Toronto Through the Eyes of Mindbender
Toronto hip hop artist, Mindbender, told me to meet him in front of MuchMusic. As I arrived he gave a hug goodbye to a tall, gorgeous young woman. A minute or so later, another hottie waved at him from across the street. Five minutes after that, as we were crossing McCaul to chat under the OCAD stilts, he said what up to yet another beautiful woman.
When talking about his love for Toronto, he makes frequent mention of "the beautiful ladies" - and he has clearly tapped into a network of fierce females. But Mindbender, also known as Adhimu Stewart, has not a creepy bone in his body. His big smile, fro-hawk, and high pitched giggle after he brags about his work, are markers of a big heart and a wide open approach to life.
Growing up in a family where times were often lean, he moved almost every year, from Toronto, to Ottawa and back again when he was 19. He spent seven formative years at Jarvis and Gerrard - the longest he's ever lived in one neighborhood, going to music college and occasionally inviting "the ladies" from Hooker Harvey's up to his apartment. The only things they shared were joints, but "there's always tomorrow," he tells me, again with the high-pitched giggle.
He thinks Toronto is "the next best awesome-est, world class, historic city about to blow the fuck up." And when it does, he'll be waiting.
So why Toronto?
Because Toronto is the best city in the world! As far as Canadians go, it's the best for the music industry. It's multicultural. There's an infinite amount of beautiful women and beautiful people. You've kind of got the best of New York without the intensity and negativity of America.
What was it for you like growing up in Toronto?
Um, a little tight. There's been ups and downs. There's been some job things, times when money wasn't there as it should be. But even in the hard times I love it here. And in the good times - oh my God - I call it heaven.
You live at Queen and McCaul, and before that Queen and Spadina. Don't you find it a little tiring? Like all the traffic and endless amounts of people?
For me I love it. I'm a musician, I like the nightlife. I'm that kind of guy... I'm made for this place and this place is made for me.
But if you really know anything about Toronto and Canadian hip hop, you realize that very few people have invested in the scene so you know a lot of us have just been keeping it alive ourselves. Maestro said something brilliant - there's always been a scene but there's never been an industry, so...
And why do you think that is?
Canadian insecurity, inferiority complex... Lack of faith from the rock framework that puts out all the rock and punk and pop stuff that has been blowing up for the last 15 years. It just never translated into the R&B, hip hop scene.
Do you have any favourite Toronto acts?
Wow... wow... People are gonna... Um, well right now, I'll say Ian Kamau is amazing and I love that he is about to drop his album in September. Empire, I love that they're just pure hardcore Canadian dope street hip hop. K'naan is making world history right now making a song with Nas and Damian Marley - that guy makes me so proud. District Six are good people... I could go on and on, but those are some.
What are you working on right now?
I'm literally right now mixing down a whole shitload of songs that I've been sitting on and I've just mixed down number 34, so I'm going to try and just do a flood of my solo music soon. I've got an album coming out called In Space No One Can Hear You Rhyme, it's coming out with my brother Conspiracy at the end of August.
You're brother's name is Conspiracy?
Yeah, yeah yeah. He's... I'm the quiet one.
Are you younger or older?
I'm younger. He's my identical twin brother.
Do you guys do a lot of work together?
We try to. He's got an interesting life story. If you search around online you can probably find some stuff on him... I call him the Old Dirty Bastard of Canada. He's a mad genius - truly mad and truly genius.
Are you guys going to do any shows together?
Were trying... but he's, like I said, mad. He knows I love him, but yeah, it's a little difficult because his approach to artistry is very unique.
In terms of music - do you draw a lot of inspiration from living in Toronto?
I love the mix of cultures and styles and everything... I saw Lil' Wayne at the ACC and Lil' Wayne literally said, when he brought Drake out, "wow this guy Drake is big and if this is representative of the talent that you've got in Canada... wow." And I'm like, "hell fuckin' yeah Lil' Wayne," Drake is just the beginning, there's so many countless talented people that I know here - singers, dancers, actors, artists.
I would like to travel and represent Toronto around the world. That's a goal of mine because I really believe that Toronto has turned into a world class city.
What about in terms of writing your music, where do you go in the city for inspiration?
I go to a lot of shows. I often find myself being so happy and excited by what I just saw that I just go home at night after a show and just write at home or - I've written a couple of songs right here at OCAD - I'll just sit around the corner there and just feel the night air. Sometimes I just ride around the city and write on the streetcar or the TTC, just write on my Blackberry.
Do you have a favourite building in the city?
I kind of like what they did at Yonge and Dundas Square. I've seen some good shows there. And like, I've performed there a couple times.
Jizza Gza just did an awesome show there... Dundas Square is cool cause it's like open, it's like Times Square but with community.
Your ideal Sunday in Toronto, what would it be?
Waking up, having a breakfast at I don't know maybe the Queen Mother Cafe or Kensington Market. And then going to Afro Fest in Queen's Park for what I call heaven. It's the best, I love Afro Fest. Or the Muhtadi Drum Festival - those are best two summer events. And then in the evening, going down to the Harbourfront, seeing a concert, and ending off the night by going to Drake Hotel for an after party or seeing my friends at Supermarket in Kensington. I actually do a lot of party hopping now, I've been to three or four events in one day. It's a hard life but somebody's gotta' do it.
It must be tough to make it on just your music, are you doing other things now?
I do some journalism, I do hosting, I do shows, whatever.
I actually had a job near King and Dufferin the porn industry just doing customer service work for sexsearch.com.
It's kind of like Lavalife, a little more sexual version of Lavalife. It was fun, it was fun. Great pay. But I got let go and I kind of wish I had the job now.
Yeah the love and kindness of friends helps me cause there are lean months and people still don't' support enough arts with their money or energy. This is the screw-face capital. People do come to shows and love the music but don't want to pay or even say that they love the music. But they're standing there and they're nodding their head or they're dancing but they're not supporting the music on higher levels.
What's your favourite place in the city?
One of the first things that came to mind was the Opera House - I've seen a lot of great shows in there... And I love Play de Record - anywhere I can see the beautiful women. Where can I see more beautiful women?
Bring your screw-face to Pedestrian Sunday in Kensington Market on July 26. Mindbender performs free at 3:00 p.m.