After the summer of gun violence came the culture of silence. Now comes the hip hop track, the latest salvo from a police service looking to inspire and connect with the city and youth it serves.
After the Danzig shootings, the Toronto Police Service teamed up with local artist Promise Shepherd to release a song called “Make a Change.” It’s the service’s first venture into the biz, with lyrics that call for ownership of the city and an end to violence. Promise wrote the lyrics and performs the song with some help from artists Kaid and Liya.
From verse one of “Make a Change”: “It’s a cold world but some hot spots in my city, I find it hard to rep a block in my city. Screwface, T dot is my city, nowadays you don’t wanna be a cop in my city, or a citizen, witnessin’, caught in the city, movies ain’t the only things getting shot in my city.”
Listen to the track:
“Music has a way to transcend; we’re hoping it will be the most successful medium we’ve used to date to reach areas and see results,” Staff Insp. Tony Riviere, of 33 Division, told a crowd gathered at G98.7 FM Sunday afternoon.
“Until we can get cooperation from residents” in priority neighbourhoods where a lot of violence occurs, Riviere said, “we can’t reach a maximum impact. If music does that, great. If not, we find other mediums.”
The song is inspired by the fallout of this summer’s violence. After the Danzig homicides, Sgt. Rod Chung, also of 33 Division, was at home watching his kids dance and started thinking about the role music plays in how his children dress and speak.
“Right at that moment I was like: You know what? Something has to be done, we have to make a change, stop the violence. The one thing we’ve never used is the most powerful thing that’s been among us for years,” he said.
So he sent out a tweet asking local musicians to come up with a song.
Promise, a 30-year-old hip hop artist, accepted Chung’s challenge because the city is close to his heart — “and not just when shootings happen.” He acknowledged that it’s “not popular” to work with police, but said he’s known for doing what is not popular.
“Those who’ve heard my music know that I make positive, inspirational music all the time, not just because something happened,” he said.
Chung laid out some guidelines: Don’t blame anyone, don’t point fingers. Just speak about the reality of life in Toronto and the way forward.
“I’m used to just speaking the truth, and truth hurts,” Promise said. “I had to appeal to everyone and still bring the truth, because I’m not about watering down what’s going on. I don’t believe that watering down will change anything.”
“Make a Change” — “a note to my city to let ’em know that there’s hope for my city” — was first broadcast on G98.7 in mid-September, with no mention of police participation. The connection was revealed later, and the song remained popular.
At the town hall, someone asked Chung if police would perform in future musical initiatives. “I see the tattoos, I’m sure you got a mix tape somewhere,” the man said to Chung.
Chung said he was ready to “jump in any video.” Riviere, on the other hand, said he limits his singing “to the shower,” but “those of us who do have talent may jump on it.”
G98.7 is the city’s second black-owned and -operated commercial station. It has been broadcasting urban adult contemporary since the fall of 2011. On Sunday, the station hosted an on-air town hall to “continue the dialogue inspired by the song.”
Station manager Fitzroy Gordon told the crowd of police and station guests that there are too many guns on the street, too many young people behind bars, and too many buried “deep below.”
“We can’t continue living this way. This is Toronto, one of the greatest cities in the world,” he said.
In the song, played frequently as police officers tapped their feet and nodded along, Promise calls for change.
“All I want is change, I wonder why we’re living this way, all together we are sure to win,” the catchy chorus goes.
Promise says violence “rules the airwaves right now, and that’s what people are buying into.”
“When you’re behind a mic you have a grand power of influence, and people need to think about that,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Shawna Coxon noted, “Think about what could happen if it was more than just one officer and one artist, if more youth got involved, if we were able to come together and there were hundreds of people speaking to police, the kind of change that we could see happening in the city.”