Monthly Archives: September 2014

Keys:The Greatest Rapper You’ve Never Heard Of

Hi guys, it’s been a while. Since last I wrote, I went back to school. I’m at TCC now thanks to the GI Bill, going for a Business Administration degree. One of the classes I’m taking this semester is a writing course, and our first paper is a personal narrative. First thing that came to my mind, well apart from my extra in ‘Chasing Amy’ story, was an abbreviated version of my attempts as a rapper over the years. I just wrote a new version of that just now, with more description to it, figured who better to look over my writing than the handful of people that read my writing, so feel free to leave some comments below, and I’ll be back with more reviews and other randomness soon. Enjoy.

Keys: The Greatest Rapper You’ve Never Heard Of

It’s August 2012 in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. A speck of gray dots the endless blue of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the cruiser, the USS Vella Gulf, returning home to Norfolk, Virginia after an at times arduous 8 month deployment. The crew, normally overworked, underpaid, and stressed has earned a couple hour’s respite, and is assembled on the flight deck to enjoy the ship’s third and final talent show of the deployment.

There are various acts to be seen on this day, from jugglers…why are there always jugglers at any given talent completion? To martial arts demonstrations to one musical act in particular people have been eager to see perform again since the previous talent show. And that act is the rapper known as Keys, or as I like to call him, me.

While the crew is watching the show up on the flight deck, I’m down inside the ship, changing into my civilian clothes, a privilege of the day, going over the lines in my head one last time. And I can’t help but think, how did I get here?

My mind thinks back to some thirteen years prior, or some three lifetimes ago as it felt for me, to October, 1998. I was attending school at the Art Institute Of Philadelphia, in a foolish dream to become a filmmaker. I was laying out in my bed one day in my dorm room, which was a converted Best Western motel, reading comic books, while my roommate, a Jamaican with the most presidential name I’ve ever heard in my life, Garfield Grant, was on his side of the tiny room with his friends engaged in a cipher, or a rap circle for the uninitiated.

I’d never really been that interested in hip hop at all at that point, but I was fascinated with the word play and the ability to come up with these rhymes off the top of their heads, as I listened in while reading the latest issue, seeing what trouble Spider-Man had gotten himself into this month. Garfield called me to add a verse, most likely as a joke, but I still attempted one nonetheless.

“Riddle me this, and riddle me that, who’s afraid of the big black bat?/ I’m back in black, like Sting/ Like Coca Cola, I’m the real thing/Going back in time so call me the Terminator/Coming at you hard and fast like Schwarzanegger”

They were impressed, as was I. I didn’t know I had it in me. I said a few more rhymes that night, nothing as memorable as that first line, but it didn’t matter. A new creative fire was lit under me.
As I mentioned, I knew literally nothing about hip hop, so I asked my friend more versed in hip hop than I, who’s nickname was Sparky, to help give me a crash course in hip hop. So I listened to what he had, a collection of albums ranging from Method Man and Busta Rhymes to the Beastie Boys.

One of the first lessons he gave me about my own rapping was write what you know. Other rappers speak of the streets, or how much money they have. I had neither of those things going on with me so I rapped in pop culture references and nerdy things. Essentially I was doing nerdcore years before I knew that was an actual subgenre of rap music.

Next up was coming up with a rap alias, would you rather listen to a James Smith, or an LL Cool J? Garfield gave me the name, Myzery, but I changed it to MZA after discovering there was already a rapper with that name.

I did my first song as MZA at a school talent show, called ‘MZAllenium’, was a pretty big hit, and soon after I was asked by some friends who were in a band to appear with them on a CD called Take A Bite Out Of Rhyme, which featured rock bands covering old school hip hop songs. I was going to be featured on their cover of ‘The Humpty Dance’, but unfortunately I was kicked out of the school for failing grades before that could happen.

Some years had passed, and life had taken me to a different path, to the Navy and the USS Vella Gulf, and I started coming up with some new rhymes to pass the endless boredom that is most of a Navy deployment. My friend Sean Hensley, who also liked to rap, let me borrow his spare iPod loaded with some artists I hadn’t heard much of, or at all, and artists like TechN9ne, Hollywood Undead, and Immortal Technique became my new soundtrack, and inspiration.

I performed at the first talent show, my first new song in a decade, called Re:Emergency, over the beat to the Skrillex song ‘First of the Year’. I felt so nervous about performing again, but I’d said the lines of the song in my head and to myself so many times that the performance went off without a hitch.
Coming up with material for the second talent show was a bit more of a challenge, as I didn’t have another instrumental ready to go that I could rhyme over. But I found another song, some random piece of dubstep and put together a great track there as well.

Then it came time for the last talent show, I was moreso nervous this time, not because of the performing in as much as it was the song I came up with was the best song I’d ever written, catchy, with an extremely singable chorus “For the fellas, the ladies, freaks and the geeks, if you want fun than follow me!”
I took the stage, and the beat for the Hollywood Undead song ‘Comin In Hot’ boomed from the stereo system set up for the event. And I started to rap. The song was as popular with the crew as I would have hoped, people singing along, laughing at the patchwork of pop culture references I set out, and even had backup dancers by the middle of the performance.

I announced, following the performance that I would record an album, called ‘Awkward Til I Hit The Stage’, upon our return home, and after we got home, I intended to follow up that promise, so I made a video for Re:Emergency that’s still on YouTube to this day, but whatever muse I had floating in the middle of the ocean was lost on me. That, plus my video to this day has only had 43 views, so it was time to retire Keys/MZA to the inner workings of my mind once again. But, you never know when that inspiration may spark again someday.


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