State Violence & Physical Bodies: A view of death in Toronto and Music

To start this one, we want to send condolences to the families and friends of those mentioned in this newsletter and not mentioned. Hopefully if this applies to you, your healing process is a healthy one that doesn’t find you fighting impossible odds, but if you are, win the fight.

State Violence is defined by M. Gabriela Torres as “ranging from direct political violence and genocide to the redefinition of state violence as the neoliberal exit of the state from the provision of social services and the covert use of new technologies of citizen surveillance.” State Violence (what many usually refer to as Gun Violence) in Toronto is a very real thing that many feel like they’re tied to because of their relative proximity to it. However, relative proximity is just that, it’s relative. Your perceived idea of being close to something doesn’t mean you’re literally next to it. You may feel close to it because of the stories you’ve heard or because something happened in a neighbourhood or region close to you, but until it strikes directly, your relative nature isn’t always rational. You may want to sympathize with someone who experiences true grief, but that isn’t the same as empathizing and letting them know that while you cannot truly experience their pain, you can share with them a safe place to confide and feel through their problems. This is hard to do and realize when so often State Violence is presented in a way that separates as much as it is cloaked in a way that is able to “connect” us. Sometimes we forget that its perpetrators aren’t that different from us, that they are our neighbours whose upbringing and livelihoods weren’t supported the same ways our own were. 

Violence involving firearms isn’t outright new to me, but how guns affect me has changed. Having someone I used to see frequently die from it and afterwards watching people online depict their perception and made up narrative of him as a false reality is heartbreaking and something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Having an empathetic heart is kind of my specialty, my capacity for love as others have described it is large – my problem is that what comes with it is an eagerness to forgive. This is difficult when I see people in the CP24 twitter replies disrespecting the dead that they don’t know, especially when it’s my old neighbours… I don’t need another politician or random nobody who isn’t directly exposed or susceptible to this violence commenting on it and dehumanizing people like me, who look, are treated, who aren’t cared about like me. You don’t think of me as someone who matters, which sucks but ok, that’s your choice. But please, PLEASE, don’t smile in my face and lie to me expecting not to see through it, my tears aren’t those of a clown, those are the tears of the scarred.

“How does this affect music?” I can hear you ask. For me, listening to Toronto artists discuss their lives and their proximity to State Violence gives it a very different level of reality. One that is likely missed by some listeners. Some of you may recall our 3rd Newsletter about Toronto’s relationship with hip-hop and minority communities (if not, maybe check it out for reference Toronto’s Complicated Relationship with Hip-Hop & the Black Community). It talked about how out of touch the city establishment is to Toronto’s music and culture, and the reality that the music represents and stands for. Behind the subject matter that can occur in music is an artist and person with a tangible life and backstory. They aren’t a made up image a record label came up with, but someone who has to live with love, hate, confusion, anxiety, doubt, uncertainty and grief, every day.

Clairmont The Second released Do You Drive at the top of 2019. He discusses on one of its songs ‘Word’ that he is unsure about his feelings, and how it hurts him that artist and his friend Melik a.k.a. Lil Mel died. I remember seeing his post on Instagram about his friend’s passing and thinking about how difficult that feeling must’ve been. It doesn’t help when you note that Pam Seatle and CityNews misrepresented Lil Mel’s image on the news to the point of being mentioned in song by Clairmont. It speaks volumes to the disregard of life that many often face in the media, especially online. People can say whatever about whoever, but when people feed into false narratives, there is a real danger behind that. In a song released later in the year (Thou), he states “Outer city children amping beef on my ends when their biggest problem, what college to attend,” acknowledging the very real issue that comes from many (NOT ALL, sigh…) Suburban rap fans feeding into uninformed senses of connection to music and urban beef that they don’t have to literally deal with. For them, it’s fun and games, they don’t have to actually live with the reality of a deceased friend and having to attend a funeral but have to worry about what school of choice they’ll attend.

Sean Leon’s music has meant a lot to me, with 2017 being such a strange time for me personally, his album I Think You’ve Gone Mad (or The Sins of The Father) came at a perfect time. What I didn’t realize was how much his discography as a whole would really mean to me. In backtracking, I discovered his first real outing as a solo artist under the name Sean Leon, 2013’s Ninelevenne, The Tragedy. Sean gives us a narrative of an Icarus-like character who eventually drowns. What’s special is when we reach the eighth track on the album “Corpses” where the song begins with the line “when Paul died, I cried 100 nights.” Sean lets us into his life in a song that feels like a partial death in the story separate from the one heard from the drowning that takes place midway through “Pacific Coast Highway.” To my knowledge, he hasn’t directly mentioned Paul since this song, but why should he? The weight and depth is already there, his friend is gone, and now he has to live on, without him. He further goes on later in the song detailing sleeping over at his teacher’s home to avoid sleeping outside. This is intriguing when you take into account that he eventually dropped out of school and went on to fully pursue his dreams of being successful in music – as an independent rap/hip hop artist in Canada, I’d say he definitely has. The very real reality and pain of losing a friend can be difficult to live with, but Sean has balanced this. Though he’s years removed from mourning that moment, he’s also found life in living for his daughter.

As of writing this newsletter rappers Why S and Bvlly, were both taken in the midst of the winter holiday season and struck the city in a way no one could’ve predicted. There’s a very real pain that stems from their passings, as they aren’t the only Toronto artists lost to gun violence in recent years. In the summer of 2018, Smoke Dawg was killed on Queen Street to the shock of the music community and the city as a whole. In a summer that many considered one of the more violent in the cities recent history. It speaks volumes to the truth of the matter, that there are many people hurting, that a lot of people who cause hurt are hurt people, but everyone’s pain is truly being ignored. Until we try and break some very real cycles, the violence we’re all caught up in will continue to encompass us, and will eventually find its way back around us, before leaving to visit and watch over someone else.

All of this truly culminates in “Remember Me, Toronto”  a video by Mustafa The Poet, friend of Smoke Dawg. Mustafa gathered artists from all over the city’s various neighbourhoods to discuss how violence has impacted them and importantly how they want to be remembered for more than that, how they’d like their memories and the memories of their dearly departed to be positive. Being able to gather so many people from so many backgrounds with shared experiences but different reasons to potentially not be able to share a space with one another is no easy task by any means, especially when considering that one of the biggest artists and icons of our era Drake is in the room, but this is exactly why moments like these are necessary, they speak volumes to the serious nature of the task at hand. Peace is possible, if we’re willing to put in the work, sit down, and remind ourselves that we’re humans, in a shared space with finite resources and remember that bloodshed isn’t necessary. This also goes far beyond music.

If the city as a whole wants to see real change, real growth, we must look at our patterns, and behaviours, our reactions to violence. Whose communities are placed on pedestals, and which ones are left behind to deteriorate? When people say things like “not in my backyard” does that apply to their own relatives who they see once a year who don’t share the same experiences and circumstances they do? Do the people who report on the violence truly care, or are they looking for their next scoop that will bring in more attention at the cost of demonizing and dehumanizing entire communities? Hopefully that third one can be left behind in 2019, probably not though…

With all that in mind, I hope we can carry peace, mindfulness, empathy and love in our hearts going into the new year, and remember that we all want to get home safely.

By Anfernee “If I Was In The Picture Out Now” Cadogan 

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