Whitehorse rap duo conquers eastern Canada (in a minivan)

Nick Johnson and Yudii Mercredi are sitting side-by-side and finishing each other's sentences. "There we go, Slick, let's blow this out of proportion," raps Mercredi.

Nick Johnson and Yudii Mercredi are sitting side-by-side and finishing each other’s sentences.

“There we go, Slick, let’s blow this out of proportion,” raps Mercredi.

“Born with an attitude to make a good performance,” Johnson responds.

They pass the lines back and forth:

“More clever than we’ve ever been/Better than you’ve ever seen/Vision Quest, we ain’t a dream/There couldn’t be a better team.”

It’s a seamless display of teamwork from the Whitehorse hip-hop duo. And this isn’t just how Vision Quest performs – the two talk this way, too, adding to each other’s thoughts, the thread of conversation moving quickly from one to the other.

Their teamwork has grown since they performed together for the first time at a battle of the bands organized by BYTE in 2013, and won.

And they’ve grown closer, in all likelihood, since they spent three weeks in July crammed into a Toyota Sienna minivan with four other people, on their first tour through eastern Canada.

The duo performed with aboriginal artists Winnipeg Boyz and Joey Stylez in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, and Thunder Bay. They also visited four aboriginal communities, including Kahnawake, Que. and Elsipogtog, N.B.

“I don’t know if I’d ever get to see all the places we saw if it wasn’t for this tour and meeting these guys and doing our music thing, you know?” said Johnson. Both he and Mercredi were born in Whitehorse, and had spent little time out east before the tour.

The trip wasn’t always a smooth ride – the performers would often play a show, finish in the wee hours of the morning, pack everything into the van and drive all night and day to get to their next venue in time. Then there was the time they drove out to Obedjiwan, Que. – a three-hour drive along a wet, dirt road that Mercredi compared to the Dempster Highway – only to find there was nowhere for them to stay when they arrived. But it didn’t stop them from performing.

“You’re always going to run into unexpected events,” said Johnson. “It’s just rolling with the punches, constantly. You just go with it.”

As much as anything else, this was a chance for the pair to learn the tricks of a highly competitive trade. For all their attitude during performances, they’re endearingly sincere, a quality that may not serve them well in a genre of music so driven by ego.

They rap about teamwork and hockey, and about what it’s like to live in the Yukon (“You make it rain/Well, we make it snow”).

Mercredi said the other artists on the tour told them they have to use more street lingo, “to open our mind, to kind of expand our lyrics in a way.”

And there’s the business of it, too, “the hustle,” Johnson called it.

“You gotta just get out there and do it,” he said. “You gotta make calls, you gotta set up shows. I learned a lot about setting up shows and anchor points and what you should charge, how much you should take from the door, a level of professionalism that you have to maintain, and to always be prepared for anything, really.”

It’s a lot to think about for two performers who are still figuring out exactly who they want to be. Johnson, 26, is thoughtful, the more serious of the two. He remembers asking his teacher if he could play mix tapes for his class at lunchtime when he was in Grade 4. He started freestyling at friends’ parties in high school, which is how he met Mercredi.

Mercredi, 23, is louder, more boisterous. He acted as a child, which he says helped him get comfortable in the spotlight. When he performs with Johnson, he’s the one who does back flips off the stage.

Both of them know they need to be unique if they’re going to survive.

“Everyone can be a rapper, like an independent artist, really,” said Johnson. “So you gotta be different, you gotta be hungry, and you gotta push yourself.”

Their plan is to focus on dance hip-hop, to get people moving. Johnson said he wants to have “one of the best live shows that you’ll see.”

“You could have the best lyrics in the world, but if you’re just standing there, rapping them, with no feeling and whatnot, it kind of takes out of what the artist does,” said Mercredi.

They also spend a lot of time thinking about how they see themselves as First Nation artists. Johnson is from the Kluane First Nation, and Mercredi is Vuntut Gwitchin.

They say their work is heavily influenced by their culture. And some of their best memories of the tour come from their performances on reserves, where the whole community would come out to see them.

But they’re both hesitant to label themselves aboriginal performers.

“They always put that in front of you, right?” said Johnson. “When you should be just an artist, first and foremost. And have respect for your heritage. As a music artist, I don’t really want to be classified as anything. I just want to be an artist that is First Nation. Not necessarily… a First Nation aboriginal artist.”

Vision Quest hopes to embark on a tour of western Canada this fall. In the meantime, they’re busy writing new music, with plans to put out a full album sometime this year.

For the moment, they have an EP for sale that can be ordered by contacting them through their Facebook page.

Contact Maura Forrest at