Artist Interview :: Cartel Madras

by Olivia Michalczuk

Unapologetic and unforgettable, sister trap duo Contra and Eboshi are Cartel Madras. Hailing from Calgary but currently residing across the country from one another, these two hit the ground hustling and have only recently stopped their endless string of shows since their first Big Winter Classic two years ago. “We have been playing shows every weekend since the beginning of 2018 up until the pandemic hit. We were in New York on our first American tour when everything came to a halt” said Contra. 

Contra in Calgary and Eboshi in Toronto intended to be in Germany at the time of the release of their new single “Working.”

“We would have been calling you from Berlin, but here we are.” said Contra. 

Berlin festival, Pop Kultur, switched to an online format and gave Cartel Madras the opportunity to record a video for their new club-from-home series. They produced a house track called “Working,” with a seriously smooth synth, and an underlying muted bass that gives you dance floor vibes. The release of the video also served as the launch for their production company THOT NATION.

“[Working] definitely feels like it is for a club, or a venue, or a gay bar, but now it’s a song for the house or the apartment or the shared space you have with whomever you live with.”

Their story is unique yet indicative of their talent, brand, and determination to share their work. Pre-Cartel, they were creating music individually and hit shows as much as possible as consistent concert goers. Their inspiration to combine forces and create Cartel Madras was the irresistible urge to hit the stage, to put on a great performance, and to share their raw talent in a genre where they didn’t really see anyone like them. 

“We liked going to big energetic shows and being swept up in the moment, so we thought “What if there were two of us on stage giving people that energy?” said Contra 

“You were hearing two voices, you were always watching someone moving right? To have more than one rapper on stage is powerful.”

Their delay to go from making music to recording and producing came with the realization that they were making better music than they were hearing, but just didn’t see themselves in the scene.

“There’s a lot of dudes that have absolutely no talent whatsoever who are like ‘I’m gonna make it big, I’m gonna do the thing, I’m gassed and everyone needs to hear this’,” said Eboshi. 

“If you listen to enough shitty dude mixtapes it’s like “what is going on here?’”

“Then you have that moment and you’re like ‘why aren’t we doing this?’” added Contra 

“And it’s just because you don’t see yourself at all in the industry. You don’t think of making a mixtape even though you rap and it’s lit because you don’t think of that because you don’t see that ”

Cartel Madras’ live performance is hard hitting and full of raw energy and bad bitch attitude. The sisters claim that this ethos is not just fabricated for the stage but more so a reflection of who they are in real life and who they would be excited to see as an audience member.

“Our onstage persona is very authentic to who we are and how we behave. It’s the truest and rawest form of ourselves,” said Eboshi.

“We can demure when necessary like in the right company like with other people’s parents, like anyone. We aren’t in a complex web of personalities. We are Contra and Eboshi, we write the way we think and we rap as such.”

Their lyrical flow is tight and complex. Swirled into a party beat, it’s hard to catch all the themes covered throughout the songs. Cartel Madras doesn’t hang on to or lag a reference, though their impressive callbacks hit hard and in the right place. Trying to catch up with their lyrics can be tricky and in some cases, with no end. Their references are a combination of many things including music, movies, books, art, and queer culture, though a lot of content is self-referential to very specific parts of each member’s life. “There’s definitely something for everybody,” said Eboshi. 

“Sometimes we read each others lyrics and think ‘what the fuck do you mean when you say this line or this lyric?’ But usually we get each other’s references,” said Contra. 

The denseness and quick moving style of their music means there needs to be a lot of content. While sometimes their lyrics hit hard, there are other times you just have to coast with the track and enjoy the composition, which is easy to do with such great mixes and beats. 

“There are a lot of references to pop culture and movies and music but in a write up someone googled a reference, but it had to do with a highschool memory” said Eboshi.

Contra adds, “It’s also like being obsessively weird, neurotic internet kids.”

“So many of our reference points come from the amount of time we spent online going down those rabbit holes and staying up late at night fighting with Reddit bros online. It’s interesting to bring that to trap, like littered through a banger.” 

Aside from their own projects, Cartel Madras is working on their art collective and production company THOT NATION with several other artists across mediums, a natural progression for the group. 

“You can probably tell from how over the top some of our aesthetic and branding is. We do love the visual elements so it felt natural to become a creative production media entity,” said Contra.

“We were just really good at it and we thought “Let’s stop just doing it for Cartel Madras, let’s take this further.’ We are lucky to be in a collective with so many talented artists that have an eye for branding, for visual creation, for editing, for all these things that end up making an incredible product.”

On using words like “bitch”

“The funny played out answer would be that we are reclaiming it but straight up if we don’t use this words that we use in our everyday vocabulary we would be writing completely disingenuous to how we speak and talk to each other and think about these things” -Eboshi

“There is a language understanding that reclaiming these words is not an invitation and is not permission for anyone other than you to identify yourself in that way.” -Eboshi

“The cultural context of who you are, when it comes to reclamation of words and feminism. We are south asian women calling ourselves bitch on a platform, it means something different coming from a south asian woman to be able to use those words however and whenever we want.” -Contra

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