I dressed as dapper as I possibly knew for the meeting. The said “name” I was meeting with was Toki Wright. Activist, writer, youth worker, rapper, spoken word artist, Toki was (and still is) nothing less than a renaissance man of proactivity in the community. I’d signed The Blend onto its first show under his company, Yo! The Movement, saw him as a pillar in the Minneapolis launch of hip-hop and somewhat an inspiration to my first steps into live musicianship- but here I was. I’d fucked up, now. Not only had I insulted an entire brand name in the city, I’d made it personal.
Thinking about it now, sipping 151, headed to an open mic brazen as a national slam poet, and referencing someone’s name in a slam poem at their company’s own open mic… could’ve possibly been the worst idea at the time. Attending this meeting was the best I could do.
Dressed in a bright yogurt-lemon-yellow sweater with a polyester, flannel, cowboy-collar popping out of the neck, I looked like the illegitimate son of Kanye West and Bill Cosby. Enter the University of Minnesota Black Student Union. A few students turned toward me as I entered. I had gone from who-the-fuck-is-that-guy-he’s-talented to beloved to hey-it’s-toussaint-someone-sharpen-a-shiv-quick-I’m-pretty-sure-I’m-going-to-stab-him-this-time. Again, I had perfectly fucked up. Between the 151, sweeping thru classes without showing up to lecture, and performing shows from Illusion Theatre to 7th St. Entry, my ego was defenseless to the euphoria and presumed invincibility. I was addicted to this-this thing-this craft- the motion of taking a stage, captivating everyone’s attention and walking off smirking like I’d robbed a bank. I’d always felt undeserving of an audience and anything positive that came from performing arts. If you’d met me 8th grade, you’d’a thought I was a pre-cursor away from living in the attic of a church and avoiding sunlight at all costs. My social skills were deplorable, I was a negative bastard, and didn’t really see the point in plotting a year down the road. Now, I’d still take the social skills accusation, but not the latter two.
Two gentlemen were sitting at the table. None of them were Toki. Christ, what if this is an ambush. These people mean to kill me in the Black Student Union on a Tuesday! Sweet Jesus, not even La Raza would save my ass, and they’re right across the hall. Wait- if I scream bloody murder maybe someone from the Women’s Student Activist Union will hear me. Cool it dammit. They just wanna talk. Toki should be here soon. The kid who called the meeting, who we’ll refer to as Jumpy, sat at the table with another fellow who I kinda recognized. Jumpy’s shoulders shifted soon as I sat down. A constant shift, as if he had to get to the bathroom stat, but somehow he translated that urgent energy into a dictator-ish Giraldo cadence. Fuck, I’d walked into it, didn’t I? Before Jumpy said anything, I knew I’d walked into a meeting on his selfish behalf. I wasn’t called here to squash beef… Jumpy had set up a verbal lashing.
In came Toki, and it was all too apparent what was about to transpire. The universe worketh in mysterious ways- fucking strange, mysterious ways. Although young Jumpy was in the terrible wrong for instigating between two artists with miscommunicate beef, I probably deserved worse. With absolutely no clue what was next, we began to talk. They wanted to hear the poem again. Christ, the thing was long, I’d unraveled the papers from my bag, read every word of the poem I’d slammed at the open mic and at Voices Merging. Going thru the poem was painful. To look someone in there face and say what you’d said to an audience without them present… well- it sucks, but again righteous retribution for your actions. What transpired next isn’t important, but can be well summed up as- well, a verbal lashing. In the end, Toki stormed out, an image I’ll never forget. The discussion wasn’t worth having anymore for him, which was potentially the smartest decision of the whole debacle. The image of him getting up, walking away, deep red baggy t-shirt swaying in his exit as he slammed his gum into the trashcan at the door. I wasn’t worth it.
I still sat there until Jumpy and his friends dropped red in the face from arguing. If there’s one thing about me, I’m a fucking Taurus, and I will stand ‘til the bitter end if it’s brought to my doorstep. This also not being one of the brightest moments of my life, judgment skewed, and perspective selfishly shifted towards blaming everyone else there was no backing down for me. I was dead set to give Jumpy his much wanted encounter. The kid was a few years younger than me, rapped from show to show, but in the end might’ve been a bigger Taurus than me. Shit, he wanted blood, and my and the rest of the personalities swirling my delusional psychi gave’em what he wanted.
It was over, I exited on the discussions end. Never gave Jumpy the time of day afterwards, but also had to give damn good time to repeat the question “what the fuck am I doing” to myself. As stubborn as stubborn can get, the moral compass of me was so out of whack I couldn’t tell what the hell I was writing for anymore. I had severe issues with the institutions around me, my circumstances, and my own actions- but somehow turned the blade on the exact community that gave me a foundation to start with. I was a backstab and rebel without a crew, clue, or cause… not the way I wanted it. I was so far gone, making things right was outta the question. I’d have to walk away from this one and shut the fuck up for awhile. Sometimes you gotta do that. A wise man once said, “Shut the fuck up when grown folks is talkin’.” And no, I wasn’t acting like a grown folk, so clearly it was the right time for me to take heed and sit down with my thoughts.
6 years later, I’d facebook Toki with an offer to do a show at The Varsity. We dialogued back and forth for a little bit, and finally met at the Spyhouse Coffeeshop on Hennepin. I walked in a tad hesitant. There’s a cadence, air, feel to Toki that’s intimidating and welcoming at the same time. I’d wronged him, publicly slandered his name at his own open mic, and was somewhat bewildered by what I was getting into. I’d been promoting shows in the past few months, sold out The Varsity and almost sold out The Cabooze, however I was doing well with the profession and wanted to work with Toki in the scheme of things. Circumstances had provided me with the opportunity to not only do a show with him, but to also take a step towards some kind of amends. Whatever it was, despite the past, working with Toki was a step in the right direction professionally, personally, morally- whatever it was, it felt the right direction.
I believe he was reading the City Pages when I sat down at his table. “Hey, sup”, I shyly murmured unraveling my backpack next to my seat. “Ay”, he replied, put down his paper, organized whatever belongings were already dispatched on the table, faintly smirked and said “So, what were we arguing about again”. Looking me in the eye now. I faintly laughed… “I- uhh- I don’t know” with a smile on my face.
There it was, the conversation began ahead of where I thought it would. Toki had brought me up to speed further along than I thought I already was. Beef wasn’t his liking, the dispute was old and meaningless, it had been long time to get down to business- as if he’d been waiting at the Spyhouse on Hennepin Ave. for 6 years waiting for me to get over myself, get past myself, and screw my head on tight enough to withstand manning up. I’ll say it took me some time to get to that moment, but there was a reason my mother read Leo The Late Bloomer several dozen times to me as a child. I’d never came into my own soon as predicted.
“So, what do you require backstage?- I mean, what’s your rider for the green room?...” listing off every inch of the show to be covered to make sure it went off without a hitch. The dialogue continued, and the show did go off without a hitch. 300+ attended the night, and Adam J Dunn was able to make a music video for Toki’s single outta the performance.
The rebel, the street fighter, the blind swordsman all have their times, it just has to be honed. The liquor and youth in me made for a reckless loose cannon, relative to the fool who breaks his own heart. It was learned that when in the process of only hurting yourself, you either continue the self-sabotage or own up and say “Hey, I fucked up.”