By ALISON ISAAC
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon last weekend. Four young men – three Black of Caribbean descent and one Latino – stood on a corner in the Vaughan-Oakwood area. There were a couple baseball caps turned backward, a few pairs of sneakers, and one too many of those low-hanging jeans every parent complains about. Loud rap music blared from nearby speakers and uniformed cops surveyed the scene, hovering close-by.
But it’s not what you think.
The visitors from 13th Division were welcomed guests, as they blocked off part of Amherst street near Oakwood Avenue for the release of the area’s first-ever community CD.
The four young men are members of Visionists – a collective of disabled and able-bodied artists who came together for The School of Rap program under an Art Starts-Montage Support Services partnership. With guidance from Canadian rap veteran, Dan-e-o, the young artists spent 10 weeks exploring hip hop culture and developing their skills. The result: an album with thought-provoking rhymes and socio-economic commentary from Toronto’s youth.
“Doing stuff like The School of Rap rejuvenates me,” said Dan-e-o, best known for his single “Dear Hip Hop”, which was released in 1995. “The kids learn about where hip hop comes from, what it’s all about, learn about artists they would never have otherwise known. With this Visionists CD – the whole concept is about this new vision they have, this accumulated knowledge. That’s why I do it: To be able to teach what I love and get other people to really love what it is they’re doing.”
Lucho, Bull3t, Chato, Mad Max, MC Andy and MC AG were the artists who performed Sunday. What seemed like nerves at the beginning of their performance quickly faded away at the onset of their second song. As they recited lyrics they had written themselves, the young emcees appeared at home in front of the small, but enthusiastic crowd.
“Basically, it’s our vision, our perspective on life,” said Chato, when asked why they decided to name themselves and the CD, “Visionists.” “It speaks through the music.”
“The name captures what we think the album should be about,” added Mad Max.
Lucho, who has been attending The School of Rap for two years, brought his little cousin to the program after noticing the benefits in his own life. Having already put together two mixtapes, available online, Lucho said: “Music started out as a hobby for me, but now, it’s like the only way I can express myself.”
Both Art Starts and Montage Support Services are charitable organizations. Arts Starts was founded in 1992 by artists living in the Oakwood-Vaughan area with the mandate to build healthier communities using the arts and it continues to provide low-cost and free programming to underserved communities in Toronto.
Montage Support Services is a non-profit organization, which provides support for individuals with multiple disabilities, helping them to develop self-esteem and confidence.
The CD will be available for download at www.artstarts.net or through the Art Starts office. Proceed from the sale of the CD will go towards supporting Art Starts’ programming in the Oakwood-Vaughan neighbourhood.