Toronto’s Complicated Relationship with Hip-Hop & the Black Community

A dark cloud loomed over the city, as Pusha-T was performing at Danforth Music Hall November 20th 2018. Terrence was anticipated to be ready for anything after his highly profiled beef with local darling Drake. Thrown drinks, bodyguards with 2×4’s, fists flying and a stabbing were all a part of the chaos as the night ended in violence. Speculation led many to believe that Drake had sent associates to the event to ruin the evening, though there is no proof to support this claim of responsibility of any other. What most hadn’t anticipated however was how negatively this evening would affect the culture and image of the black & hip hop community of Toronto, and it’s already damaged image in the eyes of the City and its venue owners.

The summer of 2018 has given us a look at how we as a city treat rap and those associated with it, as one of the city’s younger rap acts Jahvante Smart, who went by Smoke Dawg , was gunned down on Queen Street along with Koba Prime outside of Cube Nightclub. Smoke Dawg had no criminal record or previous charges

but that hasn’t stopped many from assuming that rap acts will bring a criminal element or activity to their venues and risk bringing harm to themselves or their patrons. It also hasn’t stopped the stigmatization that people like Smoke Dawg, who come from neighbourhoods like Regent Park, from facing stereotypical rhetoric or criticisms, even after Regent Park’s gentrification. Rappers who speak on their real experiences, or of those around them, are seen as criminals waiting for a reason to commit crimes, instead of those who’ve been left for dead by the system, or as those who if they ask for help/assistance, are weak and just begging for handouts.

It is much easier for, say, an indie band or act primarily made up of white youth(s), or those who may be accepted easily by white audiences, and have access to these connections and opportunities to get booked and find spaces to perform in the city than it is for minority groups and acts. Our high school had many such acts, and there was even a “tour” called Johnnyland which featured exclusively such acts. It shut down because actual crime seems to be have committed by its attendees. Have white, indie bands been forbidden from our city? Nope!

Thankfully, there are spaces like RISE Edutainment in Scarborough, or the Remix Project with members like Rich Kidd & Daniel Daley of dvsn who helped mentor acts like Jessie Reyez that exist explicitly to “help level the playing field for young people from disadvantaged, marginalized and underserved communities by providing career support in creative industries.” – Polaris Prize

It does also however speak to how few and far between these spaces exist within the city, and not on its outskirts, in spaces like Brampton, Mississauga, Scarborough & Durham, but more so within the city. Even spaces for the Black Community to enjoy themselves without fear of harassment or disrespect are scarce, but have motivated the current members of the culture to work towards offering a safe and positive space, as Rebeka Dawn has thrown parties like “COZY” which is meant to “encourage a casual, come-as-you-are air, that vibe extends itself far beyond it, across every party of hers” to help avoid the discrimination of the nightlife and party scene Toronto has developed.

Many may look at the violence that occurs in minority communities, especially predominantly black areas, especially Jamaican, of the city and attempt to apply it to the music scene as well, but very rarely, if ever, will people look at how the socio-economic standing of these communities of these artists, and how they’ve been let down by the government policies. Hip Hop has always been a genre and a culture that spoke on the very real, genuine, and authentic stories & experiences of people who are oppressed, and if we look at the history of Toronto’s government, our city is no exception to this cycle.

The following article from NOW Magazine digs into the damage done by previous Ontario Premier Mike Harris and his detrimental impact on lacking non-affluent communities like those found in Toronto.

It is extremely easy to blame an individual for the actions they partake in, and in some cases, rightfully so (circumstance always plays a role, as no two of us ever share the same life, not even twins). “Mike’s Kids” as they’ve been titled, are a by-product generation of a bygone era that blatantly disregarded those who were already at risk, and threw them to the wayside, almost as though being made to lie in wait, to be labeled as “thugs”, “gangsters” & “sewer rats” as current Mayor John Tory has put it, or “pathetic parasites” as some Police Inspectors may refer.

Is this to say, we should enable or encourage criminal activity and behaviour? Obviously not.

But, everyone should have the opportunity to access resources and education that can lead to financial and familial gain and success, the reality in Toronto is that these communities are never given such opportunities. Venues should be much more open to having rap acts, especially considering their musical style is the most popular in the world at the moment. Artists like Drake, The Weeknd & Tory Lanez have performed at Ryerson, U of T and York U respectively after their individual rises to fame, imagine what could happen if a small venue could say “we saw the potential in (z) artist before the come up, we believed in them, and they paid it forward for the next act and we want to keep encouraging and building with these artists, investing in them and our communities.”

What happens on the day that Drake decides to do a small intimate show at a local venue, would he be turned away? Or would that venue capitalize on the opportunity to just be able to say Drake was in their presence? Our city needs to be willing to embrace its own sound and people. Our Hip Hop scene has dominated and influenced the culture as a whole since the rise of “The Six” and though many love to capitalize off the movement, they are just as quick to disregard those that this moment are built off of, the marginalized youth in the city who influence more than they’ll ever be given credit or appreciation for. 

Anfernee aka someone in Toronto hire me please, I think I’m pretty decent Cadogan and Clayton Tomlinson


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