He went to Uganda in the mid-2000s to work with former child soldiers. In May, he went to Sierra Leone as a musical ambassador — Toki Wright’s efforts have taken him all over.
This is what sets the local hip-hop icon apart from other artists: a sense of responsibility and community that he sincerely wishes to cultivate through his various works.
“A lot of people like rappers because they don’t give a fuck,” Wright said. “I do give a fuck.”
The working title of his new record, tentatively due to be released in the first quarter of 2014, is “Pangaea,” a reference to the supercontinent and Wright’s belief in the interconnectedness of humanity, undoubtedly influenced by his voyages to Africa.
There’s a Gil Scott-Heron tilt to a few of the tracks he and Big Cats were ready to reveal last Thursday, but that’s not really out of place for the socially conscious Wright. Plus, he did get his start in poetry and the spoken word scene of the ’90s. His raps reflect this different cant.
For such a visible pillar of the Twin Cities scene, it might be surprising that Wright hasn’t released a full album since 2009’s “A Different Mirror.” He did release an EP, “BlackMale,” in 2010 and a mixtape, “FADERS,” in 2012.
The mixtape was the byproduct of tragedy. Wright’s former engineer’s house burned down, taking a laptop and hard drive with it — a whole album was contained on that equipment. “FADERS” was the salvaged remains.
Wright has started over, using that as motivation to come up with better material.
Last Thursday, he rolled up to the studio in a Volkswagen Passat, clad in impeccable white low-tops, a white and grey tank, khaki cargo shorts, green shades and 14 years of dreads piled atop his head — he’s a handsome man if you’ve ever seen one. He has a bit of a hobble, though — he recently landed funny on his ankle during a run.
The black-lit undercarriage of the studio’s counters proved just how clean those shoes were.
They worked casually. P.O.S. stopped by for a second to say what’s up, Big Cats and I took a break to play Sega halfway through the session — he was drinking Day Tripper, a fitting choice given the Indeed brewery is only a few blocks north.
The video game “NBA Jam” got Wright thinking about how he lost interest in baseball. As a teen, he met Barry Bonds at a store; Bonds refused to look at him, turning away as he shook his hand.
That is the exact opposite of everything Wright embodies.
He’s a down-to-earth educator and organizer. He leads the hip-hop studies department at McNally Smith, the first program of its kind in the nation, and teaches six classes.
The U.S. State Department has already taken notice of Wright — they were the ones who sent him as a musical ambassador to Sierra Leone. That means there is merit here and, unlike some cases, the music to back it up.
Who: Toki Wright with Sarah White and DJ Don Cuco
Where: Northrop Plaza
When: 7 p.m., Friday