You are one of the rare lyricists who appears to have found a happy balance between working a day job (as an English teacher) while still pursuing a career in music. Is there ever any overlap between the two in the sense that you’ve been been able to utilize your knowledge and talent in Hip Hop to teach your students?
The struggle is real with regards to the balance. I have to somehow manage planning lessons, executing them, testing, and grading with writing music, recording, promoting, re-writing, re-recording (laughs), rehearsing, performing, traveling, writing articles, doing promo for others, and etc., etc… Personal life and family…WHAT ARE THOSE?!?
There’s plenty of overlap. It’s nice to use Hip Hop as a medium to teach devices and elements found in reading/writing such as imagery, simile/metaphor, entendre, internal rhyme, rhyme scheme, I could go on. Having students annotate poems and verses by artists of their choosing is a nice place to start because it creates that sense of common ground and allows them to see that whatever content we’re perusing through in class may be more applicable to their daily life than they initially thought. I do rap battles that pit protagonists and antagonists against one another and students get the opportunity to play a given role. They aren’t battling each other; they’re battling the character. This not only keeps things from getting personal but requires an extensive knowledge of plot points and character itself. I don’t wanna give away all my tricks though. Teachers, not unlike rappers, like to “borrow” without citing references, and I’m not for all that biter stuff. If I give you something to use cool, but acknowledge your source, b.
Are students and faculty members aware of your material and career? And if so, are they supportive of your endeavors? Also, have you received any backlash?
Students always eventually become aware, because…the internet. I tell a select few, usually those that express a genuine interest in pursuing music. I had an after school club/workshop of sorts last year that I intend on building up a bit more this upcoming year. I kept it quiet and no more than 5 or so students at a time because I really wanted to focus my time and energy on those that were serious. The ultimate objective of the program is to foster an understanding of “how the game works” and place students in colleges with programs that support their goals in music. As far as backlash goes, kids will always be skeptical at first because what could I know about Hip Hop as their English teacher? But any classes that I’ve rhymed in front of are always taken aback by it and loving it, phones out and filming within a few seconds (laughs). Presence and vocal projection is something I consider to be a strength of mine and once I “say it with my chest” everyone becomes a believer. I would say most of the students that have found out over the years have actively supported my work at one point or another. Those that haven’t probably listen to the trash that I bash openly in class like the angry old man on the soapbox that I am sometimes (Laughs).
The faculty that knows has been very supportive…More so than I thought they’d be to be frank. Mainly because what I do isn’t for everyone and it can be tough to discern whether or not I’m being satirical unless you’re really listening, so I’m not foreign to offending people. The first vice principal I ever worked for used to play my music in his office from time to time, and my current principal supported my trip to SXSW, big up both of them. No real backlash yet, but I probably just jinxed myself.
What makes you different from other emcees lyrically and stylistically?
I think my density, bar for bar, is close to unrivaled. I don’t have a Rap Genius account to annotate verses for you because I want you to crack the code yourself. Occasionally I’ll post lyric art from Andrew Bryan (who has handled the majority of my visual media) to give the listeners hints, but I don’t believe in adhering to the Google generation and just handing over my explanations. Where is the replay value in that? When people come chop it up with me at a show and have a specific, informed question related to a song, I’m more than happy to clarify. I’ve just been such a student of literature and poetry that I’ve literally dedicated my life to it, inside and outside the classroom, so I try to make my content as compact as possible without talking in circles. I’m out to spark that analytical side of listeners but to do so through content that remains favorable to listen to. I also try to avoid adhering to a given flow or cadence consistently. I’ve had people tell me that I’ve sounded like a completely different emcee from song to song, and I love the idea of that. The thought of my signature sound being not having a signature sound. I know I’m not the only one doing crazy complex shit structurally or lyrically, but do think very few can weld those approaches together while using their voice as an instrument as well as I can.
Tell readers about the members involved in The Cypher Junkies and how the formation of the crew came about?
The Cypher Junkies are my brothers. We have known each other for 15+ years. Most of us were involved in the freestyle battle scene in Orange County, New York when we were in high school. This more established group at the time, The Fifth Element, would throw battles around performances of theirs. We all either knew or knew of each other at the time but decided to use our powers for good and come together around then. We’ve had our ups and downs and members come and go, and return again(laughs), but at the end of the day it’s really family. I’d say we operate more as a collective nowadays which is probably for the best as solo projects and “group within the group” stuff just gives us more hands in the pot. I collaborate to this day most frequently with Militant Marxman. We’ve been friends since 5th grade. I got him listening to Hip Hop and he got me into rapping, so it’s super exciting at this stage of the game to be doing my first joint project with him. No idea what we’re calling our group yet or if we’ll even title it but our album is almost done and is gonna have like 18 joints on it, all fire. The last three joints I’ve released are teasers off that, but there is so much more. He also has production and a feature on the 12 track solo album I have done, haven’t leaked anything off of it yet but wait for it (laughs). McNasty is the member I collaborate most frequently with in terms of shows; he’s also on my new album on a joint we did with KONCEPT (another childhood friend of mine)and might be the funniest person I’ve ever met. His stage presence is crazy, and he’s got a brilliant mind when it comes to writing verses. He’s his own worst critic like I am though, so we very much relate in that capacity. SC Static is our newest member. He’s younger than all of us by a few years but ridiculously advanced when it comes to his craft and hella professional. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him fuck up on stage, once, which is kinda foreign to us (laughs). We have our shit together now but back in the day a slip up or two was definitely par for the course. I don’t think Static slips up (he’s on both of the aforementioned new albums). C-Nature is a founding member of the group that we’re collaborating with again. I did an album with him years ago called “Dope Perspective” which is still pretty wild to listen to today. He’s as good at free-styling as anyone I’ve ever met and has always been the flow technician of the group. I’ve got some new heaters on the way with him so look out for those; also check for “Infinite/Finite,” pure heatrocketry we did with Soul Khan on my last EP. And finally, No-Name, who while technically isn’t an active member, just did two shows with me this past week. He’s gone through an inspiring evolution as an artist and a human being, and I’m proud to call him a close friend. He too, is on one of my new albums, so look out for that. The dynamic has evolved, but the Cypher Junkies are still alive and well, and there will be more group shows and group projects once everything on this current trajectory gets completely flushed out.
Who were your major musical influences and why?
If I had to limit my influences to three, which is utter fallacy as they’re innumerable for all of us, I’d have to say Eyedea, Andre 3000, and Lupe Fiasco, in that order. Eyedea was the consummate emcee. He did literally everything well and had his roots as a potent battle rapper; I can relate (laughs). I’m also stuck inside my head like he was and can unfortunately empathize with fighting a lot of those same demons. Do yourself a favor and buy “E & A Day” today and maybe you’ll reconsider your sense of awesomeness as an artist…3 Stacks widened my horizons with regards to what I thought was possible for a rapper to do musically. Dropping “The Love Below” at the peak of Outkast’s powers was one of the bravest things that I’ve ever seen. His conceptual ingenuity and eclectic palette made me reconsider my own potential(in a good way)…Lupe is sheer wit and no fucks given. Seeing I chose the moniker “MC Bravado,” that’s a big part of what I try to do. He speaks his mind, asks questions later, slips ridiculous references in the catchiest of places, and the sheer scope of what he’s doing is always ambitious. Lupe clearly isn’t a fan of industry politics and has forged his own path, predominately “the road less traveled” at that, hats off to him.
Describe an MC Bravado performance in detail for readers who have yet to see your show.
My performances are always high energy as cliche as that sounds. I don’t feel like thinking of a verbose or flowery way to put it. I cannot sit still on stage; it’s like rap tourettes as fucked up as that sounds. I have zero control over my bodily movement up there and consistently give every ounce of my being. I’m sweating more than Patrick Ewing during warmups by the end of the first song, and it only goes up from there. I also don’t ever rap over my own vocals, excluding ad-libs and the occasional hook. I want you to hear the breathing, the spontaneity, the ugly imperfections and all if you see me live. I want you to walk away with a completely different experience than you would from the record you stream online or (gasp) bought a physical copy of. I try to vary my content to strike that nice balance between kicking knowledge and spewing irreverence. I like to go acapella; I literally freestyle verses within the song structure sometimes. I’m a tuxedo t-shirt up there: formal but I’m here to party. Shouts to Cal Naughton Jr.
What projects are you currently working on and how will the new tracks differ from your past material?
Right now I’m working on a project called Hip-Hop*; it’s a 12 song solo album that’s kind of conceptual in that the asterisk represents omission, correction, requiring further explanation. I’m putting out an eclectic record here that I think features every element one could ask for in an ideal Hip Hop album today, but done to the umpteenth power. I found the asterisk prudent because it’s a record you’ll need to dig through and annotate; it’s symbolic of my own omission from the biggest stage, what the game has been missing in spades. The project has production and features from Nitty Scott, J57, OnCue, KONCEPT, PaceWon, EP of The Doppelgangaz, Teddy Roxpin, Real Deal, DeeJay Element, and more. It’s a fucking masterpiece that you’ll get to hear in the very near future. The project I spoke of earlier with Marxman is still untitled, but we are almost done. While “asterisk” is a more eclectic album, this joint with Marxman is meant to be your raw Hip Hop album executed at an “All-Madden” level. We haven’t titled it yet, but it’s almost done and has some crazy features that I’m not at liberty to speak on just yet. I rhyme on every song, Marxman produced every song and rhymes on some. That one is a classic as well. I very much feel like I’m at my apex creatively right now and will do everything in my power to bottle and maintain it for as long as I can.
What are your goals for the future?
Once these records are out, I want to complete my transition from teaching into the industry full time. As much as I love teaching, I need to give touring the world a shot. Europe loves my brand of Hip Hop. I need to fly over the pond and put in work with the fans over there. I’ve been very well-received critically but don’t wanna be the box-office bomb that critics adore. I don’t want to be like many of my favorite writers and die broke, drunk, belligerent, and drugged, only to be revered much further posthumously. I need to keep reaching out to more and more of my target audience and continue to deliver the “pure, raw, uncut, who the fuck want what,” to quote Brother Ali (laughs). I also wanna help cultivate dopeness as a writer and publicist for other like-minded individuals. I think said combined hustles will get me where I want to go within a year’s time.
Sounds cool! Any final thoughts and shout outs?
Shouts to you Kevin for asking dope questions and to Insomniac Mag for having me. Shouts to Niyah at EverydayDopeLife.com (launching soon) for giving me my first real shot as a writer. Shouts to the Cypher Junkies, shouts to Brandon and all the rest at or affiliated with Lineup Room Studio. Big up Baltimore Hip Hop in general. Shouts to Andrew Bryan, to my fans, family, and my lady for putting up with the craziness that ensues from this fucked up but beautiful lifestyle. And shouts to everyone I forgot, don’t be sensitive or a dick, it’s not an AOL AIM profile; it’s just a shoutout. ‘Finally, check out MCBravado.com; chances are I have a ton of jams that you’ve yet to hear. Peace, love, and sandwiches yawl.
Interview by Kevin Keith