A quick hip hop history lesson will tell you that the genre was birthed as a reaction to and reflection of what life was like in the economically-depressed South Bronx section of New York City in the late 1970s. While present day Toronto is a world away from those conditions, the community has its own challenges, and rapper and community organizer Just John is also using rap music as a reactionary statement to his own experiences as a young member of an arts community in a city that seems to want nothing to do with it.
John was the co-owner of Blank Canvas Gallery, created to be a safe and inclusive space for creatives and emerging artists in the city. However, almost a year ago on New Year's Eve last year, police raided the space and assaulted John in the process; the incident eventually led to Blank Canvas having to close it doors after divergent neighbourhood hurdles. This unfortunate incident was not an isolated one, as zoning laws, noise regulations, endless redevelopments and forever-increasing rents continue to plague the arts and music scene in a city that is often heralded as a hotbed for creative talent.
As many artists do, John decided to channel his intense emotions into this equally-as-intense four-track EP, Black Beret. "Be cautious; Trump's in office. Man I think we fuckin' lost it," is the opening line of the first track "Gang," which quickly sets the tone for the EP straight from the jump. While the brick and mortar gallery might have shut down (for now), the Blank Canvas Collective lives on and continues to bring curated events to the Toronto arts community. Stream Black Beret above and watch for more art and music from Just John in 2018.