Hip-Hop Rebirth

Toronto's Rexdale neighbourhood tunes into a positive musical message

By Lyndon Goveas
July 10, 2006
Photo by Lyndon Goveas
Photo by Lyndon Goveas.

"To teach to each is what rap intended."
— D-Nice, Self Destruction

With a record number of gang-related busts and a year of unprecedented gun violence, some Torontonians look at the city’s northwestern neighbourhood, Rexdale, with wariness. Many residents believe that last year’s gang wars were triggered by an underground hip-hop video by local crew Tha Squad, making the music a central character in Toronto’s crime woes.

But hip hop could also be at the heart of its resolution. On June 27 and 28, a shopping mall parking lot in Rexdale became the venue for urbanNOISE, a multidisciplinary arts celebration that brought together some of Toronto’s most influential names in hip hop and R&B to create an arts movement that could serve as a weapon for community change. The program drew from hip hop’s Bronx ancestry, where one-time gang members and otherwise troubled youth became breakers, graffiti artists, MCs, spoken-word performers and selectors.

Jully Black, a multiple Juno and MuchMusic Video award nominee, hosted the affair, which included such talent as Melanie Durrant and Jelleestone. Organized by Expect Theatre and Arts Etobicoke, the program received funding from such diverse sources as the Canada Council for the Arts and the Toronto Police Service.

Here, a mural produced by urbanNOISE participants provides the backdrop as graffiti artists and workshop facilitators Elicser (left) and Mediah make final deliberations on the day before the festival. A graffiti mural went up in real time over the course of the two-day festival.

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