OVO producer Noah '40' Shebib and his sister Suzanna empower youth through hip hop

Drake’s producer Noah '40' Shebib and his sister Suzanna Shebib have first-hand experience of the transformative power of hip hop. It changed the course of their lives. Now they’re using hip hop - in the studio and the classroom - to help change the lives of young people.
Basically everything you have heard from Drake has come through or from 40, who records, mixes, tracks and produces/co-produces his songs. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

For Noah and Suzanna Shebib, hip hop is many things.

"It means so much more than just what some people perceive it as," said Noah.

Noah Shebib, also known as '40', is a hip-hop producer. He's one of the co-founders of the record label OVO Sound and is best known for his collaborations with Drake. 

Noah's sister Suzanna is a chemistry teacher at Toronto's Central Technical School. She uses hip hop to help kids reach their full potential in the classroom.

An artistic upbringing

Noah and Suzanna's artistic lineage stretches back to their great-grandmother, Dora Mavor Moore, a pioneer in the early Canadian theater scene.

Growing up in a family of artists made for a creatively rich upbringing. But it never brought financial stability. 

"The running joke in our family was that we were culturally wealthy and financially poor," said Noah.

Despite this, the Shebibs established a strong Canadian presence in the arts.

"This was a huge theme — nurturing the culture here as it was growing and as it was being created was always important in our family," said Suzanna.

More than music

For Suzanna, graffiti was her doorway into hip-hop culture, which she was introduced to by riding the subway in Toronto as a child.

"My parents would always drive me to Keele subway station and in the back there's the very infamous graf alley and Keele wall … I would go and stare at the Keele wall and I would sketch. It became more than just the music to me through [graffiti]," said Suzanna.

"Right out of the gate, it was always a spiritual and emotional experience — that's why it resonated with me."

A force for good

Noah and Suzanna both see hip-hop culture as a way to help younger generations deal with difficulties and trauma in their lives.

Noah helps through his work as a producer and artistic guide for young musicians in Toronto.

"I come across a lot of younger people in this city that I'm working with on a musical level," said Noah. "So my responsibility is to help them grow as artists and their capacity to do better.

In July, Noah announced an upcoming community project with the goal of ending violence within Toronto — a leadership role that Noah feels at home fulfilling.

Noah and Suzanna Shebib came from a family full of Canadian talent, though they describe that didn't always translate into wealth. (David Fitzpatrick)

"This has been something I've been working on for a long time. One of the most fulfilling experiences of my life was when I was working at Masaryk Cowan [community centre] in Parkdale, when I was young running a community program for music, and when I was working a Remix running the music program," said Noah, "I always want to help and teach and give back".

Suzanna is also involved in the project. She shared the difficulties she's seen her students face.

"They are dealing predominantly with the pace at which they are being asked to figure out who they are," said Suzanna. "The young people that I work with are often new to the country, so they're dealing with settlement issues that can be really, really challenging."

Suzanna is particularly concerned over the recent violence in Toronto, which she says isn't limited to guns.

"In both mine and Noah's lived experience, it's more than just gun violence. It's more that just me having more than a dozen murdered students as a teacher. It's more than Noah losing close friends… there is a lot that is not conveyed in that term 'gun violence'," said Suzanna.

Balancing the hip-hop industry and community

Although Noah and Suzanna believe hip-hop culture can heal, they're skeptical about how it's being packaged and consumed. 

"There is also this other side to the culture when we talk about its mass consumption, when we talk about its more capitalist perspective, its industry," said Suzanna. "There's a reason I don't work in that industry, there's a reason I chose to work in education."

Noah Shebib, above, and his sister, Suzanna, both see hip-hop culture as a way to help younger generations deal with difficulties and trauma in their lives.

"The million dollar check has been the industry. I mean we're talking about record labels here. Their job is to put out records — That's it. So we have to isolate those things from the perspective of a record label versus the perspective of [social responsibility]," said Noah.

"Being in the record industry, I'm concerned about that, you know? That's always on my mind, where those lines cross, I always struggle with that."

To hear more from Narcy's conversation with Noah and Suzanna Shebib, check out the full interview in our exclusive Tapestry hip hop special, Narcy in the Dot

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