RICH KIDD with RAZ FRESCO, MEKA, WRISTPECT, DJ NANA, LOWKEY and SIR LANCELOT at Wrongbar (1279 Queen West), doors 10 pm. $10. 416-516-8677. See listing.
At the upstairs music studio of the LOFT Youth Centre at Bloor and Ossington, Ritchie Acheampong teaches mostly at-risk youth how to record, mix and engineer.
Sooner or later the kids figure out that their teacher, prolific producer and MC Rich Kidd, has actually worked with some of hip-hop's biggest names: Raekwon, Drake, Talib Kweli.
"It's a good place for them to be that's out the way from outside," Rich says from behind a modest computer desk.
The LOFT gig offers an interesting bit of symmetry, as Rich used to be a regular in the neighbourhood for less benevolent reasons.
"This is where I used to hustle," he says matter-of-factly. "When I got a youth job around here, I was like, ‘Damn, this is surreal. I'm helping kids out where I used to sell crack.'"
Much more Rich Kidd community builder than Rich Kidd pusher, the 25-year-old is kind, calm and open. But he says the last couple of days have been hectic.
Nominated in the rap recording category for 2012's The Closers (along with collaborator SonReal), he'd be flying to Regina for the Junos ceremony a few days later (he lost to Classified). But the main source of his sleeplessness is his brand new self-produced solo mixtape, In My Opinion.
As well as producing for k-os and Saukrates, Rich has released six volumes of his eponymous mixtape, We On Some Rich Kidd Shit. The hexalogy features internationally revered MCs as well as local legends Kardinal Offishall and Maestro. But the mixtapes are primarily a platform for lesser-known local rappers like Alkatraz, Sese and Tona.
"It's a whole bunch of local artists who jump on my beats that I want to give shine to," he says.
In this way, the Ridgeway, Mississauga-bred artist has been one of Toronto rap's biggest champions. More literally, too: the subjects of his lyrics run the gamut from heart-wrenching family life in Vol. 4's Needing Me Later to political action on IMO's The City, but most are poems about Toronto.
Toronto rap ambassador is a big, difficult job, and Rich is humorously honest about the realities of succeeding in the music business.
"It doesn't happen overnight, especially if you're still stuck in that street life. I had to get off the streets. It's a constant struggle between doing what you love and trying to pay the bills."
Working at LOFT, for example, isn't just charity - it's a job. "I felt it would be cool to pay it forward and get paid for it, too. I'd rather take a shitty paycheque here than work at McDonald's for a shitty paycheque."
He's also a refreshing realist in his songs. On Loner In A Crew he raps about playing shows in both packed and empty venues.
"Kids growing up in poverty cling to rap because that's what looks appealing. I understand it, but I want to be one of the guys to give you the reality and crush your dream," he says laughing. "But at the same time give positive reinforcement, showing that with a work ethic you can still accomplish something and live off it."
IMO is 19 tracks of Rich alone, and he's excellent on his own. But by no means is he abandoning the hip-hop community he's helped foster. This summer he'll release We On That Rich Kidd Shit Vol. 7 during Caribana.
After that, it's a debut solo album that Young Guru - who has worked extensively with Jay-Z - has signed on to engineer, mix and master.