Three white boards adorn the walls of DJ D-Sharp's room in Soundwave Studios, the largest of which bears a solved algebra equation and inspirational slogan written by rapper Tony Vic: "Radio Fuckwitable." Vic, who works with Sharp so often that he's become a fixture at the rehearsal space, said the words aptly describe his new approach. Since dropping his debut album, The Vic[S]tor[y] Album: Testimonial Music, in 2006, the 28-year-old rapper has focused on making KMEL-ready singles. After all, he explained, "You can put out an album and nobody will ever know who you are."
Still, Vic's first effort gave him a taste of what it's like to be a common man rapper in a cutthroat industry. The youngest in a family of entertainers — his brother Kev Choice also raps and plays jazz piano — Vic has always had a competitive streak. On "That's the Shit" he fantasizes about power and wealth (I got dreams of getting married and having more kids. Starting a dynasty. Record label, businesses, all that shit man); on a still-untitled track he raps about the difficulty of making music without drug money or a trust fund (Is the rap game for the dope boys or the boys that's dope?). Vic christened his independent record label "BTR Music," which stands for "Better Than the Rest."
Call it hubris, but Vic is finally at the point where people know who he is. He's got the looks, the grit, the hustle, the connections, the drama, and the sonorous baritone. Now he just has to sell the records.
As a kid, Vic seemed poised for stardom. He played a part in the touring hip-hop opera Graffiti Blues, and was a member of B.O.B. (aka Boys of Badness, aka the rival of famed boy group Immature). During a teacher's strike his junior year at Skyline High School, he moved to LA for three months and helped his aunt manage Perspective Records. He learned the basics of the rap enterprise — how to gladhand with fans, approach a room of bigwigs in swivel chairs, craft an album that won't wind up in the slush pile, and promote and merchandize yourself without fronting like a baller.
Then real life hit. Vic's father died when he was nineteen. He found himself hopping between jobs and apartments, watching his money run out and barely avoiding eviction. Misfortunes toughened him but also created a reckless interior world. By the time Vic reached his mid-twenties, his rapperly braggadocio side and his damaged, vulnerable side were all in a piece. He wrote most of The Vic[S]tor[y] Album in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, at a time when he would look to the future and see an endless, crushing blankness. "Nobody was really coming around," the rapper said. "All I had was a TV and a table with no glass. Basically, it was just the rim of the table."
A year and a half later, things are starting to look up. Vic, now clad in trendy Air Jordans and a skater hoodie, is ready to make moves again. He contemplates resettling in Southern California, and wonders if it would put him in competition with similar Lotharios. After all, the guy characterizes himself as a commercial rapper. He's an avid KBLX listener; he likes music with a solid 4/4 beat and a bump to it; he talks about women and partying.
Still, "commercial" seems like an odd description for someone who often dwells on loneliness, failed relationships, desiring glamour rather than having it, and wanting the sanctity of a writing chamber (in his best song, "Peaceful," Vic raps about finding solitude over a sped-up Ronnie Laws hook). When he's not in Lothario mode, Vic is a big fan of catharsis. He's eager to make personal connections in a medium that doesn't always lend itself to intimacy. Friends are constantly admonishing him to not put his business out there.
"Maybe I'm just too passionate," the rapper lamented. He seems convinced that if he wants commercial staying power he'll eventually have to choose between telling a story and just getting paid. But in reality, the tension between a sensitive, confessional Tony Vic and a pragmatic, hustling Tony Vic is what makes his humanity show through. It will make him more fuckwitable in the end.
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