His videos have more than 316 million YouTube views. His songs have been streamed more than 50 million times. He’s a three-time Western Canadian Music Award-nominated rapper who has performed more than 500 shows in North America, Europe, and Australia.
It took Merkules years to hit these lofty milestones, ones the Surrey, Canada, rapper set his sights on when he was 12. His father had taken him to the local mall to watch Canadian rappers Swollen Members, Sweatshop Union, and Saukrates perform. “I saw what was going on on stage and that was actually a pivotal moment in my career,” Merkules says today, more than a decade later. “I remember seeing them all playing and being like, ‘You know what? That's what I want to do. Forget whatever else I had in mind for a career. This is what I want to do.’”
From there, Merkules dedicated himself to becoming a superstar artist. He developed his craft early on as Merk Mikz and by rapping over well-known beats from Eminem, Big Pun, and others. While it’s risky to rhyme to instrumentals fans already know and love, Merkules developed a perpetually expanding fanbase that gravitated to his witty wordplay, no-nonsense tone, and masterful delivery.
“I’m taking somebody else’s record and then trying to out shine them on their own record, which is kind of like battle rap where you're trying to outshine other artists,” Merkules explains. “The remixes have definitely done big things for me. They’ve been my saving grace because they’ve gotten me to where I am now and have gotten me these millions and millions of hits.”
So has his original material. Starting with 2012’s Canadian Bacon LP and Bacon Bits EP, Merkules has become one of rap’s most prolific artists, releasing LPs, EPs, singles, and videos at a remarkable pace. The title track to his 2015 LP Scars details a vicious, life-alterting attack he suffered at 16 while walking home from a New Year’s Eve party. That song was among the ones that showed another side of Merkules, one where he was vulnerable, emotional, and willing to explore the deepest and darkest part of his life and his emotions.
By the time Merkules got to 2017’s Trust Your Gut and songs such as “Way Down” and 2018’s Cole, with songs such as “Work,” “On My Own,” and “Moment,” he had evolved into an often introspective rapper who accented his work by singing, bearing his soul, and examining his mental health. He also did it on songs such as “Heart Of My Sleeve,” which he released in between projects.
“Me and my friends, we have this inside joke,” Merkules reveals. “We call it hangover rap. A lot of my music, it sounds like I'm just hung over, that I hate life, and I’m writing about how hung over I am. Yeah, fans want to hear you talk about how you’re the illest, that you’re blowing up, and that nobody can do anything about it because they’ve watched your journey. They feel like they’ve been a part of that and they have. But they also like the deeper songs, which are just relatable in the sense that I’m talking about stuff that maybe not everybody else has the balls to talk about. People tend to think that if they're depressed or they have anxiety that’s like something to be ashamed of or that that’s some wack shit. It's like, ‘No, bro.’ We all go through that. So I think that me just speaking on topics that maybe everybody else isn't willing to talk about, it’s a big reason why those kind of songs resonate with people.”
With the most momentum he’s had in his already remarkably successful career, Merkules is set to make the biggest statement of his career with Special Occasion, the first album he’s releasing under his new pact with RBC/BMG. It’s also marks the first time that he went in with the purpose of making an album.
“This one actually sounds like an album through and through,” he says. “It doesn't sound like just a bunch of records thrown together. It’s more themed. It’s more like I’m hitting every pocket. I’m speaking on every single topic, which makes it different from the other ones.”
The video for Special Occasion single “All Night Song” logged more than 1.5 million YouTube views in two weeks. Here, Merkules sings and raps about his desire to do his own thing and to medicate himself as he deals with the chaos enveloping his life. On “Bass,” a hard-hitting, lyrical showcase with fellow underground rap titans Tech N9ne and Hopsin, he delivers the type of rewind worthy verbal gymnastics that made Merkules a revered battle rapper.
On the title track, Merkules delivers an emotional cut where he celebrates making it through a life filled with fake friends, haters who try to derail your progress, and anxiety, as well as loyal family and friends who stand beside you in good times and bad.
“When I made the record, I wasn’t even like thinking like, ‘Yo, this is going to be the title track,’” Merkules recalls. “I was just like, let's make a record type shit.’ Then we ended up calling the song ‘Special Occasion.’ When we were coming up with album titles, it was one of those moments where it just kinda hit me. It was actually a theme for the record in general.”
On the rest of Special Occasion, Merkules digs deep into his psyche over well-crafted, hard-hitting emotive beats. He celebrates his comeuppance (“Brand New Day”), wrestles with his emotional state (“I Wish I Was Happy”), warns fakes to tread lightly (“In The Field” with Uncle Murda”), and examines his standoffish personality (“Trust Issues”).
Now, with Special Occasion set to arrive, Merkules is ready to hit the next level of his career.
“The whole mission with this album is just to level up,” Merkules explains. “Every time I drop something, I’m trying to just like get my foot just a little bit more in the door. Working with the right people and them being really big names – and them also being crazy records – is going to level up, for sure. With my Cole album last year, we hit Billboard and that was crazy to even say that I had anything to do with Billboard. This time, I want to chart higher and I want to stay on the iTunes chart a little bit longer so I can show people that we’re here and that we’re here to stay.”
It’s time to welcome Merkules to rap’s inner circle. It’s a Special Occasion, indeed.
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