Passport Out Of Regent Park: Mo-G On Life, Death, And Drake

How far can a Drake co-sign and a dream get Toronto's hottest MC?

by Safy-Hallan Farah

Mo-G peeks his head over a booth at the back of Cloud 9. Cloud 9, also known as Rotonas, is a shisha spot in East York. He stares at me with what my mom calls indho adeeg — hard, magnetlike eyes. He is surrounded by his friends, some of whom grew up with him in Regent Park. He’s golden-complected, tall, thin, dimpled. He’s wearing a brand-new True Religion jacket and jeans. He looks and acts his age, which is to say he’s 19 going on 20, and you can tell by the way his attention shifts rapidly with laser focus. One minute he’s staring at me, the next he’s looking at his friends or looking over the counter near their booth, then he’s staring at me again. His observance, scattershot, mirrors the hazy energy of the room: There’s incertitude, but he’s present.

Mo-G, born Mohamed Bahdon, reps Halal Gang, a crew of young diaspora kids from the Downtown Toronto neighborhood of Regent Park. Halal Gang’s most prominent member is the rapper Safe. Safe’s moody, trap R&B single “Feel” blew up last summer. Safe, unlike Mo-G, has a manager, and his sound complements the OVO sound. But Mo-G isn’t interested in the machinations of an industry — he doesn’t care about prominence, he’s just a kid from Regent Park — that feels so removed from here. Regent Park is Toronto’s first and largest original housing project created by the Canadian government. Since its creation in 1947, Regent Park has gentrified, replacing many of the subsidized homes with high-rise condos and businesses. Mo-G grew up here, on Sutton Ave., which is predominantly Somali and working-class. Bahdon, whose parents are Somali by way of Djibouti, is a middle child of eight siblings. At the age of 10, Bahdon, inspired by legends like Tupac and Jay Z, started rapping for fun. “I was mad talented, was one of those kids who stuck out,” he explains. He knew he had something, and this was part of it. “Everyone who knows me knew I’d get my money.”

But the money didn’t come right away for Mo-G, who at 10 years old elected to drop out of elementary school. “He was in the hood with his friends getting street education,” Jibril, one of Mo-G’s oldest friends, says. A hood education and all that comes with it — rapping in basements, hustling in the streets — has occupied Mo-G’s life for the last nine or so years. Save for a two-week stint through Toronto’s Exhibition Place, also known as The Ex, Mo-G has never worked for anyone but himself.

A month ago, what might constitute Bahdon’s big break came in a Drake couplet in “Summer Sixteen,” which effectively introduced him to the world beyond Toronto: “Mo-G with the dance moves / Ave Boy with the dance moves.” “That nigga gave me a career,” offers Bahdon; for him, Drake isn’t simply an avatar to project onto, or an elusive Orwellian figure of Toronto — the “6 God.” Bahdon refers to him as “big brother.” “He is genuine, that’s why I fuck with him.” Bahdon’s recent come-up owes a debt to the superstar’s largesse — OVO helped Mo-G record his first EP, Ave Boy — but the work he’s put in is his own.

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