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The M.A.D. Poet

Name: The M.A.D. Poet
Location: Jane & Finch
Download tracks:
1. Open Your Eyes

Toronto Star

Betsy Powell
Staff Reporter

"So as a pre-destined product of my environment/I take off these labels/and throw off my towel/no more violence/put down these guns and get empowered by the higher power." Excerpt from Open Your Eyes by the M.A.D. Poet.

Negative images about Jane and Finch, reinforced by this month's gang raid by Toronto police, may endure, but the M.A.D. Poet (a.k.a. Melissa Dean) hopes her powerful spoken-word video and voice and all the other "hidden talent" in the area can help filter out those frustratingly pervasive impressions.

Her video, Open Your Eyes, was shot just last week and posted on the website the same day police were conducting pre-dawn raids in the area, arresting dozens of young men and women purported to be members and associates of the Driftwood Crips.

It was fortuitous timing and depressing for the engaging young artist who grew up living in the Palisades apartment complex, at the corner of Jane and Finch, and recently finished a course in entertainment business management.

Writing poetry since she was 15, Dean is featured on Open Your Eyes delivering a positive message of hope and empowerment using clever phrases and inventive rhymes spoken, almost sung, in an impassioned, raw style.

Justin Percival Wright, her manager and childhood friend, has watched Dean, now 21, develop as an artist and describes her method as "spoken lyrics."

"Everything that she's saying is relevant" and in contrast to many urban music videos rife with sexism and stereotypes, "which we're tired of. She's in her own genre basically," Wright said. "What she does is very different ... the things she's saying are positive it's what youth need to be hearing nowadays. The empowerment of people in general, not just black people, or Asian people or white people."

Paul Nguyen, co-founder of, shot the video in the computer room of his house against a white screen. The feedback has been positive. "Some people have emailed me and said, `Oh, that's real stuff,' because they're kind of tired of gangster rappers," he said. "When I heard it, I thought it didn't specifically mention Jane and Finch but I thought it totally related to Jane and Finch."

For her part, Dean initially turned down a request to be interviewed by the Star. She's not a fan of the media ("negativity sells"), particularly because of the portrayal of Toronto's so-called at-risk communities. She changed her mind, however, believing that more positive role models need to be in the spotlight. "I'm an example of how a good product can come from a negative environment," she said last week. In Open Your Eyes, Dean wears a backwards baseball cap, and a Toronto, Canada, sweatshirt and comes across, well, angry. It seems the M.A.D. Poet is a persona. (They are also her initials.)

"I'm always laughing and happy until it's time to get down to business and my poetry," she says. As a teenager she read her poems to family members and first took to the stage in church, where the congregation was "really receptive and appreciated what I had to say."

"I realized my poetry speaks better for me." She was inspired to write and perform after hearing Toronto poet Dwayne Morgan at her high school. He was also a counsellor at a camp she attended, "leading the youth and trying to make a difference in their lives."

Dean has performed south of the border including at a casino in Las Vegas but hopes to do more here at home. The video, she says, may be "on a local website, but I'm talking about everybody. I want this place to be the best it can be."

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