By Madalyn Howitt
Shymar Brewster discovered basketball the same way a lot of kids do — after school, on the neighbourhood court.
“I feel like the environment you live in plays a big role in what you want to do,” Brewster says.
“What really got me playing basketball was everybody around me playing basketball,” he adds, while thinking back to his childhood spent growing up in Caldwell, which exists within Ottawa’s west-end Carlington neighbourhood.
Now 25 years old, Brewster remembers learning a lot from the older kids who played in his neighbourhood.
“Watching them was motivating,” he says.
“I wanted to play better than them — that’s my competitive nature… I don’t like losing, so I worked on my game every day to get to the level I (needed to) to compete,” Brewster adds with a laugh.
His natural competitive drive led Brewster to play more regularly in an afterschool club, then at Merivale High School and eventually on a scholarship in the U.S.
Yet, despite showing promise on the court, Brewster’s path led him off it.
Now, the same talent and drive that helped him excel in sports has propelled him forward in a career in music — helping him shine as one of Ottawa’s most exciting young talents in hip-hop.
If you follow the city’s growing hip-hop scene, you may be familiar with Brewster’s alter ego, Lindasson.
The artist released his 10-track self-titled debut album in late 2020 and quickly made waves locally for his introspective lyrics and skillful production.
Songs like Ted Talk express the difficulties he faced growing up in an underserved community, and explain how basketball helped him through challenging times, while OHC Baby is a direct reference to Ottawa Community Housing, where Brewster grew up.
His moniker, Lindasson, is a tribute to his late mother Linda, who died after a brain aneurysm in 2016. An image of her and Brewster together graces the cover of his album, and the impact she had on her son’s life weaves thematically through the album.
But Brewster’s path toward the world of music wasn’t something he originally set his sights on, he says.
“I liked listening to music growing up, but I never really tried to make any music,” Brewster explains. “I was always playing basketball.”
Sean McCann is a teacher and coach in Ottawa who met Brewster when he was 11. The pair connected through the Bellevue Basketball Club, an afterschool basketball club for underserved Ottawa communities. McCann would go on to coach Brewster for six years at the club and later at Merivale High School, where Brewster helped the Marauders win 46 games in their final season.
“Because he was such a beginner, he had to start at the bottom and really learn one thing at a time to build his skills,” McCann recalls of Brewster’s early hoops days. “I think he developed a ton as a person, and he became a pretty good basketball player in the process.”
“I think sports can be a vehicle to teach things that will be applicable in life,” McCann adds.
Now, McCann sees Brewster displaying the same resourcefulness and steady determination in music as he showed in basketball.
“He started with no knowledge [but] self-taught,” McCann said. “Whatever you’re learning, if you’re motivated and passionate and learn about it, you can do it.”
Brewster says he took away lessons about teamwork and work ethic — like “doing whatever you have to do to win” — from both teammates and opponents, and that connections he formed with the former have helped him stay motivated.
Brewster spent a short stint playing basketball at Wyoming College in the U.S., but eventually returned to Ottawa at a point when his mother became ill before her death.
Without competitive basketball, he found he had more free time.
“I started making beats for fun. It progressed into recording for other people, and then to me recording and mixing my own music,” Brewster says.
Initially, he thought he’d only focus on producing, but not long after starting to make beats for fun and picking up how to use the studio equipment, he started crafting his own songs.
“I’m trying to find a career that I’m excited to do,” Brewster says. “I don’t want eight hours to feel like 16. I want eight hours to feel like four. And I like making beats and making music.”
Lindasson is one of multiple artists in Ottawa’s youthful hip-hop scene who has a background playing sports at a high level. One of Lindasson’s contemporaries and collaborators, rapper TwoTiime (whose name is Khalid Omar) also grew up playing basketball and won an OFSAA championship before finding success in hip-hop. In September, TwoTiime won a Young Canadian Songwriters award through the SOCAN Foundation Awards for his song Hood Cry.
Dax (Daniel Nwosu Jr.) is another Ottawa-raised rapper known for his freestyle remixes of songs by 2Pac and Eminem, as well as his own original work. He also played varsity basketball at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas.
Perhaps the most well-known of the burgeoning class of Ottawa hip-hop artists is Shermar Paul, who is known to the music world as Night Lovell. The 24-year-old is quickly making a name for himself at home and stateside. His songs, like the viral hit Dark Light, have gained over 100 million streams on Spotify. In September, he also performed alongside some of the industry’s heaviest hitters, including Kendrick Lamar and Tyler the Creator at the Day N Vegas festival.
He’s also collaborated with Lindasson and the late Ottawa rapper FTG Reggie on the song A Lot from the former’s 2020 album.
Paul is a former track-and-field star who found his footing through one of Ottawa’s elite training grounds for young athletes, CANI Athletics.
Lyndon George, who was once named to his home country of St. Lucia’s Olympic track-and-field team, co-founded CANI’s sport-specific training program. Standing for “Constant and Never-ending Improvement,” CANI was formed to train youth athletes like Paul — who joined the program when he was 15 years old — to compete at an elite level. Gradually however, George realized that the program could double as a positive training ground for life outside of sports.
“After high school, that kind of [sports] training actually prepares them in very good way for whatever they choose to do in life,” George says. “Many [alumni] go onto college or university, some of them are now lawyers, doctors, engineers. I was trying to train them to be powerful in athletics, but it ends up [helping] them in life.”
“When I look at Shermar, I see a lot of that in him: the way he performs; the way he commands the crowd,” says George of his former mentee. “Whenever he ran, he would always put on a show. He had this kind of swag, and he was always cool under pressure. Initially, he didn’t want to go across town to come to CANI, and now he’s traveling the world,” laughs George.
Like McCann, George sees the parallels between elite sport and high-profile performance on stage as he watches his former student achieve more and more success in hip-hop.
“He gives you everything onstage, like an athlete,” George says.
McCann, meanwhile, is impressed that Brewster brushed off the fizzling out of his basketball career.
“He was self-aware enough to realize maybe that wasn’t what he wanted to do,” McCann said.
“It takes courage to put yourself out there and try something when [there’s a] high chance of failure,” McCann added. “He’s had lots of things to overcome over the last decade of his life, but I’m really proud of him and very inspired by (his) willingness to try things.”
Something else Brewster says he wants to try is mentorship. He hopes to draw from the skills and wisdom he’s developed in basketball and music to mentor youngsters from communities like his.
“Kids from single parent households, low-income communities, poverty… unhealthy households” are who Brewster says he’s looking out for.
“I’m always open to help the next generation, (to) help open doors for them and teach things that I probably wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t try,” he says.
Brewster’s greatest gift is his ability to make those around him feel better and energized, McCann says.
“He’s always done that. He did that in the locker room, in the neighbourhood,” Brewster’s former coach says. “He was the kind of guy who was always smiling even if things were not going well. He was [a person] you had to push to open up their emotions.”
“I’ve seen a lot of hard things [he’s] had to overcome… He was always a sweet kid, and his mom was very involved. She was a super positive woman.”
But before diverting his attention to mentorship, Brewster is keeping his head in the game. He promised he’s got more music on the way, and that he’ll be keeping his hip-hop dreams alive.
“I’ll be making another tape and putting the work ethic into the new music,” Brewster said. “Just grinding.”
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