You’re Not Even Mandem – The Importance of Crafting & Narrating our Own Stories

As I was standing on the left side of the stage watching Dreamville’s Earthgang perform before the main headliner, J.I.D, was about to grace his presence at Adelaide Hall, I bumped into Jazz Cartier and exchanged pleasantries. He’s a very well known artist in the city, and he’s also one of several artists featured in Noisey’s 6IX RISING, which premiered recently online. We talked about the concerns we had with the making of it, and the most striking point was that it was made by people who were not of our kind, highlighting the goings on of our culture which Jazz has given his all to in the budding scene that is Toronto Rap.

Outsiders have taken quite an interest in wanting to profile our city, and the artists whom inhabit it, and that’s not just from a music standpoint – it covers all ground. Having placed in the Top 20 in many categories that rank World cities, even cracking the top 5 in a few of them (excluding Sports – for now), there’s a reason for citizens of this great city to have high expectations in all areas. But Black people in the city of Toronto have longed for their attention on the global scene by the rest of their peers. I won’t name “The Boy” here, because we all know the multiple narratives that exhausted online articles, and unofficial docs across YouTube made by the stanniest of stans that the OVO Parliament has to offer (By the way, Amani Bin Shikhan killed her piece for Noisey) . Like myself, there’s a strong contingent of people who have said “enough already,” and have wanted the city to be represented by more than just 1 dude whose most well known album, Take Care, is a misnomer for characterizing the persona of most men who call Toronto home – if I have to keep it real.

I’ve always tried my best to champion the artists of this city, from Rich Kidd, Luu Breeze, The Kid Famous (yes, at one time, that was a thing), Richie Sosa, Jack Flawless, Tona, and a few of my brejins who actually had something to say in music – it was just a matter of getting their voices heard around the city. But that part is hard, and just because of local blogs like City On My Back & Toronto Rappers, that hasn’t exactly made it easier, although the exposure has improved over time in the local scene. And that’s always been the problem. If you were from Scarborough, East York, North York, Downtown, or the West End, chances are that your crowd stayed within your Ward or respected Police Division (shoutout to 43; FDB though – thanks Tre). Outlets like TDotWire (then transitioning to VibeTO) were gems in connecting people across the GTA, and that allowed reasons for travel to be established. Basement Jams, All Ages Jams at your favourite banquet halls, and if you were a little in the know with the larger scene, downtown was where you were at. For myself, as a youth from Scarborough (deep Scarborough, at that), downtown was a distant place where it was to be visited only on the most special occasions. Little did I know that there was a life of its own down there that contributed to where we sit now with respect to the music world – or more specifically, Hip Hop.

The Arts is a field where many children of East & West Indian immigrants weren’t supported in pursuing. I can only speak for my experience, so if you’re a “but me too” non-POC face ass, then I’m not talking to you (with all due respect). With struggling living conditions and the urgency of money having to be in supply from when the eldest child of the household turns 16 years old (give or take), there isn’t time to invest in a full time pursuit of a career in the arts. Music, Film, Painting, Poetry – these things were meant to be hobbies and strictly that. Makeshift studios were created in the homes of our friends (closets, computer desks in the living room), and whoever had a decent working camera to record some grainy SD footage to get cut up in Windows Movie Maker, a video could be made, and it meant something. It was an opportunity to have a story told. Even if it wasn’t the hottest beat, the story was being told through some form. A neighbourhood, a lifestyle, and some form of authenticity from the individual’s point of view. It was a start, and those same kids from the under-privileged areas would go on crafting their own stories on a larger scale. The Real Toronto, albeit a microcosm of some things that actually went down, and a cult classic.

I’ve worked in Post Production for 4 years, and the first time I discovered that TV broadcasting was an all White affair, was when I was in college. There wasn’t one White student in my TV class, and there was only one in the program. So yeah, colour me surprised that I didn’t quite see myself in the Editing suite. When we get the opportunity to capture our own images through our own lenses, in a way that’s portraying us in an honest light, the feel is different. Nothing is particularly skewed for moderate entertainment, or glorifying the struggle that many have and still endure to this very day. It’s not for mass consumption or some kind of ‘poverty porn’. These are people’s lives, and they’re just as valid in telling their own stories as the next person. But they have to come from us to have a sense of validity. When Jazz mentioned to me in our conversation that “it’s our fault” for letting outsiders come into our spaces, he was absolutely right. We’ve yet to shed the title of consumer to move ahead in being the producers of our own content. Where there might be 1 or 2 Black people or people of colour involved in the creation process (I’m being very generous), the bulk of these productions have White Producers, White Editors, White Directors, White Camera Operators, White Sound Operators – you get the idea. But the faces on screen are Black. The people baring all for their time in the limelight, hoping to have their stories portrayed in an honest light; they’re all White faces staring back. Jazz Cartier posted a very captivating paragraph on Instagram highlighting his opinion of 6IX RISING where although it’s a great start in telling the story of the city’s first massive collective burst onto the Global Rap scene, we have so many passionate and creative artists who have showed time and time again that they have the ability to tell our stories at the ‘industry standard,’ but is just coded language for excluding Blacks from the equation.

The problem is, broadcasters don’t like to look for the talent unless it’s hand delivered to their doorstep. People of colour Black people whom are the best equipped to sharing these narratives, haven’t had the same opportunities to be in the building to create them. If you go into any television or film office (production or post production), you won’t find more than 3 Black people there, usually. Hell, you may not even find one, and they’re fine with that, and that’s the problem. When Black people are excluded from the creation process, you hear about it. This isn’t new information, and it’s what spawned the #OscarsSoWhite movement, and just about anything related to the true diversity and inclusivity of a medium that has been so concentrated in Whiteness, that it doesn’t know what to do with itself.

How can we get in the building? How can we start to facilitate the ways in which we carry out how we are portrayed to the masses? Going the independent route has always been the key, but why can’t we be on bigger platforms? Black people from under-privileged communities have always had to hustle – it’s second nature. But it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to tell the Whites in power to open their eyes and give others a chance. ‘Never beg,’ is equivalent to ‘no handouts,’ and I’m not about to draft up a respectable political quote to tell Black people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get to gettin.’ It’s not one of those conversations to be had. We’ve been here, but we can’t get in the building. I’ve certainly been dealt a great card in my life, where it comes to my position as a Black person in media, but it’s not enough to get in the building. There’s more who have wanted their stories told through their own lens. They deserve the opportunity to do so.

From Us, For Us, By Us.

That’s My Word & It STiXX


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