Local MC Wordsmith Looks To Hip-Hop’s Past To Shape His Future
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“I think longevity and being an artist, not just an MC that just freestyles and battles, that’s what I’m all about trying to do,” Baltimore MC Wordsmith says earnestly. He’s sitting in a Mount Vernon pub, occasionally fingering the brim of his tan fitted cap, eyes lighting up every time the discussion swings back to the classic hip-hop sound he loves so much, even more animated whenever he talks up his plans for the future. The 26-year-old rapper, born Anthony F. Parker Jr., is nothing if not ambitious. He’s only just dropped his first mix tape, Statements and Stipulations (730/HipHopGame.com), and he’s already glowing about two albums he’s got in the can, Classic Material and Rockstrumentals.
“You can’t give people everything about you right away,” he says. “You’ve got to give it to them slow, so they have something to look forward to, that you’re reinventing yourself on every project.”
On Statements and Stipulations, Wordsmith’s got the slightly nasal flow of Talib Kweli, without the blocky enunciation and stiff phrasing that often finds Kweli tripping over his lines. And like Kweli, Wordsmith is unashamedly a throwback, with an eye on saving the rap game from what he sees as the evil influence of the pop charts. And unlike whatever regional sound Baltimore’s rap scene is developing, Statements and Stipulations’s beats were made in places as far flung as Germany.
“I work with more producers from around the world than I do from the United States, producers from Denmark, Poland, whatever,” Wordsmith says. “I’m open to that, because these producers overseas . . . they’re into emotion, rather than just getting on a beat machine and making a club song.”
Born the son of a career colonel, Wordsmith bounced around the globe as an Army brat. He says that moving around so much “helped in my music because I was exposed to so many different cultures, and so many different races of people, that there was no way I could be prejudiced.” Eventually landing in Maryland for college, first at Morgan State and then Salisbury, he started a promising football career before an injury led him down a decidedly nontraditional path for a future MC.
“My mother used to always push me, because she saw me do a play when I was little,” he says. “When I was in college, I tore my knee up in football my junior year, so I didn’t have nothing to do but rehab. So it’s like . . . let me try acting, let me listen to my mother and try acting. And it helps me in my music, too, because especially when I perform, it’s very theatrical. I’m comfortable onstage, I’m used to it.”
After college, he settled in Baltimore. “When I first got out [of college], I did a few plays in Columbia, but I stopped because I started working with a producer from Sony,” he says. “It didn’t work out, and that’s kind of why I’m independent right now.”
Wordsmith’s first encounter with the industry was an object lesson in Rule No. 4080. “He just disappeared on me,” he says. “He called me one day and said, ‘I’m moving.’ And I called him a week or two later and his phone was disconnected. I had a 50-page contract in my hand, I just didn’t sign it because it was a bad contract.”
He does, eventually, want to sign to a major, if for no other reason than to make use of his theater background. “When I tour, I want to have a big set, because I want it to be theatrical,” he says. “Having sets, acting out certain stuff in my rhymes, actually having other actors onstage. I want to bring that to the hip-hop form, like you’re coming to a play but it’s also a hip-hop thing.”
Dreams of million-dollar revues aside, right now Wordsmith is on the grind, one that began in earnest about four years ago and has seen him slowly build up an audience just about everywhere except Baltimore. He’s even managed to tour in places where you weren’t even sure hip-hop existed—Hamtramck, Mich.; Marysville, Calif.—all without playing many shows at home.
“It’s a little weird, but I just think wherever they accept you first, you need to take advantage of that,” he says. “Right now my name’s pretty good in the underground scene, and that’s the first place you’ve got to make it, those real hip-hop fans who will always check on who’s coming up now, on who’s doing something different.”
For Wordsmith, doing something different means looking back to a time he feels like has been lost. “Classic Material is just . . . ’90s hip-hop,” he says. “It’s classic ’90s beats, it’s got jazz in it, it’s got soul in it. That project is, like, easy-listening hip-hop. It’s the kind of record you can just sit in your car with and ride to.” And though it’s got a title that sounds like a shout-out to ’90s great Pete Rock, Wordsmith claims Rockstrumentals is on some genuinely new shit. “We named it Rockstrumentals because it’s going to be the first album where rock beats are re-created on a beat machine, no live band in a studio,” he says.
And, like many rappers, Wordsmith is less interested in pushing the envelope than reaching as many people as possible. He’s just not interested in going the BET: Uncut route to get there. “I want to make music my parents can listen to, that’s important to me,” he says. “You want to put your music out there that all ages can listen to, not just one demographic. It makes me a better artist, it makes me more creative. It’s easy to throw a curse word in there.”