THEO3 with FRANKIE PAYNE at Wrongbar (1279 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, May 30), 10 pm. $5-$10. 416-516-8677. See listing.
When Theo3, long-time Toronto emcee, youth mentor and radio host, nicknamed Toronto the Screwface Capital in 2000 (eventually putting it to verse in 2003), he didn't anticipate the term's staying power. Thirteen years later, it clings on. Over drinks at Churchill, Theo is clearly tired of retelling the tale, but obliges between sips of Diet Coke.
He didn't mean to imply that we are a city of haters, he says.
"Hating has never had a place in my vocabulary. I created the term because of my experiences growing up in the Vaughan Road neighbourhood. We had a whole mix of people, and in a big city the constant grind of life makes it hard to acknowledge everyone with unbridled enthusiasm.
"Sometimes you're indifferent, and it takes time and familiarity to break down that wall."
Historically, Toronto has been hard to impress, but our rap scene's been maturing and gaining open-mindedness. That's thanks not only to vets like Kardinal Offishall and superstar Drake, but also to rising producers Boi1-da (who's worked for Kanye West, Eminem and Nicki Minaj) and Arthur McArthur (Rick Ross, Dr. Dre, Big Sean).
As the scene evolves, so has Theo's music: from the dagger-like punchline rhymes that made him famous to complete, personal hip-hop songs.
"It's cool to do fast-break windmill dunks and get the crowd wild for two minutes, but what happens when that excitement's done?" he asks. "Songs show your soul. You can vary the content, play with ideas and touch on many different facets of life."
So while Screwface seems here to stay, it no longer insinuates that Toronto is a city of booers. Rather, it's a badge of honour worn by those who succeed in a city with high standards.
"Drake said, ‘I'm from the Screwface' in 5 AM In Toronto, which is dope to me. It's great to see that acknowledgement," Theo says. "Our insecurities about where we are on the hip-hop map are leaving. We're rising."
Tonight Theo will perform along with Frankie Payne, another member of his Freedom Writers collective. Payne is celebrating the release of his new LP, Clarity, and Theo will perform songs from his latest, Airplane Over One Way Streets (SFC).
It'll be celebratory, with no screwfaces in sight. "Frankie and I love Toronto to death... or to life. That's how we're similar."