I'm All In With No Exit Strategy
When I was a kid I lived with my mom who was raising me single-handedly in the North York District of Toronto. One thing that was a constant in our little basement apartment was music. I'm probably dating myself by saying this, but my mom had an old 8-Track cassette player, which was even outdated at the time but probably all she could afford. She would always be singing karaoke to those tapes and I would watch her and soak it all up.
Before she passed in a tragic car accident at age 27, my mother had just gotten baptised. I witnessed it and it had a huge impact on me that lasted throughout my whole life even until today. She had always brought me to church, but watching her take that step and declare her faith in such a bold way spoke volumes to little 7-year-old me. As I transitioned to live with my father and stepmother, who were not churchgoers, the seed my mom planted lay dormant for a while, but then when I moved in with my grandmother as a young teen and began to go to church again, the seed began to grow. The church asked a few of the youth, including myself, to participate in a talent show. We chose to rap and found we were pretty good at it. After that, we decided to form a group and because we were all in the church we decided to keep it Jesus raps. Around that time, Cross Movement was pretty big and they had a huge influence on us, followed by Lecrae not too long after. During this whole time I was torn between what I had going on at church and getting into trouble with the neighbourhood kids, but as I started getting more and more into the music thing, I began to sway more in the direction of the church because that's where my love of music was being fulfilled.
Since I started rapping because of a church talent show, I naturally started out doing "Gospel Rap." But as I started getting better at it and things started happening in Toronto, I began to consider the mainstream. Drake and other people connected to my circle were blowing up and I knew I was as talented as many of the people getting mainstream looks. So I began to focus on producing, which I was pretty good at. I tried to shop my beats to some of these local acts that were bubbling.
One of the great things about Toronto is its cultural diversity. Often called "the most multicultural city in the world," you can find all kinds of people groups living in harmony with each other, and unlike the melting pot that is the U.S., people who migrate to Canada tend to keep their culture and add it to the mosaic that exists in the country's major urban hubs, such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Even the kids and grandkids of immigrants will hang on to their parents' ethnic roots. Because of this diversity, artists making music in Toronto have a wide pool of inspiration to draw from. In the case of urban music, you will hear a lot of Caribbean and African influence, but also, being so close to the U.S. we naturally draw from there as well. With the rise of artists like Drake, The Weeknd, Partynextdoor and Tory Lanez to name a few, many Toronto artists have embraced a moody sing-rap style that is often laid over sparse, eerie or moody production. This sound is a reflection of the vibe one gets while driving through the city on a chilly Toronto night. I would definitely say that I make music that has the "Toronto Sound" and I'm one of very few who are taking that sound and presenting it with a gospel message, but I had to learn to not follow the wave of what everyone else was doing.
During this period of time, I was newly married to a godly woman, and I was acting very selfish. My wife had been working part-time in hopes to start her graduate program and I was so caught up in the idea of "making it" in the mainstream music industry that I wanted her to work full time while I went to part-time in order to pursue my goal. At one point, my wife considered staying with a friend because being around me was too stressful for her. The fact that she knew I wasn't following God's will was the main cause of the division between us. She basically said, "I can't follow you if you're not being led by God." She could see the path I was heading down, that I was chasing fame instead of staying true to my calling.
Thankfully, she shut this phase down before I could get anywhere with it and we were able to reconcile. I began to refocus my priorities, got back into rhyming instead of producing and decided to keep my message gospel-centered.
When I was coming up, Christian Hip-Hop (CHH) wasn't really a thing like it is today, but the one artist who was really buzzing locally and internationally doing Christian lyrics was a guy named Promise. He was putting on for Christ but also had the respect of guys like Talib Kweli and he had songs with many mainstream acts from Royce da 5'9 to Drake. Eventually, Promise signed to mainstream underground label Duck Down Music and left the Christian scene. This was just as CHH was emerging as a unique community. After that, Christian rappers started popping up here and there in the city but Shope (then known as Spoken) and Role Model Records were the only ones getting some buzz in the United States. There was also Manafest, but he moved to L.A. and transitioned into more of a skate punk type of artist. As I got better at my craft, I quickly started rising to the top of the scene in the city and when I hooked up with Role Model Records, I attained the support that I needed to start making bigger moves. My goal now is to continue making the highest quality music I can that represents Christ.
Before people even find out where I'm from, I want to create music that grabs people’s attention and slaps them across the head with how good it is. After that, I want listeners to realize I just took them to church. Finally, I want to know that the heat they just heard actually came from the cold! That's the play-by-play of how I like people to receive my music, representing my faith and my city, but I'm happy as long as they receive it at all. I'd be lying if I said when all is said and done I don't want to be the biggest Christian artist coming out of Canada, but my goal is actually to make a huge impact well beyond the border. Not for my own glory, but because I know I have so much to say about what God has done for me and what he can do for others, and by his grace, I have the ability to deliver that message in a super dope way.
The other day I received a phone call from one of the guys I used to hang out with. I hadn't heard from him in about seven or eight years. He was sobbing as he told me that he was reaching out to me because he had been looking at my Facebook profile and saw that I had a "good life." He explained to me that out of all of his friends I was the only one who "made it out" and didn't end up behind bars or worse. I prayed with him and after I got off the phone, I reflected on my life. I realized that I could've easily ended up like any of those other guys I knew. I went to the same places and was involved in many of the same things, but God saved me from all of that and I wouldn't have been where I am today if not for His grace on my life.
My new single, “No Exit” was inspired by my conviction to accomplish the mission that God has given me, which is to use my musical gifts to shed light on the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as biblical living in general. I would be lying if I didn't say that throughout the years I haven't felt like aborting the mission at times, but I've reached a point in my life where I feel confident in my faith, the talents that God has given me and my place in His kingdom.
“No Exit” is as much a declaration to myself as it is to those I hope will listen to it. It's a reminder that I'm in this thing to win it. In regards to the music, I've come too far to quit now and I've seen God's faithfulness in honouring my hard work and diligence. The same can be said about how I view this Christian race - God will finish what he's begun in me.
Stream my new single, "No Exit" below.