I used to be a rapper. I had everything going against me: I was white, I was middle-class (more poor than rich but we didn’t live in a ghetto), and pretty much up to that point, had a good life. I grew up, as many middle-class white kids do, with cartoons and cereal. Action figures and playing outside (Cowboys & Indians, Cops & Robbers, and sometimes Spacemen vs. Aliens) dominated the free time of my early years. When I got a bit older – maybe 12 or 13, I started to want more in my life. The toys and cartoons and cereal just weren’t cutting it anymore. I thirsted for something different – something exciting or something more real. It became shoplifting. Smoking cigarettes. Oh, and listening to rap music. This was in the mid-90’s, probably around 1996, and I listened to The Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, N.W.A., etc. and later on, ICP. It was decided pretty quickly, while listening to B.I.G.’s Ready to Die, that I would become a rapper myself. I wrote some lyrics in a notebook that I had previously used for fake wrestling stats for a make-believe pro-wrestling league my brother and I had created with action figures and a toy WWF (hey, it was WWF then, what’s this WWE?) ring. The songs in that notebook included: “Drive-By Tonight”, “Get Down With Yo Bad Self”, and a few others that shall remain nameless, because I don’t remember the names.
As time went on, I joined a rap group with a few of my friends. We called ourselves Sykotik Underground. Yes, very horrible name, I know. It was a “horrorcore” rap group (ala Insane Clown Posse, Twiztid, Esham & Natas, etc.) which consisted of myself (Dimebag D and later Schizo D), and friends with aliases such as Psycho A, Brain Ded, Trippy, Pyro and DJ Spin. We never actually recorded any songs; just wrote a few like “Cincinnati Psychos”, “The Koming”, and “Night Moves” (not to be confused with the Bob Seger tune). We did tour an actual studio in downtown Cincinnati where a gay Bootsy Collinsesque guide showed us around and informed us acts such as Blessed Union of Souls and 98 Degrees had recorded songs there. He also gave us their price, which was $85 an hour. We were freshmen in high school at the time…no way we could swing that. Psycho A’s father said he would help, but that was probably an empty promise used to lift our spirits. We never did record at that studio, or any other for that matter. Sykotik Underground eventually disbanded as high school forced us to go our separate ways in various social cliques. We never recorded one song.
During my sophomore year, my best from childhood made a reappearance in my life in Jason. When we were kids, he lived in the house behind my large backyard, a fence separating us from manhunt or basketball. We never did get each other’s phone numbers, and our means of communication consisted of Jason yelling at the top of his lungs, “DANIEL!!!”, or vice versa (“JASON!!!”), until the other would come outside and have to get the help of a father or uncle to boost one of us over the fence. It was a solid system. It worked. But, years went on, and eventually we cut that part out of our friendship. We did trade phone numbers, and then we’d hang out at the local YMCA, or play Super Nintendo; things like that. Then, he disappeared for a while. We would reunite in freshman science class and remained best friends ever since. It was during my sophomore year however we both discovered our mutual interest in rapping.
Our first rap group was Thrilla (me) and Skrilla (him) which lasted all of two days. The names turned into Cryptid (me) and JC (him). Then, we formed a group name in Seperate Soulz (fact: we spelled separate wrong on accident). Finally, came the songs…the recorded songs. At the time, I wrote all of the lyrics. We used mainstream rap song instrumentals as beats. We recorded on his PC – using a Microsoft computer microphone and a Windows Wav recording system. Then, we would take a boom box with a tape player and would record the song from the computer speakers. We recorded around 20 songs. These songs would become our first “mixtape” (tape is literal here): Living Room Cuts. Jason then figured out how to convert our songs into mp3’s so we could burn them in disc, and our first CD was created: Homemade Static. I still have a copy of Homemade Static. We sold a few copies around the neighborhood and at school. We did a few “gigs” in my living room – using TV remotes as fake microphones and our best friends (whom we called the HHC for Highland Heights Crew after our town name…sounds tough, huh?) as an audience. The songs performed here were from Homemade Static and included “You Can’t” (our hate song to authority), “Prayer” (about a man praying to God for help with his financial burdens and family – when God grants his wishes, he praises, but when his son dies, he curses), “Don’t Fuck With the HHC” (Guess what this is about), and “After Our Shows” (about the types of things that went on after our shows, in a fantastical sense).
Jason ended up acquiring the program Soundforge and a better microphone which lead to an improved audio quality. We also started using royalty free beats we found on the internet. In this period, we recorded a slew of songs including our first solo ventures. We also experimented with our first collaboration songs with artists such as C-Raig, Kaz the Havik, Mister Blue, Loud Sound Disorder, and the F.I.T. Family from Illinois – who we would continue to work with well into our better future. None of these songs ever made it to an actual SS release since there would be a split-out during the middle of the recording sessions. Jason and I had a falling out. A big one at that, which resulted in a typical band break-up. I deleted a lot of the SS stuff from my computer. I had some on a disc though, so some of the songs were saved, but not all. When Jason and I started SS back up, we released these songs on Rare Evil and Lost Sickness.
When we did get back together, we scraped the name Seperate Soulz for just SS. It then took on a whole new meaning, never really being an acronym for anything. We’d tell different people different interpretations. It was in this new era of SS where rap would truly take a forefront in my life. Before that, it was just for fun…a hobby…something to do. So, we become SS and I changed my rap name to Illist D (sometimes ID). Now, graduated from high school, all that took
up my time was a full-time job. I started taking the music a tad more seriously. We played shows. We did internet-radio interviews. We sold more CD’s than we ever had before (close to 300 copies or so). The first release was Iniquity in October of 2004 followed by the EP Country Pimpin’ in December. In the fall of 2005, we released, in my opinion, our best album (and the best-selling) Campaign for Pain. It had 19 songs on it, and while the subject matter as a whole isn’t that impressive, the quality of the songs are. These were recorded in a bedroom, but sound almost-professional. Okay, maybe I’m hyping it up too much…but for what we were working with, the quality was amazing. It’s when I, as a rapper, opened up more. Before, I sounded too shy, too distant, too fake. I now actually sounded like a rapper. We had songs that sounded like they belonged on the radio (“Thugs in the City”) and songs that sounded like they should be thumping out of car stereos (“Look At Dem Boys”). I am proud of that album, as an independent rap album, as well as an SS album. It is, to this date, the last album we did as SS.
In 2005, while working on Campaign for Pain, we started introducing new rappers to our Wild Bunch Label (which was once called Ill-Omen, then changed to 3rd Eye, then changed to…) like Buddha, Smooth, Major Play and my brother J-Crook. This lead to other groups being created. J-Crook and Smooth formed gangsta-rap group Neighborhood Pushas (which JC and I would later join when J-Crook got locked up). Buddha and Smooth formed hip-hop group Moe Green. Buddha, JC and I formed The Creeps, a horrorcore group in the same vein of my first rap venture, Sykotik Underground. Major Play, JC and I were The Droogs, a more movie-oriented horrorcore rap project (basically a lot of name checking). The music was so important during this period, I got two tattoos – an SS on my arm and I.D. on my wrist (a huge mistake on my part). As recording artists, we upped the ante with new capabilities like newer programs and better microphones. But, with all of these people and projects at hand, recording music became a hassle. The studio was also in my house. My room. SS was always my priority and we were busy with recording Campaign for Pain while all of this was happening. This led to drama…or rappers as divas. “I want to record now!” “Why did he get to record?” “It’s not fair!” “Daniel, can I come over and record now?” AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
I screamed. NO MORE! I was fed up. I wanted to live my own life. Rap didn’t interest me anymore. We did manage to finish and release Campaign for Pain, but none of the other projects got to see the light of day (Neighborhood Pusha’s Neighborhood Product, The Creeps – Creepshow, etc.) 705 Studios, as we called it, was shut down. Wild Bunch was on hiatus. I did do some music in this time, most notably with Young Wodi from the Attic Boys, a popular local rap act we looked up to when starting out. In exchange for studio time, Wodi and his brother gave free beats. It was a solid match-up which lead to a few good songs (“What’s Up?”, “Live It Like You Wanna Live It”), but my computer started acting up and was soon out-of-order. No new music was made for months.
During this time, I was still friends with all of Wild Bunch; we just didn’t do music together. After a while, I started to yearn for it, so Jason took a day and fixed my PC. Then, SS Lounge was born. SS Lounge consisted of me and JC, of course, and wasn’t exactly rap. Yeah, sometimes we used rap beats, but we “sung” more than we “rapped”. We used royalty free Country instrumentals and used some rock instrumentals by a Swedish guitarist. It was an experiment for us. I think we made some of our best music during this period, like “Bub” and the country-tinged “Deal with the Devil”. JC and I also wrote some new rap songs like “Salty Cracker” and “New Forest Home”. The rap songs were never recorded, and only a handful of the SS Lounge ones were. We managed to play a gig, albeit an open-mic night, but still a gig as SS Lounge. The crowd didn’t really like it as we belted out country songs about drug addiction and meaningless rants about Taco Bell in offensive Mexican accents. That’s what SS Lounge was all about. The unexpected.
The unexpected happened sometime later when Jason went to jail. I was suddenly left without a partner. Without a best friend. Once again, I made the choice to live my life and forget the music. New stuff wouldn’t come out until Smooth got out of jail, and we would release The Leak, a “real-life” album about crime in our city (snitches, wire taps, drug deals, dirty cops and other stuff we’d seen or experienced in the seemingly perfect town of Highland Heights). I also started work on SS’s new album Prologue, which will be completed upon Jason’s return. In addition to SS, I went back to SS Lounge and finished the songs up myself. These songs would be released as SS Lounge’s debut Digestivo. I even did a rap song with my little sister for her school project (“Beedle the Bard”). Then, Jason’s protegé Major Play would get in contact with me, and we worked on a mixtape that was finished recently called The Cthulhu Sessions Vol. 1: Out the Mouth of Madness. As soon as Cthulhu wrapped up, my computer took a turn for the worst and was down, yet again. As of now, my desktop is down. The studio is down.
Looking back, my rap “career” had its ups and downs, but ultimately, was quite satisfying. I have over 100 songs with my voice on it. Not to seem self-obsessed, but it’s kind of neat. I miss the good old days of finishing a song, burning a CD, and then hitting the route with Jason to see how it sounded in a car stereo. When he gets out, perhaps I’ll get to do this again. Until then, we’ll have to enjoy what’s already here.
(NOTE: Right now, every former member of Wild Bunch is in jail with the exception of Buddha and myself).
I still get questions about my tattoo. “What does I.D. stand for?” And usually, I’ll tell them. I’ll usually laugh about it. About how ironic it is. Here I am, a supervisor at a call center, wearing dress pants and sweaters, admitting I “used” to be a rapper. I really want to get it removed…
P.S. I’m into film making now. My girlfriend Katie and I are working on (working on as in acting/writing/producing and directing) two independent “web films” and a documentary set to come out next year. All three revolve around a group of 4 washed-up actors and horror conventions. More blogs about this in the upcoming months…