F-You: Solitair discusses the impact of working with young inmates
“The time I’ve spent working with inmates has really opened my eyes to how much potential for greatness is being stifled or lost. If we continue to ignore the root causes of why these men end up on the paths they have, that loss of potential will continue to be perpetuated.”
It’s been almost 20 years since Silver Roland aka Solitair released his heartfelt single “Easy 2 Slip,” but the song’s message continues to ring true, perhaps more than ever. “It’s so easy to slip, it’s so easy to fall.” When there’s a lot of negative forces around you, it’s easy to get in over your head and caught up in something that could lead to dire consequences. As the song says, “cause the Devil’s always tryin’ to draw the kids into trouble.”
The Toronto rapper/producer continues to release new music but he’s also making an impact in the community in other ways. He’s closely connected with F-You: The Forgiveness Project who are working with young men currently serving time in the Canadian prison system, (or living in some form of custody).
“If we’re going to expect these men to make a permanent change in their lives after leaving jail, society needs to come to terms with the fact that we need to create a support system for inmates and provide them with the social and mental health and wellness tools to counteract the systemic issues which get them caught up with the criminal justice system in the first place.”
F-You founder Tara Muldoon has a ton of ties to the Canadian hip-hop scene—including contributing to our efforts here at HipHopCanada—and decided to enlist the support of some Toronto hip-hop mainstays to take part in the outreach initiatives. Along with Solitair, Toronto producer-MC Rich Kidd (of Naturally Born Strangers) teamed up with F-You to share their own life experiences with young inmates with hopes to inspire.
We caught up with Tara, Rich Kidd and Solitair to discuss The Forgiveness Project, working with young men in prison and how it has impacted their views of the Canadian prison system. We also asked Rich and Soli to update us on their latest releases.
You can check out the Q&A with Solitair below.
HipHopCanada: How did you first get involved with the F-You: The Forgiveness Project?
Solitair: My initial involvement with F-You was writing the outro for their third book, Manhood: Chronicles of Sex, Strength, and Identity released in August 2016. Although I had known about Tara and the work she was doing for a number of years before through her work in the music industry as a PR rep.
HipHopCanada: What inspired you to reach out and work with young men serving prison sentences or are in some form of custody?
Solitair: I have been doing workshops and mentorship work in various communities throughout the GTA for several years in partnership with a number of community organizations. After I wrote the outro and attended a few F-You workshops, the working relationship between Tara and myself began to evolve as I acquired a more in-depth understanding of the concept of forgiveness.
One day, Tara came to me with the idea to start programming at Toronto South Detention Centre after she had spoken with a volunteer coordinator who expressed the severe lack of rehabilitation programs at the jail. I instantly agreed, and we jumped in feet first.
I just felt like working with young men in custody is so important because serving time, in and of itself, does nothing to address the reasons young men end up in the system. If we’re going to expect these men to make a permanent change in their lives after leaving jail, society needs to come to terms with the fact that we need to create a support system for inmates and provide them with the social and mental health and wellness tools to counteract the systemic issues which get them caught up with the criminal justice system in the first place.
HipHopCanada: Can you speak on some of the different people you’ve met in the process? What type of people are leaving the biggest impression on you?
Solitair: Of course, everyone has their own stories on what put them on their respective paths. But the similarities between most inmates stories are hard to ignore. The saddest aspect of hearing some of these young men reveal their stories is the realization that so many of them are set up to fail from a very young age. Furthermore, the environment they grow up in severely impacts their own perception of themselves, their potential, and as a consequence, what they believe their options to be in life. Potential for greatness is the biggest loss, especially witnessing how many promising young artists, specifically hip-hop artists, are ending up in the criminal justice system prohibiting them from achieving successful careers in music.
There are a couple of young men who’ve left huge impressions on me by virtue of just how intelligent they are when you actually get to sit down with them and have candid conversations. Practically none of them have ever had discussions about mental health stigmas, anxiety, how toxic masculinity impacts the ability to make sound decisions about their lives, and particularly forgiveness, which always inspires very deep philosophical debates about anger, revenge, and how to heal from the trauma they’ve experienced in their lives. The time I’ve spent working with inmates has really opened my eyes to how much potential for greatness is being stifled or lost. If we continue to ignore the root causes of why these men end up on the paths they have, that loss of potential will continue to be perpetuated.
HipHopCanada: Do you think this experience will impact who you are as a recording artist/producer?
Solitair: It already has! I’ve always spoken out about the responsibility of artists to be mindful of the messages they promote in their music, at bare minimum. While artists, athletes, and celebrities may not necessarily choose to be role models, the fact is that they are, regardless. That’s not to say that we should only rap about positivity and roses… Hip-hop has always been about being the “Ghetto CNN”, telling the untold stories of communities who struggle to survive on the peripheral of society. Reality is neither ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, it just is! What I have a serious issue with is the endorsement of damaging behaviours by artists who have major influence on the minds of their audience. Throughout my career as an artist, I’ve remained conscious of the energy I promote in my music. This experience working with inmates has increased my level of consciousness exponentially.
HipHopCanada: Has this experience changed your view of Canada’s prison system?
Solitair: Short answer: ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY! Should criminals be accountable and punished for the crimes they commit? Most definitely! But punitive measures alone clearly do nothing to reduce recidivism rates. The prison system almost exclusively focuses on the punitive aspect, and it seems that there are only a painfully few people in society that believe the system also needs to invest just as much, if not more, on addressing the mental, physical, and spiritual rehabilitation that inmates need to begin a path to real change in their lives.
HipHopCanada: Notwithstanding the notion that “everyone is a rapper,” but would it be unfair to say that there seems to be more Toronto rappers incarcerated at the same time, more than ever before? If so, is it just a coincidence or do you believe there are other factors at play?
Solitair: The amount of up and coming, or even burgeoning star Toronto rappers that have participated in the F-You jail program is truly disheartening. So much lost potential! I don’t think it’s a coincidence necessarily; young black men are being targeted by some (but much more than a few) police officers. That truth is undeniable. But it goes much deeper than that. There are both external systemic/social/economic factors, as well as internal issues of trauma from witnessing violence within their communities, and a kind of apathy on the part of some members of those communities that has been exacerbated by a feeling of being powerless to overcome the obstacles blocking them from achieving a better lot in life. This is a multi-generational issue that requires an all encompassing holistic approach to even scratch the surface of change.
HipHopCanada: Will you be involved in F-You’s awareness events taking place later this month?
Solitair: I will indeed be a playing a significant role in much of what’s coming down the pipeline for F=You.
HipHopCanada: Just to touch on some music quickly, you released the “SOLI 4-2019” single back in March. What was the response like and do you have plans to drop anything else in 2019?
Solitair: Ah yes, the MUSIC! The response to “SOLI 4-2019” has been amazing! Even though I haven’t released much of my own music in recent years, I’ve always been recording, either my own songs, or songs that I’ve written and produced for my artists Yoana who last released a project in 2017, With love, Yoana (available on all platforms) and Drew James who’s been consistently releasing projects for the past couple of years (also available on all platforms: ICYMI, the 3Peat series, etc.)
I also just released another single, “One Trillion” featuring Siri this past Tuesday, April 23, and it’s already begun trending on Audio Mack, with zero promo! So I’m excited about that, as well as the rest of the music I have in the stash. Being that audiences have changed the way they consume music, in the meantime I’ll continue to release singles to establish my official return to the mic. Plus, there will be new music coming very soon from both Yoana and Drew James.
Written by Jesse Plunkett for HipHopCanada