I started teaching myself how to rap in 2005. I was 25 years old.
Usually people start rapping much younger. Truthfully, I did, too—I wrote my first rap when I was 9 years old. But it wasn’t my rap, in a sense. It was in fifth grade, we had to write journal entries every day, with whatever banal topic was issued by that matron of school slavery I called Ms. Snyder. I was bored with the topics, so instead I started drawing comics in my journal. One of them featured a character called Skate Freak—basically it was a Dr. Jekyl-Mr. Hyde type of story, where a nerdy kid who wanted to be cool created some secret formula that then turned him into a super-powered skater-kid rapper. (P.S., don’t bite that, I still plan to do a version of this story someday.)
Anyway, the rap I wrote came out of the mouth of that character. “My name is Skate Freak / my board is so sleek / and I’m rapping to the beat / as I rule the streets.” Because it was his rap, I never thought of it as being my rap, even though I wrote it. In fact, I didn’t occur to me that it was my rap until about a year ago.
Everything changed when I had The Vision, of my future-self as a masked MC. I started teaching myself how to rap, how to put words together in rhyme. Eventually, I started writing to beats. I’m not sure when the transition happened, but at a certain point, I got really good at it, and decided that was the direction I was going to pursue in life.
It’s difficult to describe the feelings I get from rhyming. Elation, joy, laughter, a sense of mischievousness, a sense of connection to powers beyond me. Sometimes I look back at things I wrote years ago and I’m amazed; it’s like it was written by someone else. I was always in love with the process of creating, even though it was often frustrating. Years of writing and recording raps gave me a powerful sense of my own creativity, and helped me to understand who I was and what I was about. Words are powerful; I have seen, time and time again, things I’ve written come into existence. Every feeling, every struggle, every triumph, every joy I’ve ever experienced is encoded somewhere in the songs I’ve written.
True, like every other rapper/MC, when I started I dreamed of making a career out of it; rap and get paid? Not have to work a dumbass job? I can’t wait! But once I got into actually performing, seeing how the underground scene and business actually worked, I realized it was mostly wack. I realized that what I was really looking for was a kind of energy—the energy of a hype crowd, of community, of connection. This is not something that happens in a stadium, or even a big venue. This is something that happens in an intimate space—a basketball court, a tiny barroom dance floor, a basement, a living room.
I started throwing house parties because I knew that was the only way to create the energy I was looking for. I knew it was possible; I just had to be very intentional about creating the space, and bringing in the right people. Thus was born the Invisible Party—No Photos, No Videos, No Phones allowed. And it worked, like magic. Every house party I’ve thrown has been an epic jam. At every party, a handful of newbies have approached me, eyes wide in amazement, and said, “This is the best party I’ve ever been to.” At every party, artists have gotten on the mic and said, “This is the best response I’ve ever gotten from a crowd.” Every. Single. Party.
Through being in the underground rap scene, I’ve learned by experience why all these OG MC’s spent so much verbiage talking about wack rappers and wannabe MC’s—point of fact, generally speaking, rappers suck. As artists, and as people. Under the yoke of media-mind control, most of them are only interested in feeding their narcissism and egos. “Look At Me” is the theme of almost every rap performance I’ve ever seen. In my own events, I’ve done my best to limit this phenomenon by centering the crowd and the DJ—each rap act is limited to 10 minutes, and at least 3 hours of the party is devoted strictly to whatever jams the DJ is playing—which means people are dancing, chilling, enjoying themselves, without the distraction of gadgets or playing paparazzi.
Last June, I threw the first event here at the house that was NOT a rap show. I booked no artists, only a DJ. I sent out almost 100 invitations. Despite the fact that there was (hella) free food, of the dozens of rappers I’ve booked over the years, only two showed up to the party. Nobody else even bothered to hit me up and let me know they couldn’t make it. So, while I only have this one event to go by, it seems to me that there’s a very distinct phenomenon going on here: No shine for you = you’re not interested.
I think I’m done with rappers. Not totally; there’s a handful of the homies I would still book. But on the whole, I’m over it. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s disappointment. Maybe I’m just tired of twenty-somethings in need of emotional validation. Maybe I’m tired of watching mediocre performers make demands of bored crowds.
But I ain’t done with rapping. Not by a long shot. The whole phenomenon of online digital music is the definition of wackness, but there are still people who will buy and listen to my CD’s. I’ll continue to make music for myself, and share it with them. I’ve been getting more into production—I may add that to my musical repertoire. Maybe I’ll learn to play bass.
And I’m definitely not done with throwing events. I’m currently getting my song-blending bars up on the turntables. Stay tuned for King DZA the Sound Selektor.