Vancouver’s own Missy D is going back to where her passion for music began and starting on a new path of hope and healing with her recently-released EP Case Départ. We’re all welcome on this heartfelt and nostalgic journey that looks to the future with a renewed sense of purpose, place, and home.
Missy D’s Case Départ is the Beginning of Something Wonderful
I had the privilege of sitting down with Missy D to go through Case Départ (which translates to the idiom square one or a starting point) track-by-track, but first here’s a bit of backstory:
Diane Mutabaruka, aka Missy D, is a hip-hop, rap, and soul artist who has been performing music since she was eleven years old. You’ve perhaps seen her on stage either as herself or as a part of Laydy Jams at local events and festivals, or internationally at SXSW in Austin, Texas.
She traces her passion for music and writing to an elementary school program where her teacher developed a curriculum on hip-hop, at the request of the students. She learned about the genre’s roots and rhyme schemes, and her final project of the year was to write and perform a rap.
“Something happened that day,” Missy D recalls. “I realized I really loved music as a whole: making music and performing as well.” Her classmates could tell she had a gift and encouraged her to keep it up.
“I moved schools, I learned a new language, and the rest is history. I came here [to Vancouver] and I still kept doing it. It hasn’t left me. Every time I have tried to leave it – it’s the one thing that’s remained the most consistent in my life.”
Her first album, When Music Hits You Feel No Pain was released in 2016 and in March of 2020, she dropped the Yes Mama EP which followed her journey through the grief of losing her father. But as we all experienced, March 2020 was a pretty tumultuous time. She had to cancel her EP release party, and release and promote the project on her own. What was supposed to be a cathartic process turned into more of the sadness and grief she felt writing it.
“I was supposed to go home finally, and I wasn’t able to go home. I’m the baby of the family, so my siblings some live in Montreal, my mom lives in Ivory Coast with my brother, and I always feel like I’m very isolated. I already felt very isolated before the pandemic, then during it I also couldn’t see my friends, I couldn’t see my co-workers.” She realized she was still grieving the Yes Mama project, and her dad’s passing which is still in her heart to this day. All of it made her sad and anxious.
“These are feelings that a lot of people went through this year, so when I started thinking about that, I started thinking about: let’s go back to what I do and let’s go back to my why. Why was I writing music?”
She had her answer, and her inspiration for Case Départ. “Maybe the reason you do music is because you fell in love with it,” she told herself. “And where did you fall in love with it? When I was a kid.”
Missy D’s music is influenced by MC Solaar, Diams, Erykah Badu, India Arie, J.Cole, Missy Elliott and Lauryn Hill, which you’ll hear as soon as you hit play on Case Départ.
This French EP, with some English mixed in, immediately transports me back to Mme Salvail’s class at Riverdale Elementary in the 90s – the peak of my French Immersion days. Not only with the mix of language, but the music influence and style. You can’t help but smile, I even felt like a kid again listening to it.
Missy D’s goal for Case Départ was to get back to her roots, and it shows. “I’ve been rapping in English for the last ten years, and I discovered that when I start rapping in French or singing in French, I’m back to that eleven year old me.”
“Everything in the past eight months or so has been very Francophone in every sense of the word, so when I went back to writing it I was like, ‘Oh wow the flow is different, I’m rapping like 90s hip-hop!’ I’m still that kid inside. When you hear the music, I think it’s supposed to bring you back, this is old school.”
Case Départ Track by Track
While Missy D describes her music career as her “5 to 9” for now, the passion that comes through on this EP is a 24/7/365 vibe that will touch your soul, and lift it up:
1. Amuse Bouche
“This is a song I wrote later in the EP because I was starting to doubt writing this French project.” She has been building her career in Vancouver rapping in English, with a bit of French but now with a plan to do 5-10 tracks all in French, she was scared she’d lose her audience. Amuse Bouche eases us all into it, with the expectation that most listeners will have some French experience in school or knowing general sayings picked up from TV like bonjour, comment allez-vous or je m’appelle. “This is just a light snack for you to welcome you. It’s ok you don’t speak French. You’re still going to feel the music in some way.”
2. Case Départ
This is the why song. “I’ve got to go back to how I started, back to square one, the starting block. It’s that classroom that changed everything. If I wasn’t in that class I don’t know who I would be.” She’s telling her inner child that she followed her gut, and it paid off. “I have to honour my family, I have to honour MC Solaar, I have to honour the things that make me, me.”
3. Home Part 4
When Missy D moved to Vancouver one question that came up often is: “Where are you from?” which she admits takes a long time to answer and is rather complicated. “I’m connected to Rwanda, to Ivory Coast, I’m connected to Zimbabwe. I’ve traveled the continent, I love the continent a lot, and all of these places have taught me about humans and the world.” Home Part 1 was about how home is not a place for her, it’s about people. Home Part 2 was about where you’re from and how that brings power to your cultural background. In Home Part 3 she was trying to make Vancouver home, and nesting in her environment.
In Home Part 4 she reflects back on home not just being Vancouver or the cities in which she’s lived, and not just the people. Sometimes home is a place, like how she made her environment in her house in Vancouver home even more so during the pandemic. “I only have one childhood home that I really know, and it happens to be where my mom lives right now.” It also sunk in that the next time she goes back to visit, her father will not be there. “Next time I open that door, it’s going to feel different and I know it.”
4. Get Going
This Instagram post outlines Missy D’s process for this song, from voice memos on her phone to bringing in the band. “The evolution of this song is to me, a representation of the pandemic. Form being very much alone and by myself, to being with the band a little bit, to eventually performing the song at a festival, then getting back into the studio with my producer.”
5. Back and Forth
This stems from the questions she gets asked when she tells people French is her first language. “I’ve been asked what language I dream in, and I still don’t know the answer to that. I’ve lived half my life in French and now it’s weird to say almost half my life in English now, so I don’t know.” Her brain goes between languages and she also has tendency to over-think, the track being a compilation of both. “It’s not a translation, it’s a conversation in French and English about my life, history, and who I am.” Her favourite part of the song is the bridge because when she listens to it or sings it, it’s very much a message to herself.
6. Au Delà
“I call it the heart of the project, cause it’s the song that I find hard to listen to, I find hard to perform. But when I sent it to a few of my friends, it’s the one that often came up as one of their favourites, which means I am going to have to perform it a lot!”
Having sung this track entirely in French, it ended up being the real case départ for the project even though she originally wanted to keep it for friends and family only. “When my dad passed away, the one year anniversary was in 2020 and I was alone at that time. It was a moment of reflection about it being a year, and how I’m by myself this year, it was a very sad moment. All I could do was write a song.”
Au Delà or beyond is up for interpretation. “Yes it’s about family, it’s about my dad, it’s about finally being able to say goodbye, because I left Yes Mama not knowing how to say goodbye. In those stages of grief, there was acceptance.”
7. Petit Pas
“WhileAu Delà lifts you up, it makes me sad. Maybe some people want to end [the EP] there, and it would have worked, but for myself I couldn’t end there, it brings too much sadness.”
So, this is a celebration song. “We’re here, two years later everybody, we’re still here. Grief, whatever mental health issues you’ve had, you’re here. You’ve made it, you’ve stepped out of your house, you’ve woken up, you did what you had to do and sometimes you need to celebrate the little wins.”
She reflected on this with her bandmate Sejal of Laydyjams: “You know what I’ve noticed about us? Sometimes we feel guilty about joy for some reason […] I’m not fully there, I’m still sad some days, but step by step I’m finding myself and where I’m suppose to head. It doesn’t mean it’s l’arrivé, you’ve arrived. I’m still taking my steps, I’m on this journey.”
Live on Stage This Summer
Here’s where you can catch a Missy D performance around Metro Vancouver:
- Black Music Month Vancouver June 4, 2022
- Festival d’été francophone de Vancouver June 15, 2022
- TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival June 29, 2022
- VCBW Craft Beer & Music Festival July 9 & 10, 2022
- Follow on Facebook for her latest announcements/show info
You can purchase Missy D’s music here and listen through your favourite streaming platform.