Tremayne “Trobiz” Howe is a self-described jack of all trades. Nowadays, many recognize him from his Fairview barbershop, Fademasters, which he owns and operates. While working as an entrepreneur for over two decades, the former Dalhousie University men’s basketball star was also making a name on the Canadian hip-hop music scene.
His latest music project Boom Bap is his second of two back-to-back instrumental albums. Boom Bap follows his 2020 release Distance. Adjacent to the waiting area and barber chairs in his barbershop is an insulated music studio set up to both create music instrumentals and record vocals. This is where he created Distance and Boom Bap.
“I’ve always been somebody to play the sampling and chop things up and had more of an old-school style of production,” Howe said. “And later on in life, I started getting more into core progressions and taught myself how to read music.”
“With the last instrumental album [Distance], I kept away from samples as much as I possibly could because I wanted to get into more of my progressions and my own plane,” he said. “And then this one [Boom Bap], I went back to where I originally started. I started out as a sample-based, boom-bap, late-90s, mid-90s, early 2000’s type producer, and that’s what my foundation is. So I went back to my grounding.”
Howe was born and raised in Little Burgundy, a Black community in downtown Montreal, Quebec, which was also where his mother, funk and jazz musician Muzz Marshall grew up. Little Burgundy is a historic railway hub town whose connections, through Black railway porters, to Black communities in New York and Nova Scotia date back to the 1800s.
Howe’s father, jazz musician Coleman Howe, was born and raised in Africville. At 17, Howe moved to Halifax and moved in with his grandfather, the late Ronald Howe, and several of his father’s siblings. He went to high school at the former Queen Elizabeth High School. Up until less than a decade ago, the family’s homestead where they lived was one of the last two remaining homes in Africville.
After moving back to Montreal for a brief period, Howe moved back to Halifax and has lived here ever since. His parents and younger brother also ended up moving to Halifax in the late 90s. Howe went on to have his first child, opened his first barbershop, Up Close Cuts on Gottingen Street, and started making moves as a rapper/producer on the Halifax hip-hop music scene. He took on the stage name “Trobiz,” and adaptation of his nickname, “Tro.”
“I started out MC’ing,” Howe said. “From the get-go, I wanted to MC and I enjoyed putting together the flow and metaphors and putting the rhythm and cadence overtop of the beats. But then I quickly fell in love with the beats side of it.”
As a producer, he said he went on to produce music for CTV, CBC, and The Learning Channel (TLC). Speaking recently with The Examiner at Fademasters, he also recounted many of the local Black artists he’s collaborated with over the years such as Muzz Marshall (his mother), Kaleb Simmonds, Jordan Croucher aka JRDN, Ghettochild aka Postscript, Ground Squad, and the late Littles The General.
“A lot of the groups that came out of Square Town (Uniacke Square), some of them noted me as the first time they ever were in the studio,” he said.
“I even had work in progress with one of the barbers I was working right beside, Marvin Upshaw, who’s also one of my favourite MCs in this province. I did a lot of work with a lot of different artists — too many to name.”
Howe has won awards for ANSMA (African Nova Scotian Music Association) Artist of the Year and Producer of the Year, a CBC Galaxie Rising Star award for Hip Hop Artist of the Year, and even has an ECMA nomination. Though in addition to those accolades, Howe said he was inspired early on by positive reviews he received for work he’d done with Enfield, Nova Scotia rapper Classified on his 2001 album Union Dues.
“On one of his albums he was gracious enough to have me as a guest,” Howe said. “And it came out in Exclaim! Magazine that I guess … the beat that I laid on that album, that particular album, was one of the best beats on that album. That always kept me inspired to continue to do more because when you’re working beside a very talented artist and you get recognized for having a strong part in that album, it gives you the inspiration. It makes you believe.”
Howe talked about the process of juggling work life with music creation.
“As far as time management, I am a full-time business owner and operator, I do most of the work myself here — or right now, all of the work,” he said. “So with that time chunked out of the 24 hours, it only leaves the later part of the day and wee hours in the morning to create.”
“When I get finished my last job, I take a quick breather, [eat] dinner, and I go right back [to] the lab.”
Howe said he also does graphic design work and did the artwork for the Fademasters logo, as well as the cover artwork for his last two albums. He has a YouTube channel, “Trobiz,” where he posts some of his older music; basketball clips from his university days and training with his oldest son, and haircutting tutorials. He recently uploaded a number of vlog-tutorials that give a glimpse into his creative process with respect to beat making.
His Fademasters barbershop is currently under renovations. He plans to transform part of the space into an area where he and others can use to create additional forms of video and digital media.
“I’m hoping that … by the end of the year I may be able to put out an album with beats and my vocals overtop, but definitely, when it comes to MC’n and writing lyrics I do try to go in and come out with the best possible metaphors I can, and delivery I can as an MC.”
“I definitely am not looking at stopping for good. But with the time management, if I do that then I’d have to put the time aside to make sure that I deliver correctly.”
Fademasters is located at the Boss Plaza off of Dutch Village Road and is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 8pm. Distance and Boom Bap are available to stream on various platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music, as well as on YouTube by clicking HERE.