The morning after attending a candlelight vigil at Mississauga Celebration Square for rapper Shane Redway, fellow Sauga rapper John River is finding it difficult to put his emotions into words.
It’s been a few weeks since he heard the tragic news that the man he looked up to as a role model and big brother in this industry was killed in a car accident August 1, along with two others. Still, it doesn’t feel real, River says.
Part of his healing process included getting into the studio with Toronto producer FrancisGotHeat and laying down a heartfelt single “BLVD” (named after Redway’s creative initiative, which stands for Belief Leading Visions and Dreams) to pay tribute to Redway’s life and legacy.
“I can’t go to anyone and tell them how to deal with what’s happening or judge how they deal with it or whether they want to speak about it,” River explains. “I didn’t want to talk to anybody obviously, but I wanted to say something that I felt he would have said for me if the roles were reversed. I didn’t want to speak on behalf of his whole life. I didn’t think I was the guy to do that. I was very conscious, but I knew I’d do something so we decided to record the song.”
“This is rap; he was a rapper and somebody who strongly believed in rap … I couldn’t not rap about it and try my best to literally rap my ass off and try to live up to the potential of my ability in that moment.”
Though the track features him alone, John makes a valiant effort to mention people he believed were instrumental in Redway’s personal life and career in the lyrics.
“Ideally what I would have wanted to do was obviously have WondaGurl do it and I was going to try to get every single rapper in the city. But you know the way the industry is – some people would have been offended, some people would have been left out, some people wouldn’t have been able to do it, some people would want a verse here, so I was like you know what? Let me just speak specifically on behalf of myself.”
What was most important for John River was to honour Redway, and honour rap, the art form Redway championed so hard for in the city and beyond.
“It has nothing to do with John River … It’s for him and that’s all that matters. I’ve said my piece, now it’s time to let everybody say theirs.”
“This is rap; he was a rapper and somebody who strongly believed in rap. He very much believed that this was a talent-based industry and that the best of the best, the cream of the top would rise to the top … So I couldn’t not say anything … I couldn’t not rap about it and try my best to literally rap my ass off and try to live up to the potential of my ability in that moment.”
And as much as he does rap his ass off on this track, John River doesn’t want listeners to focus on him with this track; he wants the focus to be on the story he is telling, the man he is honouring.
“I never really release songs without videos, but I didn’t really give a fuck. I think I just started to really understand the greater purpose of life,” says River. “It has nothing to do with John River. I made the song, but that’s about it; it’s not mine anymore. I don’t want it to be something that’s instrumental in my career because it’s not for that. It’s for him and that’s all that matters. I’ve said my piece, now it’s time to let everybody say theirs.”