Each act playing Toki Wright’s goodbye show has history with the Minnesota-born, Boston-bound rapper. They’re emcees and musicians Wright booked, hyped, championed. In some cases, all three.
Wright gave P.O.S., the top name on that bill, some of his first concerts and, backstage, some real wisdom.
“He’s not that much older than me, but I definitely look to him as a big brother,” said P.O.S., aka Stefon Alexander, co-founder of the hip-hop collective Doomtree. “There are just a handful of people in this city I see as big homies like that.”
After decades of holding down a ton of titles and roles in the Minnesota music scene — hypeman and frontman, producer and radio host among them — Wright will soon start a big gig at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. As the assistant chairman of its professional music department, Wright will teach, advise, lead and run an in-house record label “that I’ll be working to make vibrant,” he said.
“Teaching is really about guidance,” he said. “Not only being able to guide by standing in the front of the room, but also sitting in the back of the room and allowing other people to step forward.”
Wright, 38, has history in academia: He launched and led the hip-hop studies program at McNally Smith College of Music — the first diploma-granting program of its kind.
Bassist and bandleader Sean McPherson of Heiruspecs worked closely with Wright to launch the program at the downtown St. Paul college.
“One thing we both did early on was to not surrender from the principle that hip-hop demands scholarship and respect without linking it to other disciplines,” he said. That meant putting practitioners at the helm, McPherson continued. “Toki was truly the perfect person to start that journey at McNally.”
As the program grew, McPherson witnessed Wright’s “openness with involving students in professional projects,” he said. McPherson also saw Wright go from “never having touched a sampler and bragging about being able to trim MP3s on iTunes to being a self-contained music producer.”
But then things fell apart. In December, the college closed, later filing for bankruptcy, leaving students and instructors in the lurch.
Wright wondered whether he ought to work for himself, go back out on the road as a rapper. “I was kind of questioning it all,” he said.
Then he heard about the job at Berklee. It taps many of the skills he’s built in his long list of roles. Over the years, Wright has been a speaker and educator, coordinator and promoter. He used to lead Yo! the Movement, the nonprofit youth organization, launching its Celebration of Hip-Hop festivals. He performed for years as Brother Ali’s hypeman. He’s rapped on a ton of records and recorded some of his own; Rhymesayers released “A Different Mirror” in 2012, its title track a dark dissection of race in America. “The comfort of this country has been built on so much misery,” he raps. “Know the history.”
Wright is “a great leader, great community builder, great teacher,” McPherson said. “But when you hear him rap you never think, ‘He’s a good rapper for a teacher.’ You just think, ‘Dear Lord, I hope this set never ends.’ ”
This year, Wright began hosting a weekly hip-hop program on the Current called “Wright About Now.” Like his mind, its programming is vast, drawing musical connections across genres and continents, from Chad to Chile, Ghana to France. Some of the artists he’s championed on that show, including Tall Paul, an American Indian rapper who grew up in south Minneapolis, will play at the goodbye show at the Icehouse on Thursday.
Wright will continue hosting that program, he said, after he and Brittany Lynch, aka DJ Miss Brit, move to Boston. The couple are expecting a child. Wright also has a daughter, a high school student named Asata. They’ll be back often, he promised.
“It’s a lot of transitions and shifts, but it’s good,” Wright said. “Anytime you relocate, you have to make a lot of decisions about what you will take with you and what you will leave behind — what you will give away and what you will burn.”
He laughed. “Whether it’s items in your house or relationships … it’s pushing me to make decisions.”
Last week, Wright posted a photo on Facebook and Instagram: he and Lynch wearing white and huge smiles. “On this 153rd anniversary of Juneteenth we promised ourselves to each other,” he wrote, signing the post with a few of his many titles:
“Toki Wright / Brittany’s Husband / Asata and Baby Wright’s Dad.”