by Dwight Hobbes
When you think about Twin Cities-based wordsmiths coming out of the inner city aesthetic, Toki Wright has to come to mind as one of the most significant. If you’re talking track record alone, there’s a veritable laundry list of accomplishments, highlighted by last year’s stint on MTV’s “MADE” with The C.O.R.E. (comprised of Wright and Adonis D. Frazier), international performances (U.S., Brazil, Portugal) and, most recently, his CD Low Budget High Quality 2.0. The seven-song disc features standout solo cuts “Focus” and “Cradle to the Grave” and performances with the likes of P.O.S., The Chosen Few, APHRILL, Sims and, of course, The C.O.R.E. It’ll be followed this fall by the full-length A Different Mirror. All that’s if you’re talking track record. Taking it to content, Wright gives hip-hop a welcome infusion of integrity—an artist who is about broadening the minds of soul folk and, for that matter, anyone else who happens to be listening. He spoke with Pulse of the Twin Cities about his craft, his consciousness and what’s going on in his career.
Pulse of the Twin Cities: With “Focus,” you could bust the
government’s head fake of using so-called homeland security as a new excuse
for the same old shit of locking black folk up and otherwise keeping them disenfranchised.
Is there any hope?
Toki Wright: I think that there is always hope. There is always hope
for change. We go to schools and learn how to work for other people, but not
run our own businesses. We are taught that if we play basketball hard enough
or rap a certain way, we might make it out. We [aren’t] taught that we
can become engineers or doctors. We hear about becoming doctors, but are never
taken through the steps to actually become one. So, when the option of a full
ride scholarship comes up to a person who didn’t have the greatest grades,
it looks like a good deal. Especially when you don’t think that it’s
you that will have to go and lose their life. We are given the popular options
of street life, which leads to prison or death, working at a menial job with
no chance of upward development, or thinking that, if we put two years into
the service, everything will be taken care of for us. Until you lose a limb,
your life, your sanity or don’t get that full ride that you thought you
Pulse: Artists choose all kinds of avenues: painting, acting, what have you.
Why do you work through words?
TW: I can’t draw. For real, words can be taken many ways. Your
interpretation of a word can be greatly different from another’s. I tend
to look around and see words as well as images. I can look at the side of a
building and not just see bricks, but lines, curves, dust, the colors, etc.
I want to create something that lasts into the future. It’s all right
that we have the Internet and picture phones, but someone has to tell another
story. Somebody has to show “A Different Mirror” of reality. The
way I look at something is my perspective. And it doesn’t make me right
or wrong. Same goes for you. I just want to be as descriptive as possible about
living in my period of time on this planet so that I can carry on a bit of honesty.
Pulse: Clearly, you believe in putting out a message. What’s the
difference you want to make?
TW: I think everyone has the power to have a positive message no matter
where they are in their life development. Sometimes it takes a cat getting locked
up for two years with someone who will be locked up for life to say something
that hits the individual to his or her core. The difference I want to make is
to let people know that it doesn’t matter where you are from or what you
look like, you have the right to your own opinion. No one should be able to
take that away from you. There’s no reason we should be beating each other
over the head because we think differently. If we were all supposed to think
the same, we wouldn’t have all been given separate brains. I also want
people to know that they shouldn’t have to tolerate bullshit. If someone
is treating you wrong, you don’t have to stay around them. I also really
want people to have a good time. Enjoy your life; just don’t do it while
hurting someone else.
Pulse: We recently saw, in Minneapolis, the second B-Girl Be Summit,
about advancing female autonomy in the hip-hop genre and getting beyond women’s
place being all about the booty. Accordingly, you interviewed emerging firebrand
Maria Isa for Pulse. And got online comments like “Nice hooters”
from a guy about her photo and “potty-mouth” from a woman who didn’t
like Isa’s language. Does it bug you when people completely miss the boat?
It bugs me somewhat. But I know that all people are approaching issues from
different angles. Some people aren’t in a place yet to see beyond what
they’ve been taught all of their life. Saying “nice hooters”
to someone who’s talking about cleaning up their neighborhood is out of
pocket and would probably get you a mouth-shot in a lot of circles, though.
The “potty mouth” comment I can dig. I have a potty mouth too, depending
on who you ask.
Pulse: How was it when you and Adonis did MTV with Snoop Dogg, The Game,
Ghostface and such?
TW: It was all right. It’s TV. Got some exposure. Got some new
homeys in Scotland and Germany from it. There’s plenty more where that
came from, though.
Pulse: Did y’all make Snoop and them nervous?
TW: Naw. They were cool. Just doing their politician thing. Kiss the
babies, shake some hands.
Pulse: Won’t be long ‘til A Different Mirror drops.
Any special plans for the promotion?
TW: If I told you all the secrets I wouldn’t have any secrets.
The first step was to put out Low Budget High Quality just to warm people
up. I’ve got rid of about 600 of those out of my hand. I’ve been
learning a lot about the music game over the years and I’m ready to put
the ideas to work for my album, The C.O.R.E. album and the APHRILL project.
Pulse: Anything in particular you want to impart to readers?
TW: It’s OK to dance. It’s OK to wild out. It’s OK
to slip and fall. I might laugh at you, but I laugh at myself when I fall, too.
Ease up. Don’t worry about what other people think about you. Plenty of
people have had opinions about who I am, what I should be, and how I should
do what I do. And I was never truly happy until I ignored them. ||
Toki Wright plays Wed., Aug. 2 at Big V’s as part of Soundcheck with
Illuminous 3, RDM and Project 13. 9 p.m. 21+. 1567 University Ave. W., St. Paul.
651-645-8472. For more info, check out myspace.com/tokiwrightmusic.