All hail $hamrock, the reigning white rapper…
Congratulations. How has it been keeping your victory a secret?
My closest friends didn’t even know. I lied to so many people. I told them that the finale was live. I told people that we filmed the final segment, but they decided to reshoot it live. I just kept making up these elaborate lies, and I never lie. My only justification in doing it was that they’d be very happy for me and understand once the results were announced.
Can you take me through your history with hip-hop?
I’m an ’80s baby, so around the time I could start grasping music, I was 6 or 7. That was ’88 or ’89. I was raised on a lot of soul and a lot of blues, because my dad is a blues guitarist. I already kinda had the soul in me. Then, I got into Naughty By Nature, House of Pain, LL Cool J. Kris Kross came out, and they were some kids from Atlanta, they were a little bit older than me, but seeing them, I was like, "Wow, that’s me right there." I think I got my first keyboard when I was 9. There were some beats on there. And so I started just rapping to the beats that were on the keyboard that were already programmed in. When I started public school, I was probably about 12. There were a lot of kids rapping and I just picked right up, rapping at lunchtime, just banging on the tables, spitting flows. I was always the person people would come up to: "Yo, who sings this song?" "Can you rap this part? How does it go?" In middle school, I knew, like, every word to Bone Thugs. I could spit verbatim Krazy Bone’s verse from "1st of tha Month" and that would just floor people, especially because I was a white kid and in school I was getting straight A’s.
So you’ve been doing this for 10 years strong?
Well, when people ask me when I start rapping, that’s when I say. But as far as, like, "This is what I’m gonna do for the rest of my life," that didn’t really hit me till I was in college. I never knew what my calling was because I was strong in a lot of areas. When I went to college, people were listening to me, like, "You’re so good. Why don’t you do this for real?" It took some convincing, but it helped that some guys that I went to middle and high school with were getting into production, Luney Tunez and Ribah On the Beat. I hooked up with them and told them I wanted to rap. They gave me some beats, I spit for them and they were sold. From there, I started just doing 16’s, not even whole songs. I entered a talent show at UGA, I didn’t even perform a whole song, just spit four different 16’s to four different beats, won the whole talent show and opened for the Roots and Sleepy Brown. The first talent show I ever did I won and it kinda just rolled from there.
It’s unsurprising that you were such a good student: your rhymes are pretty clever and more literate than maybe what people might expect from the South.
I mean, I’m a journalism graduate from Grady College at UGA. That’s one of the Top 3 journalism schools in the nation. All through high school, I won every single English award for my grade. I always knew I was going to do something with writing and it wasn’t until I discovered the performer aspect in me that I thought, "OK, I can do this." Music was my love anyway. I wanted to be a music journalist. It wasn’t until I stepped out of my comfort zone that I realized, hey, I have what it takes.
You mentioned being the white kid in high school that rapped. Has the issue of race been present in your hip-hop experience?
White rappers from the South have had a generally easier time achieving success than in any other region. The South has had a lot of problems with race in the past. There are still people entrenched in that awful mindset, but a lot of people in the South are trying to work and build together. The whole Southern hospitality thing came out of people really making an effort to make it a better place down here. I went to a very mixed school, and it wasn’t so much about black and white, it was really about whether you had money or not. If you’re rich, white or black, you’re doing the same thing. If you’re poor, white or black, you’re doing the same thing. So it really wasn’t as big an issue. I like to think that because I was born at a time post-70’s, I don’t really see race like that. I see people more for their personalities. And I’ve never had someone come up to me and say, "Yo white boy, you should stop rapping." Part of it was the fact that I could rap well. I think ultimately talent rises above the race factor, like Dasit said on the first episode of White Rapper.
Do you think the show helped you cultivate your skills as a rapper?
I was an athlete. I’ve always had problems, at times, with playing to the level of my competition . This can work for or against you. In this case, I was going against very talented people and that made me step my game up week after week. As the challenges intensified, I had to step up if I wanted to make it through.
You hit a snag with freestyling. How important do you think it is to be able to freestyle?
It all depends. I have a writer background, so I like to work on my cadence and my flow. When you hear me on a track, or you hear me spit a verse acapella, you can hear the melody and the beat without them even being there. That’s what I strive for. As far as freestyling, you don’t need it to be successful, to make money in the rap game. When everyone talks about freestyling, I always kick this line: I don’t freestyle because my style’s not free. To hip-hop purists, I might be everything that’s wrong with hip-hop, but I don’ think I’m less capable of a rap artist because I don’t say whatever comes to my head.
You stayed drama-free over the course of the show. Is that you or was that strategy?
Oh no, that’s just me. I can come across has having little tact at times, just because, if I’m not feeling you, I tell you right then. I don’t pretend that I don’t see it or let it slide. But if it doesn’t concern me, I don’t feel the need to comment. I knew that there was going to be a lot of drama on the show, and so I figured that I wanted people’s impression of me to be was very humble, hungry, gracious and good person. And I wanted them to remember that I could rap, and I didn’t want anything to detract from that. I don’t want dildos on the face. I don’t want kicking teddy bears. I don’t want anything.
So you were pretty much cool with everybody in the house, then?
Cool as far as I have no animosity toward anybody in the world. There are people that I don’t care for, but I don’t even need to make that be known. They’ll get it when I’m not hanging out with them. I think the only person I might have sold short was Dasit, but he struck me from the very first second as very gimmicky and more image than substance. I had never really gotten the chance to hear him rap. Now I think he’s very talented when he raps, but the way that he exited the show didn’t do much to dispel my initial reaction to him. Other than him, I feel like I’m on good terms with everybody else. I haven’t talked to Jus Rhyme since the show, but regardless, he’s a great person. Misfit: I hung out with her. She came down to ATL, we recorded, we talk all the time. Sullee, we talk all the time. I talked to Persia the other day, that’s my girl. I talked to John Brown the other day, we were talking about collabing. He’s an astounding producer to me. So he might even do some work for me. Even though the way he comes across on TV is kinda like a jerk, when the cameras aren’t around and when he’s not King of the ‘Burbs, he’s a very likable person. I talk to 100 Proof online. I talk to Jon Boy on the phone. It’s just a really good crop of kids that I would have never met otherwise. And regardless of our personal styles and beliefs, the one thing that we have in common is the unique experience of being a white rapper and the circumstances that come with it. I can’t knock anybody who’s out there trying to chase their dream or do their thing. I have respect for everybody who lived in that house.
Your music that’s on your MySpace is pretty varied. Is your goal to break out of the Southern sound as we know it?
With this album I’m working on, I’m striving to combine the best of what I liked growing up with the best of what I like today. My music, just like myself, my music has a very realistic, but positive vibe to it. We have this thing in Atlanta, when the Braves won first place in 1991,
the previous season, they were in last place. So the Braves went from
worst to first. They won for 14 seasons straight. Basically, with this
project, with this show, I feel like I went from worst to first. And
that’s basically the concept that we’re using. The album is going to have an inspirational vibe, like, if I can do it, anybody can. It’s also going to have a celebratory vibe to it because, s***, I made it! I won!
Stay in tune with $hamrock via his MySpace.