Album Review ‘Pangaea’ Toki Wright and Big Cats


By Becca Martin

‘Pangaea’ refers to the theory of the supercontinent that over time separated into several, a journey of crossing peoples and cultures. Today’s culture is blurring at the edges at hyper speed, but not without growing pains. “Much like the continents, people have spread out across the Earth but are all connected.” Minneapolis native Toki Wright has been a voice of social consciousness and action since the early 2000’s, working with local North Minneapolis youth organizations in particular and traveling as an Arts Ambassador to Sierra Leone in 2013. A man of numerous collaborations including releases with Rhymesayers Entertainment, he is not one to sit on an idea. ‘Pangaea’ is the first album to be independently released through Soul Tools, and its eighteen-month birthing proves that some things should not be rushed.

The theme of choices recurs on the album, and the best choice of all was to partner with Big Cats (aka Spencer Wirth-Davis). Big Cats is an acclaimed composer MC/hip-hop artist. In 2011, he was the youngest and only hip-hop artist to receive the McKnight Composer Fellowship. Additional artist collaborations were clearly picked with great care. The duet with Caroline Smith ‘This Man This Woman’ will leave you wanting more with its sultry, languid style. ‘Rebirth’ features Lydia Liza (Bomba de Luz) who has silky smooth pipes that go on for days. BJ The Chicago Kid adds his vocals to ‘Cool World’ as the devil on the world’s hypothetical shoulder. The powerful song ‘Heal’ pulsates with P.O.S.’s heartrending chorus of “they outside looking in”, and is accentuated by pounding drums, fading out into an elegant piano coda.

With Toki, you cannot sever the content from his raps, in ‘Overhead’ these lyrics spell it out “got to contemplate ‘tween right and wrong, I don’t just write these songs.” There is a relevance to his work that you cannot ignore. The poetry of everyday life-hope, transition, choices, cautionary tales, struggles, attractions good and bad. It is all in there, and if you are looking for a lack of human experience that binds us all together, you won’t find it.

Not to say ‘Pangaea’ is all easy and gentle, NO, there is frustration at being marginalized in music. Listen to ‘Gatekeepers’ and you might even feel the sting of discomfort if you are inside the music box. Big Cats will melodically beguile you while Wright’s lyrics cause you to look in the mirror. The rapid-fire delivery in ‘Mushroom Cloud’ is like an ominous and foreboding storm, climaxing with “what is the meaning of life to you?” You won’t always be comfortable listening to ‘Pangaea’ and that is good.

‘Pangaea’ will be at the top of the best releases of 2014. The combination of Wright’s socially conscious raps, spoken word, and soul blend cohesively with Big Cat’s instinctually sweeping electronics, and live instrumentation-the heady result is a hypnotic album that could be looped and listened to for days.

Album Release at Icehouse 9/26:

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