Meet the biggest hip hop fan in Toronto
If there's a rap show happening in the city, chances are Addi "Mindbender" Stewart will be in the front row, going line for line with every song played throughout the night; and this has been the case for about two decades now. Apart from being a rapper and music journalist himself, Stewart also happens to be one of the friendliest, most enthusiastic Torontonians you'll ever come across. It'd be an understatement to say that Mindbender is the heart and soul of Toronto's hip hop community.
I recently met up with Addi at Play De Record, and as soon as we stepped through the doors, it came as no surprise to me that the entirety of the store's staff knew him on a personal level.
In a lengthy session of sheer knowledge-dropping, Mindbender shared a trove of insider stories that any rap enthusiast would be lucky to hear. From Andre 3000's centaur costume, to performing with Raekwon and Ghostface, to the rise of Chief Keef, to Ken Kaniff and Eminem's sexuality, to the city of Toronto, here's what we got into:
I'm sure you've seen Brown Sugar by now, wherein Sanaa Lathan asks Taye Diggs, "When did you first fall in love with hip hop?" Do you remember a particular moment, song, or artist that might have sparked the flame?
It feels like it was always there, but the veil was just lifted one day. But, I guess, if I had to narrow it down, I'd trace it back to 1982, when my big brother Dale was a member of the illest breakdancing crew in Edmonton. They'd break to early '70s roller skating jams, disco, funk... all that classic old shit, but I remember that year in particular because Rock Steady Crew came through. It was crazy to see those legends perform in their prime.
I also remember Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five's "The Message" dropping that year, and losing my mind over those "doo doo doo doo" laser sounds. As far as first rap heroes go, I'd have to go with LL Cool J and Run DMC. They inspired my twin brother and I to start writing a few years later. I didn't write my first rhyme until 1989.
I've seen you mouthing the words to every single song, by every single artist, from Mos Def to Riff Raff, at over a hundred different rap shows in the city. Is there a single rap song that you don't know the lyrics to?
Oh god yes. If it's by one of these new crack/hustle/blog/fashionista rappers, I won't care. I don't really know the lyrics to any Wiz Khalifa stuff.
Still, it seems like your attitude toward hip hop is to at least try to enjoy it from all angles. How important is that approach to such a young genre, and are you proud of all its regional styles?
I treat hip hop like church school; it's a sacred experience for me to be at a concert. There's not much of a difference if you compare the two, other than being able to drink beer and swear at concerts. Generally, it's a person giving a message, and a crowd gathered to hear it. I learn from every rapper; conscious, ignorant, street, guys, girls, Canadian, American, what have you.
Over the years, I've leaned toward boundary-pushing, esoteric West Coast stuff, like Freestyle Fellowship, Project Blowed, and The Hrsmn. I also love New York. Wu-Tang is the best hip hop idea of all time. Tribe was my favourite duo until OutKast released Stankonia. Nas is my favourite rapper because of his content and focus on edutainment, the essence of rap. I could talk for hours about all the mistakes he's made in his career, which aren't limited to beat selection, but he's still the most important MC to ever come along.
Are you happy with the direction hip hop is going in? Chief Keef and Riff Raff are two unorthodox rappers that blew up this year; what are your thoughts on them?
I'll diss a guy like Chief Keef because, to me, he's the pinnacle of hip hop at its unhealthiest, least lyrical, and most self-destructive. I don't think I can ever be called a hater though, because, at the very least, I listened. I went to Riff Raff's Toronto debut partly because it's a big thing for me to be able to say, "I've seen that person once in my life." I was both impressed and disgusted with the Riff Raff phenomenon when I noticed him lip-synching halfway through the show, after the crowd began moshing and getting wild. I couldn't believe how much power, control, and mad hype he had, that people weren't even aware of him not rapping into the mic.
With contemporary rap, I feel that we're living in a production era, where amazing beats are overshadowing subpar raps. Rick Ross is a perfect example. That guy's the fakest thing ever. Andreas Hale said, "Hip hop went from 'keep it real' to 'it's just entertainment'," and I think that's the worst transition of all time. Plus no one's really scary these days, apart from Killer Mike. These new guys are weak.
That's why, with my own rap career, I really want to Wu-Tang it again, but with a personal spin. I want to incorporate all my influences, and be raw and confusing. At the same time, I really love women. I want to be revolutionary with respect to love and sexuality because almost all of my rap heroes have disappointed me in that regard.
How many rap shows have you been to, and what was your very first one?
Wow. I don't even know how to quantify these things--maybe around 10,000 live music experiences in my life. Sometimes I'd do five in a single night. For my first hip hop concert, I saw Public Enemy on their Fear Of A Black Planet tour in Hamilton. That was in 1991. The first one I caught in Toronto was The Pharcyde in '92, during the Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde tour. I think the only well-known rapper I haven't seen live is Fat Joe.
Describe your favourite concert experiences.
OutKast and Moby at The Docks in '99 was pretty crazy. It was Andre 3000's last time in Canada, and he wore a centaur outfit. Like, he was shirtless, rocking horse legs. When they performed "Bombs Over Baghdad," my heart was beating like a jackrabbit.
One of the best concerts I've ever seen, though, was De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Souls Of Mischief at Carleton University in '93. I got to talk basketball with Phife Dawg before the show, but later, on our way to an afterparty, I hit up this greasy diner with De La Soul. And sure enough, like they say on 3 Feet High And Rising, Maseo definitely loved his ketchup. It was also cool standing three feet away from Eminem when he performed in Toronto after The Marshall Mathers LP was released. I met Proof, which, unfortunately, I didn't appreciate enough because I was too excited about Eminem at the time.
But the craziest feeling was performing with Raekwon and Ghostface Killah at Yonge and Dundas Square this summer, in front of 10,000 people.
I remember them asking two fans to come up on stage and perform ODB's and Method Man's verses on "Protect Ya Neck." A bunch of concertgoers were screaming your name, knowing it'd be a cardinal sin if you didn't get up there. Talk about that experience.
After missing an opportunity to do a verse at the solo Ghostface show three months earlier, I told myself that there's absolutely no chance this one security guard would stand in the way of my dream coming true. He was pushing me from the front because he didn't see Ghostface pick me out. I ended up leaning against the fence with my shirt ripped off in the process, but once I went off on the guard, he let me through.
After I got up there, I felt like I was possessed in that magical moment, like my brain shut off. ODB's son was up there too; I remember grabbing and hugging him. It was all pure adrenaline. I don't even have many memories of it all going down. When I look back on it online, I'm like, who is that guy? Oh shit, that was me!
What are some other crazy behind-the-scenes stories you have, like at a show, or hanging out with other rappers?
I've had so many crazy experiences. I want to sit down with a hypnotist and tell them to probe into my mind, because I smoke a lot of weed, and sometimes I forget things. But I definitely remember selling a half-quarter to Sean Price and Buckshot in the bathroom of the Phoenix Concert Theatre one time. Just this past year, thanks to my friend Perry P., I got to hang out in a car with Onyx, Tha Alkaholiks, and The Beatnuts. We got lost and were driving around for an hour. Because of Famous's generosity, I also met Nas on the Hip Hop Is Dead Tour. I gave him a Pound magazine, a blunt, and a bag of weed. He was like a child sitting in the corner, so humble and quiet.
Back in '97, I was hanging out with my homies Fritz The Cat, Styles Of Beyond, and Abstract Rude in Compton, L.A. I rocked Project Blowed, really murdered it that day, and even got props from this thugged-out Crip girl. I thought she was going to blow my brains out [laughs]. Not many people know this, but my hype man at that open mic was Aristotle The Hairless Model, the original Ken Kaniff on Eminem's Slim Shady LP. He's a phenomenal MC, but you could tell a lot of people weren't feeling him since he was pretty effeminate. There was a lot more ignorance back then.
How ironic, considering Eminem's homophobia.
Yo! You can put this down on paper: I'm going to my grave far beyond convinced that Eminem is bisexual. I think it's the biggest untold secret in hip hop. Deep into his career, around Encore, the first thing that came out of his mouth in a Vibe Magazine article was, "I just want you all to know, I'm gay." He ends up playing it off as a joke, and the interviewer moves on, but my point is that, even if they've been tongue-in-cheek, he's dropped countless clues. Yet the rap community's still not ready to embrace one of their heroes as a homosexual. Dr. Dre's gay too. Tupac said so himself after he got shot. I wish they'd confess. It would mean a lot to black culture if the most famous rapper of all time and the godfather of gangster rap came out publicly.
What are the worst hip hop fads that have come and gone?
The Ice Age was shit. It didn't matter how good or bad you were; if you had diamonds, you were cool. I hate how Game always switches his affiliations and styles to whatever's hot at the moment. I actually liked the Kriss Kross era. In grade nine, there was a school strike, and three of us turned our clothes backwards and danced all day.
What are your thoughts on Drake, and him finally being that breakout mainstream rap star in the US that Toronto's been waiting for?
I'm a humongous fan of Drake. He's always been cool to me, he always says what up. He's one of the sharpest rhyme-writers around, and a brilliant songwriter, period. I think he's the logical evolution of everything that's been happening in the last ten years of hip hop, from his look, to his sound, to his production, to his sophistication. I'm not as much of a fan of his singing, but he's raised the bar overall. I love that he's made Canadians check themselves and be like, yo, we can have multimillion dollar superdreams up here and manifest insane history. Even 9th Wonder tweeted that Toronto's the hip hop capital of the world.
Who are your favourite Toronto DJs?
As far as cutting and mixing go, Starting From Scratch made Pete Rock and DJ Premier look bad at Circa in '08. I also love DJ Law, Fase, Nana, James Redi, and P-Plus. We've got some of the best in the world.
What's your favourite record store in Toronto?
Play De Record. It's been around since 1990, and has outlived all the other classic record stores on Yonge Street. I'll never forget all the Ryerson cats that would drop by to freestyle inside, or first listening to the "Protect Ya Neck" 12-inch that I bought from there in '92. All the new 12-inches would arrive between seven and ten o'clock, back when people actually had to leave their house, hunt for music, and play records for their friends. That connection is so lost now, with blogs and the internet taking over.
Do you have a big record collection?
Not too much vinyl, but I have a big collection of artifacts. If they ever do a Canadian Hip Hop Museum, I could fill it up with all my memorabilia. I've got 4,000 cassettes. I've got Canadian rap magazines that totally don't exist anymore: Mic Check, Peace, Origins, Rice, Twisted Linguistics. De La Soul and Souls of Mischief signed a five dollar bill for me at that concert in Ottawa since I didn't have anything else to give them.
Rapper: Kendrick Lamar, although good kid, m.A.A.d city was overhyped
Producer: Rich Kidd
Song: Kendrick Lamar - "The Recipe" Ft. Dr. Dre
Album: Killer Mike & El-P - R.A.P. Music
Writing by Marko Orlic. Photos by Javin Lau