Dub J enlists all-star cast for “Wish I Could” to address Toronto gun violence
“Wish I Could” features an all-star lineup that includes Maestro Fresh Wes, Roney, Jelleestone, Turk, Bizz Loc, JD Era and JRDN, with Dub J on the beat.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has already claimed the lives over 1,300 Torontonians, gun violence remains one of the biggest threats to young people growing up in the sprawling city. Lately, it’s been getting worse.
The issue has had a huge and devastating impact on the local hip-hop community, where countless young, talented lives have been cut short including well-known artists.
As the Toronto Star reported: “At least 29 Toronto-area rappers have been shot dead since 2010, but 11 of those killings have come in just the last 12 months.”
While the mainstream media has been rampant with stories documenting the growing gang feuds that plague the city, there are very few city-lead initiatives in place to actually combat the issue head on. As a result, various members of the local hip-hop community have taken it upon themselves to launch new programs to support the city’s youth, and prepare the next generation for a better way of life. It’s often a tragic incident, or an accumulation of tragedies, that can create the motivation needed to challenge the status quo.
In the case of Canadian producer Dub J, it started with the sudden passing of 36-year-old music manager and executive, Ryan Lorde (aka Littles The General), who died roughly a year ago after being targeted in a shooting.
“That shook me up. I couldn’t believe it,” Dub J recalled.
“After that I just started seeing the news of these shootings becoming much more prevalent than in the past. The negativity all around just had me checked out of making music, I just wasn’t feeling it.”
With the losses mounting, and a sense of desperation in the air, Dub J accepted a challenge from a mutual friend and business partner of Littles, Chippy, to do something about it by way of creating a powerful and lasting message.
“He straight up asked me why I don’t do something about it. If anyone could do it, I could. I’ve been putting collaboration records together for over two decades. I accepted the challenge and got to work on it that day.”
The result was the creation of the new “Wish I Could” single, and the launch of Dub J’s Enough Is Enough movement. The movement’s primary goal is to bring awareness to the heightened acts of gun violence in Toronto.
“Wish I Could” features some of the biggest names to come out of the Toronto hip-hop scene, spanning multiple generations of greatness.
Maestro Fresh Wes, the Godfather of Canadian Hip-Hop, fittingly leads the charge and is joined by verses from Roney, Jelleestone, Turk, Bizz Loc, and JD Era, while East Coast singer-songwriter JRDN ties the song together with a heartfelt chorus.
“I had just been in the studio with Peter Jackson and JRDN only a few weeks earlier doing another record,” Dub J recalled. “PJ called up JRDN and JRDN had a reference hook done literally in a few hours. That hook is what really motivated artists to start recording.”
JRDN’s chorus sets the tone for the song, and the overall message the song is sending.
“When I got the concept idea and track from Dub J for the song, I knew this was a record that I was gonna be a part of without hesitation,” said JRDN.
“It’s a subject that has lingered with me throughout my life, losing too many close friends to senseless violence. I feel personally obligated to use my voice to evoke change within my community and my city.”
For Maestro, it was important to use his voice and influence in the community to make a difference:
“I decided to get on the joint because I wanted to continue to make a contribution to my community and inspire our youth to move in a better direction,” Maestro explained.
“When Dub J told me all the fellas he wanted on it and he wanted me to set it off, I started to get amped because I knew Canada, especially Toronto, has never had a song that is so intergenerational and so needed. ‘Wish I Could’ is timely as well as timeless. We are all emotionally exhausted from hearing a friend, associate or a family member lost his or her life due to gun violence.”
He also touched on the importance of the message behind the record, and the representation of multiple generations, all of whom have been impacted by gun violence in one way or another.
“This is one of the most necessary songs in it’s genre and the most important record out right now in Toronto. No other song will capture so many different generations with such a poignant message. I’m the oldest one on this joint. These are like my younger brothers and nephews and it’s an honour to be a part of this historic event. Hopefully it will make a change in some one’s life.”
JD Era echoed the same sentiments, and stressed the importance of unity:
“As a community we’ve sat back and watched countless youth lose their lives to gun violence,” said Era.
“As an artist, I can no longer stay silent. The choice to carry a weapon has become too common. Loved ones grieving has become too common. Turning a blind eye has become too common. Change starts when we come together. Change starts when we reinvest in our communities. Enough is enough.”
Era also reached out to get Roney in the mix, and the DGC rapper stressed the impact that street life can have on our youth, and the need for positive messages and role models.
“When JD Era asked me to hop on this record, I knew I had to do it,” said Roney.
“Through everything I been through, I know how important it is for people with a voice to spread positivity through our city, trying to break a cycle that physically, mentally and, spiritually can ruin you.”
Toronto rapper Turk, who we started covering years ago as a member of the duo TnT, has been one of the most inspiring people to hold down the Toronto scene during the pandemic. From programs educating our youth on their legal rights, to campaigns giving back to the city’s homeless, The Turk Foundation has been leading the charge to “make the community a better place.”
For Turk, getting involved with the “Wish I Could” project was a no-brainer. To him, it’s clear that it’s up to the previous generations to look out for the next ones, and bringing different communities together is an important step.
“It’s simple. The city needs unity,” said Turk.
“It’s up to the real ones. If we don’t figure out some things the whole city’s gonna burn. Forget us, our kids are next. This many different communities on one record at these times is powerful and a step forward.”
Bizz Loc, who was unfortunately incarcerated after recording his part for the song, stated it was important to share his experiences, and to use music as a positive tool. He’s one of countless young men in Toronto dealing with legal issues relating to a life in the streets.
“I hopped on this record to raise awareness through music and showcase some of the struggles and life experiences I’ve been through as an active artist from the West End of Toronto. #P2P.”
Before being arrested, Bizz Loc had launched his own foundation for change, and by all accounts is going to continue the work he started upon his release.
One of the biggest surprises on the song is a feature by Rexdale legend, Jelleestone, who last made an appearance in 2018 on the intro of the Pilla B album, 1YTD. The “2 Sides” rapper was less interested in chatting about the campaign, choosing to let his actions speak for him.
“My statement is… I don’t make statements, I make moves. Follow when you need to, lead when you supposed to.”
All-in-all, every artist on the song has been highly invested in promoting and supporting the project, and are standing by the need to make a difference in their city. Aside from Bizz Loc, each artist was featured along with Dub J in the Knemesis-powered video which is expected to drop sometime in the next few weeks.
For now, you can find the single on various digital streaming platforms including Apple Music, Spotify, and TIDAL. All proceeds will be donated back into communities impacted by gun violence. “Wish I Could” was also added to our official Spotify playlist, Canadian Fresh.
We recently caught up with Dub J to discuss the new single, the Enough Is Enough movement and their plans to make change, the root cause of gun violence, the role social media has played in the violence escalating, the music video, and more. You can check that out below.
Q&A: Dub J
HipHopCanada: Dub J, welcome back to HipHopCanada. The last time we interviewed you was almost exactly a year ago when you were dropping House of Mirrors. I hope life has been blessed for you and yours during this pandemic we’re all dealing with. What type of impact has the pandemic had on your life and routines?
Dub J: The pandemic has actually been a blessing in disguise for me. I prefer being at home. I took the time to learn some new things. I launched a new business (@FiltrPixel) to coincide with my app development company. We’ve seen over 500 million uses of our filters already. It’s been amazing. You’ve probably seen some of the filters my company created… like the recent Bizz Loc filter.
HipHopCanada: Let’s jump right into the new record. For starters, I wanted to commend you for taking the initiative to bring everyone together. Can you break down where the idea for “Wish I Could” came from? It’s actually impressive to see all the different people directly or indirectly involved with it coming together that aren’t even featured on the song. RIP Littles.
Dub J: Thank you. This project could have a movie made about it. It’s been so crazy that I actually have a well documented story of the entire process on my website. The story starts last October. I had reached out to the management team for Dutch Revz because I wanted to do a record with him. It turned out that his team consisted of Chippy (CDM Music Group) and Littles (Elite Choice). I talked to Chippy and he approved but wanted me to talk to Littles as well. I didn’t think the collaboration would happen as Littles and me had some issues back in the day (Wiseguys vs. The Offense). He really didn’t like me back then. Haha. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We got on the phone, laughed about the past and the HipHopCanada Forums, talked about our families, kids, our come ups and he gave the blessing to do the record. We got the record done and launched it on October 28, 2019. The record was a smash and was doing extremely well. Everyone was excited.
The next evening, Littles was killed. That shook me up. I couldn’t believe it. After that I just started seeing the news of these shootings becoming much more prevalent than in the past. The negativity all around just had me checked out of making music, just wasn’t feeling it. I was touting the idea of retiring during this time as well. Chippy called me a few months after Little’s passing to check in on me and ended up giving me a pep talk and talked me out of retiring. So I got back into things working on a project with Peter Jackson. Fast forward to July 26th, I had just finished up a photoshoot in Toronto with Astral and was driving home. I had an inkling to call Chippy and check in on him. We caught up and he was happy to hear I was actively doing music and just did the Peter Jackson / Jim Jones record. I voiced my frustration over the craziness going on in Toronto with all the shootings going on and felt that not enough people were speaking up and didn’t feel like artists were using their platforms to speak on it. He straight up asked me why I don’t do something about it. If anyone could do it I could. I’ve been putting collaboration records together for over two decades. I accepted the challenge and got to work on it that day.
HipHopCanada: What do you think is the root cause of communities seeing an escalation in violence?
Dub J: There are a lot of factors contributing to this. Poverty, family dynamics and what these kids go through from a young age is obviously at the roots of it. However I put a lot of this on technology and social platforms. 20 years ago if you were an artist and you had something to say you had to manufacture a CD and have a distribution deal to get your record out to the masses. Today a kid can record at home, upload to streaming platforms, YouTube etc. and get their music out via social channels to large audiences. While this can be amazing, it can also be very dangerous if used recklessly. We’ve seen that recently.
HipHopCanada: How did you decide which artists would be best suited to be featured on the track?
Dub J: I had a whiteboard full of names. Started mapping out who would sound good together. I wanted this to be a record not only for Toronto by Toronto artists but also a record that features artists from different neighbourhoods. I felt that unity is important. There’s so much talent in Toronto so it was difficult to pair down. I knew for sure I needed the Godfather of Hip-Hop in Canada, Maestro Fresh Wes and knew JD Era needed to be on it. I spent a few days going through everyone’s catalogs trying to pair up artists that worked well together. I didn’t want this record to come off as corny or sound like a bunch of dads yelling at their kids. I also needed artists that the younger generation will listen to. This was not easy.
There are a lot of politics and I needed to make sure that the people speaking on these issues have lived through these issues. I called up Era and told him I had a crazy idea. I wanted Bizz Loc in the middle and wanted Jelleestone to anchor the record. It was an ambitious idea but I felt that Bizz was someone that had a really good buzz and could speak to the masses and was respected. Jelleestone I felt was important because he’s a guy that’s seen a ton of musical success and is an OG in Rexdale for over 30 years. I knew people would be really excited to hear new Jelleestone. It was actually Bizz Loc that suggested Turk to me. This was a great choice. Turk is a guy that has lived a tough life and figured out how to turn it around. The work Turk is doing for all neighbourhoods through his Turk foundation is amazing. For JRDN I was on a call with Peter Jackson and was telling him about this record and how I needed someone to sing the hook. He was the one that suggested JRDN. I had just been in the studio with Peter Jackson and JRDN only a few weeks earlier doing another record. PJ called up JRDN and JRDN had a reference hook done literally in a few hours. That hook is what really motivated artists to start recording. The addition of Roney came while we were in Jelleestone’s recording session. After Jelleestone recorded his verse we gave him a few names to see who he felt paired best with his verse. He felt Roney was a good fit and could bring a lot to the record and also resonate with the younger audience.
HipHopCanada: One thing people are really excited about for this song is the return of Jelleestone. It’s been a minute since his fans heard new music from him. How did you make that happen?
Dub J: I’m just as excited for them to hear Jelleestone on this record. His verse is incredible. I just hit him up in his DM and let him know what I wanted to do and who I already had on it. When you’ve got Maestro Fresh Wes on there already it makes the conversations a little easier. At the end of the day, Jelleestone and all of these artists were down for the cause. Everything with this record has happened organically. The stars just seemed to align more than once.
HipHopCanada: As the producer of the song, what was your approach to coming up with a beat that would accommodate both the subject matter and the eclectic range of styles?
Dub J: I actually did three beats for the record. This one, a darker trap beat and another mainstream record. I went back and forth whether I wanted this to be a record for the streets or a record that everyone could listen to. When Maestro heard the beat you hear on the record today, he was adamant that was the beat to use. So we went with Maestro’s choice. He was the first to record as well.
HipHopCanada: How did the video come together? What was that experience like?
Dub J: Shooting this video was incredible. Knemesis took the reigns on this and we got it all done in a day. I don’t want to give too much away as the video is coming out in a few weeks. We shot something really special in Bizz’s neighbourhood, we captured some amazing footage in Jamestown (Rexdale) with Jelleestone. Maestro and Era shot together. Turk has a great visual for his verse. The video is powerful. I can’t wait for everyone to see it. It’s going to have an impact on people for sure.
HipHopCanada: As some people know, Bizz Loc, one of the artists featured on the song is currently serving time. Can you speak on how his part was represented in the video?
Dub J: Unfortunately, Bizz did get locked up during this process. This is the reality of what these guys are going through. This is exactly why a song like this was needed. We did Bizz proud for his verse in the video. We went out to Eglington West. His family came out. We really wanted to capture the reality of these situations. It’s a powerful scene in the video and there’s a special part of Bizz that was present for the shoot that people will appreciate.
HipHopCanada: Do you think you’ll receive any backlash for having him featured on the record due to his current legal status?
Dub J: I encourage media or anyone to talk to me about this situation. Yes, Bizz Loc was arrested allegedly with a firearm in his possession. Sadly, Toronto is in a state right now where it’s better to get caught with it than without it. This is the problem we need to solve. These young men shouldn’t have to be looking over their shoulders constantly. They especially shouldn’t get targets placed on them due to their celebrity status and successes. We’ve seen too many people killed, it’s crazy. Last I counted there was over 30 dead rappers alone. Not to mention the innocent bystanders. We’ll be talking a lot in the coming weeks about these issues and with decision makers in Toronto. We’ve kicked off the campaign “Enough is Enough.” Something has to change.
HipHopCanada: Can you speak on Enough Is Enough? How does that tie in to the “Wish I Could” release?
Dub J: I just felt that I have a platform and a broad network. The ENOUGH IS ENOUGH movement’s primary goal is to bring awareness to the heightened acts of gun violence in Toronto. Often, people want to help but don’t know how. Think of ENOUGH IS ENOUGH as a curator to connect individuals with all the amazing organizations in Toronto that are committed to putting an end to gun violence in the City. You’re going to start seeing our Enough is Enough logo on decals that appear in various businesses windows. You’ll see them on the floors of sneaker shops. We really want this to be in your face all over the city. This is a movement that will continue while the momentum of the record slows down. We really need the city to rally behind this. Enough is Enough!
HipHopCanada: Who is featured on the “Wish I Could” artwork? Can you speak on the significance of that?
Dub J: For the artwork, I didn’t want any of us to be on the cover. I wanted something more meaningful. I kept seeing photos that Little’s wife was posting of their family’s new reality without Littles. These would be photos of them celebrating birthdays, etc and Little’s would be there as a portrait or on a t-shirt. When I saw the photo I ended up using, it gutted me. Here’s a six year old boy that lost his father. In one hand, he holds a candle for his dad. With the other, he touches his sister’s cheek with an expression conveying a reassuring, “I’ve got you… it will be okay.” His baby sister is wearing a memoriam shirt for her dad, and the children are surrounded with candles and balloons that read “I Love You.” If you don’t feel that, you’re not human. The font for the song title is actually his handwriting as well.
HipHopCanada: You mentioned this project receiving interest from mainstream media which is great to see. Can you speak on that? How can people get involved if they want to spread the message of Enough Is Enough and the “Wish I Could” record?
Dub J: My phone has been ringing off the hook. My inbox exploded. Our publicist Sasha Stoltz is doing an amazing job. You’ll see this song covered everywhere starting today. We really want the people of Toronto to get behind this record. Stream the record, share the record. We are donating proceeds from this record right back into communities affected by gun violence. Follow @EnoughIsEnoughTO. Visit EnoughIsEnoughTO.com. Make a donation. Big or small. We really want to see people rally together for this cause.
HipHopCanada: What’s your goal once the song / video has been released? What will deem it a success in your eyes?
Dub J: This record is very different from anything else I’ve released. I’m not monitoring stream counts. I don’t care about that. We’re trying to save lives with this one. We’re trying to make change. We’re trying to shift the energy in a different direction. If this makes one person think twice before pulling a trigger, we’ve done our job. Just the fact that Little’s six year old son can see that people care and are speaking out against what happened to his father… we’ve won already.
HipHopCanada: Several years from now, when you look back at the campaign and the hours/days invested in putting this great initiative together, what memory is going to stick out the most?
Dub J: The unity. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. There’s always been issues with Toronto artists working together outside of their traditional group of friends. This record is the moment Toronto artists from four different generations and different neighbourhoods united to speak up against an important cause. It’s never happened before. It’s a historical record already. I don’t even think there is a record in all of hip-hop that has four generations of artists on it? Head over to my website and read “The Making of Wish I Could” to grasp how incredible this story really is.
You can follow @TheRealDubJ on Instagram.
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