Gun Violence in Toronto's Rap Scene
By Akilah James (@ajxmes)
Recently, we have seen numerous amounts of Toronto rappers who have been killed from gun violence. As the numbers keep rising, the city is desperately calling for change.
Toronto lost yet another local rapper by the name of Jay Alexander aka NH$ Jay Jay, which sparked the conversation of the ongoing gun violence not only in the city, but also within Toronto’s rap scene.
Our city’s rap scene is filled with amazing underground artists, yet few have managed to find mainstream success. Many of the artists have gang affiliations due to their proclaimed regions.
For instance, Halal Gang, established in the early 2010s by a group of young kids at Regent Park aspiring to make music. Many members of Halal Gang are artists who put out music for Toronto’s younger generation, but their history tarnished with bloodshed and tragedy.
One of the most influential artists from Halal Gang was Jahvante Smart aka Smoke Dawg, who rose to fame after his single “Trap House.” It grabbed the attention of notable artists such as French Montana and even Drake, who later on included Smart in many of his worldwide tours.
A shooting outside of a Toronto nightclub on the night of June 30th in 2018 claimed the life of Smart when Abdulkadir Handule shot and killed him.
The UpTop Driftwood Crips is a street gang from the Jane & Finch area. Members of the Driftwood Crips ‘claimed’ the surrounding area of Driftwood Avenue as their turf and many members live in the Driftwood Court housing community.
Artists from UpTop joined to create music under the name Uptop Movement Inc producing two joint albums titled “Northside Jane” and “Northside Jane 2” featuring many Jane & Finch artists.
Dimarjio Jenkins aka Houdini, an influential artist from the UpTop movement, quickly became a rising star after his song “Auntie” featuring Why G went viral.
On May 26th 2020, Houdini fell victim to a targeted shooting in Toronto’s Entertainment District and ultimately died from his injuries.
Smoke Dawg and Houdini are just a few of the many Toronto rappers who have been affected by gun violence. Not just a problem affecting Toronto rappers, gun violence it prevalent across the GTA as well.
Newcomers to the rap scene like 18-year old Joel Stennet of Brampton, known as Stenno, had hit verses on songs like “Ibiza” and “Prada Me”. Stennet, also tragically gunned down in 2019. Many say he died far too soon and had the potential to make it big.
While many Toronto rappers are dealing with avoiding gun violence, other members of the Toronto hip-hop community have stepped up to speak out against the troubling amount of gun violence in the city.
Recently, Maestro Fresh Wes joined other artists JRDN, Bizz Loc, Turk, Roney, and Jellestone to create a song title “Wish I Could” which conveys a unified message of anti-gun violence.
“Collectively we could do something that’s intergenerational for this cause,” Wes says when asked why he decided to be a part of the song. “This is something that’s never been done before, and we could actually bridge gaps.”
The song debuted on all streaming services on October 23rd and has already reached the number ONE spot on Canadian iTunes.
© Dub J | Youtube
“I got a slogan that says, ‘Don’t make records; Make history,’ and that’s what we did,” says Wes. “Hopefully, this will inspire other artists and other communities as well.”
JD Era, another artist on “Wish I Could,” believes that many Toronto artists are idolizing gang activity and that it results in escalated gun violence. “Rap is starting to change, and gun violence is not just a problem in rap, it’s a problem in the entire city,” he says.
“You can’t be a gangster and a rapper. If music is really what you love let it be your passion and separate yourself from that activity and stay focused,” says Era.
Dub J, the man who produced the song, says it inspired him to create the Enough is Enough movement which works to bring national awareness to acts of gun violence in Toronto.
“Whether the record did well or not, we know that it would die off. We needed something that we could continue and keep going with. We’re using our platform and our voices to elevate the great things happening in Toronto” says Dub J.
The proceeds for “Wish I Could” will go back to Toronto communities affected by gun violence. The hope is to raise awareness of the issues and inspire more change in the communities for a better tomorrow.