Minnesota is more known for Fargo than its hip hop scene, but don’t doubt it before you learn about its local artists!
A SXSW performer and winner of the Twin Cities Hip Hop Award’s Best Knowledge Spitta award, Toki Wright‘s childhood was spent growing up with a Buddhist belief system and learning about black history in America.
This strong upbringing proved handy when he had to keep his head up. Several years ago, he rebuilt his mixtapes from scratch when all of his work burned tragically.
In 2011, you lost all your material when it burned down in a fire. Did anyone help you recover (financially) so you could record new songs? And what kept you from falling into a permanent dark hole, metaphorically? It can’t more depressing than that.
It was very difficult to recover from that situation. I had worked very hard on the follow up to my debut album and after the material was lost, I didn’t know what to do. It forced me to try over again with a new sound. It was a great blessing in disguise because I ended up meeting the producer Big Cats. They say fire and water purify.
A while back, people had mixed emotions about hip hop blending with electronica. Were you experimenting with electronic sounds before it became popular?
The emotions about about mixing the two are understandable because many people in the hip hop industry do not care about the culture and history. These people will create music solely to profit and put no passion and soul into their work.
We look at music in a different way. We love to experiment with new sounds and ideas but also recognize that there was experimentation in the beginning of hip hop music. You hear direct influences from electronic music in much of hip hop in the 1980’s. We aim to develop a new sound for a future generation.
What was the first poem you ever read that really spoke to you?
The first poetry that really spoke to me came from the spoken word poetry scene in Minneapolis and Chicago. I had a great opportunity to be surrounded by many great writers, performers and publishers. So much of that work was not popular. It came from people sharing from the neighborhoods around me. I would have to say a Minneapolis poet, Emmanuel Ortiz’ work, “The Word is a Machete.”
When you bared your soul with your first poems, is that person who you are today or have you grown into a new poetry style in your emotions?
When I first shared poems, I can honestly say I was following behind what I thought was cool based on the poets I saw. Much of that poetry was based on love, politics, sex, etc.
Today I still talk about those topics but have grown through real life experiences. The new album, Toki Wright X Big Cats – Pangaea, is about looking at the concept of one world. The Pangaea concept is about how the continents divided over time through a series of groundbreaking and often violent events. In the same sense humans have separated themselves as through similar events. There are few things that can make us come together like music.
Since you enjoy using tribal sounds in your music, do you learn about other old African music and poetry we in this day and age of Rocafella probably aren’t acquainted with?
I’ve have a few opportunities to travel to Africa to perform. I’ve been to Uganda, Rwanda and most recently, I took part in an arts envoy, performing and teaching young rappers in Sierra Leone. These trips really influenced my selection in music.
I’ve also picked up a lot of ideas from traveling through the Caribbean, mostly in Belize and the Bahamas. Our company, Soul Tools Entertainment, recently debuted a film we shot in the Bahamas called Bahamian Son at a few film festivals. While we were on the islands shooting, I also got to pick up a lot of local culture.
Beyoncé’s new album has a song, “Flawless,” where the entire midsection is an African feminist leader’s speech. Which is great, but not everyone is Beyoncé who could get her record company to agree on her releasing “The Macarena Part 2.” How does music with more edge go from underground to trendy?
Music with more edge goes from underground to trendy when artists aren’t afraid to push the boundaries and say what they feel, and fans keep an open mind to new ideas. That is the type of life I try to lead as an artist.