Artist and producer, Dalton Davis, remembers an adult in his life greeting him racist slurs when he was just eight-years-old. This confrontation made his guts fill with anger. Sad and confused, he could not understand how another human could hate him for the way he was born.
As Davis grew older, his feelings changed from anger, sadness and confusion, to feeling sorry for the adult – someone he doesn’t want to identify because he no longer wants to be associated with them.
“I can’t really justify it, but I think in his position there’s a lot of older people that are racist than younger people. So being racist was normal for his generation,” explains Davis. “I don’t think he thought twice about how it would impact me. He just was doing what he knew.”
Davis’ childhood was marked by many such hardships. But he used music to cope with his struggles. And, with the increased awareness of racial inequality in North America, he is now using it to fight back against racism, recently composing a song about the Black Lives Matter movement.
“When I was a kid I went through some negative stuff in my life,” says Davis. “I started writing and I was like 12 or 13 years old, just as basically a diary, almost just a way to cope. It was therapy for me.”
That writing turned into music when a friend showed him how to use the music workstation device called MPC.
“He kind of showed me how to do the chops and stuff, how to start making beats, that’s how I got into the beat making.”
Shortly after learning about the new device, Davis – who was a fan of the Canadian hip-hop group Swollen Members – started looking into sample-based production and purchased his own MPC.
Up to this point, music was still a hobby for Davis until his good friend, DeSean Williams, who goes by the social media handle, $tick, presented him with an opportunity to open for a hip-hop artist he listened to as a kid: Madchild, a Canadian rapper who used to be a part of Swollen Members.
Knowing that he was opening for Madchild gave him the feeling of excitement and nervousness. Davis stepped on stage, giving it his all.
The anxiety subsided when he realized the amount of practice he put in for the concert, which took place at the Marquee Market and Stage – located just off Macleod Trail in the building that once housed the Back Alley Nightclub.
This experience allowed Davis to find his confidence to start releasing music.
“I made like three songs to open, just for that opening. That was kind of like my first step in the door. I’d say, it made me think like, Oh, I can do this.”
After his first on-stage performance, Davis joined the Cypher Club, a group that’s meant to unite the hip-hop community in Calgary. As he grew older, Davis also realized how he could impact people through his songs and experiences.
“I want to tell people to stay Zany. That means, stay yourself, stay authentic, no one’s perfect. Regardless of what happens to you, I think that’s, that’s like what I want to tell people to just like, stay authentic, be themselves, you know, and don’t care too much about what others think of you.”
And that attitude has been important for Davis in dealing with racism – something he also encountered as a snowboarding instructor in Jasper.
Davis vividly remembers going back to his house from a good work day at the ski hill to grab his coat. As he was walking to his home, a man yelled from a distance. “Where is your jacket? Go back to your country.”
This made him think about how ignorant people can be and how the stranger’s action is a projection of himself.
Because of these events, Davis recognizes it is important to raise awareness about racial inequality. Accordingly, the recent rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the fight to end police brutality, brought upon the creation of his song “2020.”
“It’s a reflection of what’s going on, and it’s a reflection of society’s thoughts and mood. When I put that out when I made that song, 2020 was a big reflection of how everyone was feeling,” he says.
“It’s like history, it’s like bookkeeping, like in 10 years, when I look back, I’ll be like, okay, that’s the mood. Yeah, that’s how it was in 2020 and that’s also valuable, because if we didn’t record what’s going on, then we would have nothing to look back on.”