For the last few years, Dylan Jones, also known as hip hop artist Crook The Kid, has made it his focus to make the content of his songs "true" to the N.W.T., like writing about problems people in the territory face, and ways of overcoming them.
After wrapping up his high school tour recently — as a partnership with the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre, where he visited students in Fort Smith, Hay River, Fort Simpson, Ndılǫ, Norman Wells and Inuvik — he said it was like an affirmation of his choice.
"I started music as a way to deal with my own mental health problems and my own issues in my life. And having this ability to help people in that way is such a feeling … I've never had before."
With some trepidation, and a message of hope Jones took to the stage at high schools in the hopes he could make an impact on young people who may be struggling the way he once had.
Growing up in Fort Good Hope, N.WT., Jones didn't see school as a place he belonged, and he dropped out in Grade 10. Years later he went back for his General Educational Development (GED) and, with lots of pride and gratitude, graduated from Aurora College.
"I was harbouring a bit of imposter syndrome, you know, like thinking about who I was when I was in school and worried that I would come and encounter young me somewhere along this tour," he said.
"But my God was I surprised. It has been eye-opening and amazing to speak with these youth and the young people around the North and get this chance to share my music with them."
As he performed for youth, he also talked with them about everything from feeling disconnected in the classroom to mental health.
To do that, Jones said he needed to open up to the students about his own trials, before he could expect to get real emotions from the students.
"I stepped in with the songs that kind of affect me most in writing, and I carried in my own emotion too, and I showed my vulnerability, and my ability to show emotions before I asked anyone to share theirs with me. I figured it was a good way to trade energies off."
And it worked, he said.
"As I would show my vulnerability and tell my story the kids seemed to jump onto that and come into it with me as well. It was awesome," Jones said.
"It was such a good experience. I was blown away, and I'm still kind of processing how it all went."
More public speaking to come, says Jones
His take away? Jones said he wants to keep touring in this way, and move towards more public speaking on top of performing.
"I feel an importance that I've never really attached to my music before, I feel that it's necessary now to keep going," Jones said.
A few other schools have reached out to him, along with a correctional facility to speak and perform.
"When I see the reactions from these … youth and these kids, it's important for me to keep doing this. It has a meaning and I think he has a place here in the North," he said.
"I had a very storied relationship with my education. And I was very thankful that I was able to continue it. But seeing the brightness in these kids' eyes and speaking to kids who actually had made it further in their current position than I did in school — it's hard to explain how all of this went. But I think that my journey through education still matters," Jones said.
He said this message is especially important for kids who are contemplating taking more of a journey like Jones did.
"Even though my story with education took so long to come to fruition, I think that still relates to some of the people that I've met along this tour that, you know, we might not all get it done at the same time or at once," he said.
"But there's different pressures outside of that classroom that a lot of the times, maybe the teachers aren't aware of, those students aren't aware of, but that individual who knew I was talking to them, they were aware of it."