By Chris DartThe Remix Project isn't where Toronto's Rich Kidd started making beats ― he was producing before the community arts organization ever opened its doors ― but it is sort of his spiritual home as a producer.
Remix was started in 2006 to give young people from Toronto's marginalized neighbourhoods a chance to start a career in the creative industries. Their headquarters is a non-descript block of low-rise office space in Toronto's Liberty Village. Inside is a professional grade recording studio and a pre-production studio, as well as visual art facilities. Remix also hosts talks from people in the music industry about what it takes to turn a passion into a career.
"Every six months they take 20 youth from different neighbourhoods around the city to help them create music, create art and learn the art of business as well," Kidd says. He was part of the first class of participants. At the time, he was 20 years old, working a factory job, and making beats in his spare time.
"I knew the dudes who created the program, [executive director] Gavin Sheppard and Drex [director of resources Derek Jancar,]" says Kidd. "They had another program called Inner City Visions that was located in Etobicoke. I went over there to record some things, hit it off with the dude, and kept in touch. [Sheppard] told me about this idea he had to basically start a school. He wanted to be on some X-Men shit. He wanted to be like Professor Xavier. I was just like 'I'm down. Put me in.'"
Kidd says the program gave him access to equipment he wouldn't have had otherwise. While technology has made it possible for producers to make beats using a laptop, things like recording, mixing and mastering still largely require a studio.
"This is the analogue-to-digital converter," he says. "This makes the vocal sound analogue and pure, rather than just making it sound blocky and digital. That's the difference between [recording at Remix] and just using a mic hooked into a computer. It's something to push the sound up and make it sound authentic."
It also gave him contacts in the industry and an opportunity to be mentored by other, more experienced producers.
"I've learned a lot of stuff through here," he says. "A lot of different engineers have worked here: Soze, who works with Raz Fresco; 40, obviously, from OVO; Pro-Logic, who worked with JD Era and Joe Budden and the Lox. All those kind of guys helped me craft my mixing and my sound, they taught me different tips and tricks. Making beats just came from me working with different artists and peers. Different collaborators help me make beautiful music."
Kidd has stayed involved with the program over the past seven years, and now drops by to give a new generation of aspiring rappers and producers the benefit of his experience. He also volunteers at another similar program, called Lost Lyrics. "[Lost Lyrics] is working with kids from Jane and Finch and Malvern now," he says. "Bringing them in to work at a studio downtown and we help them record, write, it's an artist development class… Some of the kids from [Remix] will just hit me up on Facebook now and ask for one or two tips."
Kidd says that even if Remix participants don't pursue a career in the arts, the program still has benefits. He says it helps at-risk young people find a positive outlet for their energies.
"It gives them something else to do, rather than fall in the trap of the other thing, guns and drugs," he says. "You can still do that and do this too, but it's a deterrent. If you want to be better and get more skilled, if you want to get famous off of this shit, you can't be out there shooting and selling drugs. It takes a different type of lifestyle."
Kidd says for him, it made a huge difference. Not only did it help him hone his craft as a beatmaker, it also helped him find creative partners and make business connections. (His manager, Addi Papa, is also a graduate of the program.) More importantly, though, it gave him the sense that he can help change things around him. "It didn't change how I see the world, but how I can make an impact on the world," he says "It made me get that mentorship kind of spirit, where I want to help with other programs and run my own program… The world is still the same, but I can change things around me."