground hip-hop fans thanks to its combination of blissful soul sample loops with Boldy James’ clever lyrics and icy, deadpan delivery. 

To commemorate the album’s success, Craven threw a pop-up event on Jan. 13. It was held at Léviter Mtl, a local streetwear shop on St-Denis St. The official merchandise hoodies for the project were being sold in-person for the first time, and the event doubled as an autograph signing. Dozens of fans dropped by throughout the night to meet Craven, buy merchandise, and have him sign their hoodies and vinyl records. 

Additionally, it has gained prominent cultural significance in Craven’s hometown: the mixtape’s cover is a flip of the iconic design on Quebec’s maple syrup cans.  He spoke highly about the artwork: “I’m so proud of that cover. There’s so much nostalgia within that design, and I found something that could be enjoyed by so many people. To be the first to rock it on a cover that way is hype.” Stack Moolah, the artist who created the cover, elaborated on how it has given a new life to an existing design: “For fans outside of Montreal, they may easily associate it with a hip-hop album rather than a can of syrup.” 

Craven was visibly enthused by one fan who brought a can of syrup for him to autograph. Both artists credit Boldy James as the inspiration behind the cover, thanks to a lyric on “Power Nap” where he raps, “Dozed off in a coupe off a four of maple.” A drug called “lean” is commonly referred to as syrup, and can be seen on the artwork flowing into the sap buckets.

There were also DJ sets throughout the event from Craven, Stack Moolah and RobyStudios (Roberto Viglione). Stack Moolah, the man behind the cover art, mixed classic and underground hip-hop. Craven followed suit, also playing his new collaborative mixtape with Boldy titled Penalty of Leadership in full (which was released a day prior, on Jan. 12). He simultaneously debuted a slew of unreleased Boldy James tracks, leftovers made during the sessions for that project. Roby, the producer-engineer who mixed and mastered Fair Exchange No Robbery, brought on some infectious, danceable energy by mixing amapiano music, a go-to genre for his recent DJ sets.

The night served as an accessible rendezvous point for fans of the project and aficionados of underground hip-hop in general. Local rappers Rowjay and Mike Shabb even stopped by later in the evening, giving fans the chance to meet and speak with them. Craven was in good spirits: “The turnout was amazing—way more people than I thought and so many hoodies got sold. Everything was perfect, way above my expectations.” 

Reflecting on the album’s legacy, the producer stated: “It’s ill that one of my favourite designs from my culture is now associated with me through hip-hop. It’s the best thing that could have happened.”

Fair Exchange No Robbery and Penalty of Leadership are available on all streaming platforms.


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