Shantel May – Scarborough’s Songbird, Toronto’s Next Big Thing

Powerhouse vocals. Fly aesthetic. Personable. Hard-working and determined. And she’ll let a voice note fly at any time covering songs that not everyone can tackle. See below for her take on Beyoncé’s ”Rocket.”

Shantel May has all the makings of a soon-to-be R&B superstar. I almost feel obligated to tell the world about her because she’s that great. Good music is to be shared and being a fan of her work has felt precious ever since I was first introduced to her.

Seeing your favorite artists live is an incredible experience. You hold every memory near and dear. In February 2018, I was headed to Terminal 5 in NYC to see dvsn for the first time in concert. They had released Morning After a few months prior and it was easily my favorite album at the time. Plus, I was just starting to attend shows more consistently so everything felt novel and exciting.

I’ll never forget pregaming with McDonalds and tequila because my pockets were hurting waiting for that first check from my new recruitment job. I treasure being able to meet up with my best friend Ish and running into an old college friend Ossy. Nineteen85 spun an incredible DJ set during the show and Daniel Daley sang his ass off. He brought the energy and swagger of a rapper to a concert that was 60% baby-making energy. It was crazy to witness. There is so much good to say about that night, but the most memorable experience, was when Daley stepped away and let May get her time. Wow.

She performed her new single “Back N Forth” and covered Beyoncé’s “1+1.” I was blown away. You don’t hear a singer like that every day. Like who the hell is this girl?! Why is she God’s favorite and have a voice like that?! I’d never opened Apple Music so fast in my life to search for someone. I aggressively played “Back N Forth” as if I was going to have to part ways with the song at some point. I wanted and needed to hear more from her. She demanded it by being exceptional at what she does. The room literally erupted when she began singing.

So, you can understand my excitement when she released more music and landed a placement on A Muse In Her Feelings closer “…Again.” She has been a long time backup singer for dvsn, but this moment felt like her going #1 in the draft. The cover art for this article should be an edit of her in one of Drake’s draft photos from the “Laugh Now Cry Later” video.

She easily stole the show on an album that had Future, Ty Dolla $ign, Snoh Aalegra, Summer Walker, and various others who are normally responsible for having the best or a highly notable feature on someone else’s album. Not this time. Shantel said it’s her time.

I can’t speak for the dynamic of all major artists and their background singers, but in the case of dvsn and Shantel May, there is a clear respect, admiration, and commitment to giving flowers. When Daley was called in to the Joe Budden Podcast, he gave her the highest praise in likening her to a hybrid of Aaliyah and Beyoncé. The guys were all very impressed by “…Again” and wanted to know who this girl was. This is how we win!

As one of the biggest music platforms, that conversation was a huge moment for her. Daley was in the midst of the JBP praising him and Nineteen85 for another successful album and the moment could’ve just been about him. They couldn’t not talk about that record though and he threw her the lob. He and Nineteen85 also support her a lot on social media which is simple but goes a long way when the world still isn’t fully aware of you.

Upon looking up her credits, it was exciting to see Nineteen85 is her go to-producer, with Boi-1da and Vinylz assisting on “It’s Better This Way.” Together they’ve crafted a sound that feels appropriate for today’s R&B ecosystem as 85 is a highly sought after producer and specializes in a variety of sounds. More importantly, May’s voice puts her ahead of many. This shouldn’t be a hot take either.

I will be the first to advocate for today’s artists and how they have played a part of R&B’s evolution, but I do agree that vocals have somewhat taken a backseat to melodies and Hip-Hop infused production. They’re is a large pool of R&B artists so this is not meant to generalize, but it is very safe to say the most popular music is not necessary the best and truest to the genre’s constructs.

A lot of people want that feeling back. They want singers, people who you can just hand a microphone and watch them work. No relying on bells and whistles. Shantel is that. She and Nineteen85 truly can go as far as they see fit.

Being a fan of her has admittedly been a test of my patience, but it has paid off. She delivers every time. When I think back to Drake’s Rap Radar interview where he expressed an interest in signing a woman to OVO Sound, the story writes itself. The Toronto ties are there, they fall in the same musical family tree, and it honestly wouldn’t be shocking if there is already something in the works. We all know he keeps an eye out for what’s new and buzzing. She may not have the brightest spotlight in our heavily populated music scene just yet, but talent cuts through when given the opportunity.

I spend a lot of time fantasy booking collaborations for her. Shantel May and Lucky Daye. Shantel May and Giveon. Shantel May and 6LACK. Shantel May and Bryson Tiller. Shantel May and Usher. Shantel May and Dylan Sinclair. Shantel May and Ty Dolla $ign. Shantel May and Jhene Aiko. Shantel May and H.E.R. Shantel May and Snoh Aalegra. Shantel May and Jill Scott. Shantel May and Alicia Keys. I can envision her rising to the occasion each time because I’ve already witnessed it. dvsn is no slouch when it comes to singing.

You never forget a special talent. It sticks with you like the childhood friend you attend all the same schools with and end up dorming with in college. It’s an indelible part of you that you can’t picture your life without. That’s how I feel when I hear “Don’t Wanna Pretend.” That’s the key here. The feeling. Shantel’s voice and songwriting makes me feel.

R&B is perfect when it seems like a situation with a lover is life or death. Dramatic, but hey we live for the thrill. “How do we cut off the benefits but still remain friends?” she exclaims in the song’s chorus. It’s an extremely valid question. How are we doing this? You don’t doubt the sincerity of what May says. It all feels so real. I look forward to her inevitable success because she’s going about it the right way. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

Also, we really have to have the conversation about all the greatness Toronto has given us. What’s do they put in Tim Horton’s products?

Writer, editor, curator, podcast host, passionate overthinker of all things music and wrestling. Content — Hope you enjoy!

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