Positive messages in rap could evoke hope for Toronto

By Will Lofsky

As violence escalates in Toronto, celebrities and up-and-coming artists in the city are advocating for peace

According to CTV News, by the end of 2018 there were 96 homicides and 51 gun-related murders in Toronto. These incidents included the daylight murders of 21-year-old Regent Park rapper Smoke Dawg following his release of his track “Fountain Freestyle” and 28-year-old Koba Prime, a member of the collective, Prime, on Queen Street West.

Video courtesy 878 Dream Team via YouTube

Both Koba and Smoke Dawg worked together in the supergroup, Full Circle, which brought Halal Gang and Prime together. Prime consisted of Jimmy Prime, most famously known as the founder of the term, “the 6ix,” Koba, Donnie, and Jay Whiss. Halal Gang, a group of Muslim rappers, consisted of SAFE, Puffy L’z, and Smoke Dawg. All of the members of both groups frequently work together, appear in each other’s music videos, and are lifelong friends from The Esplanade and Regent Park.

Following the killings of Smoked Dawg and Koba, close friends of the fallen artists took to social media to wish their friends goodbye. This moment followed the shooting of XXXTENTACION, a murder that hurt the entire music industry. At the time, Drake posted an Instagram story about the tragedy of young artists’ lives getting cut short before they went major. Other individuals from the music industry also expressed their condolences, including Jazz Cartier, Mustafa The Poet, Murdabeatz, SAFE and Boi-1da.

Photo courtesy smokedawg via Instagram

Shortly after the death of one of his best friends, SAFE — the famous Toronto singer and fell ow member of Halal Gang — uploaded a video for his track “No Diamonds” which included Smoke Dawg hanging out in a nightclub with him during the shoot.

Video courtesy Bando416 via YouTube

Prime Boys and Halal Gang ensured that Smoke Dawg’s album in the works, Struggle Before Glory, which featured big names including AJ Tracey, SAFE, Giggs, Jay Critch, Puffy L’z and Jimmy Prime, was released at the end of November.

Since Smoke Dawg’s death, more artists have teamed up together to speak about gun violence in Toronto. Last month, Mustafa The Poet put together a powerful short film on YouTube called Remember Me, Toronto, where artists from different hoods had the opportunity to speak on violence and their fallen brothers.

LocoCity, Drake, Baka Not Nice, Boogz, Puffy L’z, Drake, Pressa, were among some of the artists who chimed in on the ongoing struggle that young black men encounter when growing up in “priority neighbourhoods” with little resources. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the film is that artists who are born enemies because of the neighbourhoods they grew up in all supported Mustafa’s goal to express their condolences. They also spoke about how they wanted to be remembered, and how they give hope to the city. Each person interviewed stated that they want to be remembered as someone who gave back to their communities and fed their families.

Courtesy Remember Me, Toronto via YouTube

Following the release of Remember Me, Toronto, a 19-year-old emerging talent, LocoCity, released an emotional video for “Never Know,” in which he gets shot as a result of the lifestyle he landed himself in from growing up in the hood on Bleecker Street.

In an interview with Noisey, LocoCity talked about the lack of support his area gets:

“I know everybody knows hoods like Regent Park, P.O., Rexdale, Jane and Finch. Other communities, they get the they need because they will go through a lot of shit… programs and people that help them, reach out to them. But Bleecker, we get none of that. We’re just there, under the shadow of everybody.'“

Vide courtesy LocoCity via YouTube

Most recently, the shooting of rapper Nipsey Hussle in Los Angeles outside of his clothing store has left Torontonians crushed once again as another young black artist was killed in their own neighbourhood.

Courtesy champagnepapi (Drake) on Instagram

The positive messages emerging in rap this year sparks hope in changing the city but its ultimate impact is yet to be revealed. It is vital that we and the rest of Canada continue holding these conversations.