Yo, correct me if I'm wrong, but there used to be a time in hip-hop where fashion sense was a requirement. Fedoras, rope chains, and sneakers were once as much a part of the everyday streetwear of b-boys as originality and style. Hoodies and Timberlands eventually became the genre's attire of choice in the 1990s, but before that, to be an MC meant you were the flyest-dressed guy on the block.
There's still a touch of that left, but not like it once was. Twenty-eight-year-old MC Rahsaan is bringing some of that old-school swagger back to hip-hop. He's not trying to be totally retro like Chuck Inglish and Mikey Rocks of the Cool Kids, nor is he stuck in the fantasy that the '80s can be brought back. They can't. Instead, dude is fusing crisp, 2000 and now beats with fresh urban apparel and Big Daddy Kane-esque flow. He's been on the local performance circuit for only a month after moving to Miramar from Brooklyn in April, but he's already gigging three nights a week and getting a lot of attention thrown his way. Most recently, he's been enjoying a short residency rocking at the weekly Miami Live party held at Santos, with a virtual who's who of the entertainment industry in attendance.
Always sporting fresh street gear and the nickname "A Fly Guy" shaved into the side of his head, he's not hard to spot, and it's easy to be attracted to his energy everywhere he goes. It's all a part of the branding that makes Rahsaan one of the hottest artists to watch in South Florida at the moment. And it's also why there's anticipation about his latest release, A Fly Guy's Mixtape, which hits the streets and the blogosphere this week. He's managed to sidestep the backpacker-versus-street rapper divide that continues to plague the hip-hop community (or lack thereof) in the tricounty area and bring something to the party that doesn't exist here: throwback appeal.
Rahsaan, with Dead Prez, Umi, Punchanello, Asia, and Name BrandMonday, May 10, The Bluster, 115 N 21st Ave., Hollywood,$15-$25; show starts at 9 p.m.786-333-9159, www.myspace.com/mellomondays
"I definitely have a style that's a bit different from what cats are used to hearing down here," Rahsaan (pronounced ra-san) says. "But at the same time, I used to live here when I was younger [his grade-school years were spent in Kendall], and I feel like I'm able to rep for both hoods. I been gone for so long, but I still have the authority to rep for Dade County. I think I got the best of both worlds, and that helps my music be more universal."
Rahsaan's journey into hip-hop isn't as common as most people would assume from the sound of his heavy NYC dialect.
Born in Georgetown, Guyana, his initial music of choice was shaped by the Caribbean/South American context he grew up in. His parents would later relocate to Flatbush, Brooklyn, when Rahsaan was 5, and he spent a decade on the streets of New York soaking up as much hip-hop culture as he could. He was, and still is, most attracted to old-school rappers like Big Daddy Kane, Special Ed, and the Notorious B.I.G., not just because all three are from Brooklyn (a borough that is near and dear to Rahsaan's heart) but because their swagger and lyrical styles represented hip-hop at its best.
"Growing up, I just fell in love with the culture and the sound of the music," he says. "It was in my blood, and just seeing it every day left a huge impression on me."
His family would eventually move again, to Kendall in 1988, and Rahsaan was certainly in new territory. But hip-hop was the lone comfort zone he never departed from. His older brother, Selwyn Seyfu Hinds, is the former editor in chief of The Source magazine, and rap culture and its vernacular have been around him for as long as he can remember.
"I started being a battle MC from the jump," he continues. "Started rhyming seriously at 12 but didn't write a song until I was 18. All we ever wanted to do coming up was battle and show niggas how nice we were."
That aggressive battle-rap style comes across in parts of his music today. He's not dissing imaginary opponents, nor is he trying to murder people on wax. But his cadence and confidence reek of the New York underground scene he immersed himself in after graduating from Killian High School in '98, going to Florida A&M University for a year and a half, dropping out, and heading back to Brooklyn in hopes of becoming the next big rap star.
"I tried the whole school thing and all, but I was too focused on music," he says. "I've always known that this was what I wanted to do. When I was at FAMU, I was a freestyle champion. After I linked up with my crew in Tallahassee, we were getting radio play — college radio and city radio stations. I started feeling myself and felt like I had Tallahassee on lock."
In that regard, he's the Kanye West-style college dropout who bailed to follow his dreams.
"I figured, let me just move to New York and go get a deal now."
The record deal never materialized, but an internship at Def Jam opened the door to a world he'd only dreamed about. Through his older brother's connections as a hip-hop journalist, Rahsaan found himself in the same rooms with Lyor Cohen, Russell Simmons, Kevin Liles (all of whom helped build Def Jam into a record label heavyweight) and other tastemakers of the genre. He raps about some of this in his music, and naysayers would probably assume none of it was real.
"Everything that I rap about is true. At least 90 percent of it. That other small percentage is stuff that happened to people so close to me that I can talk about it. Being real on the mic is the only way I know how to be. I don't make up shit."
The sincerity in his lyrics is vivid. Sometimes, it's bone-chillingly refreshing, as topics like abortions with former lovers and the death of his father at age 15 are all fair game. He knows he's not a thug — most of his rhymes are closer to emo than hood, but it's his raw honesty and decision to open himself up that win.
"It's definitely easier for me to be more honest in my rhymes than I am regularly," Rahsaan says. "I say shit in a verse that I would never want to talk about in a regular conversation. This is my way of releasing."
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Listen to the tracks of his releases, God's Gift and A Fly Guy's Mixtape, and there is a sense that Rahsaan is in need of therapy and we are his couch.
But the gritty production of the Marksmen, who carve out all 25 beats on Rahsaan's latest cooker, help balance this out.
He says he feels good being back in Miami, and you can find him in all types of venues from South Beach to hood lounges, blessing the crowd with his gift.
"When I think of Rakim's 'Microphone Fiend...,'" Rahsaan says, "I'm the epitome of that shit. I don't care how raunchy the venue is, how shitty the sound system is; as long as you have a mic in the building that works, I want that shit. Hip-hop is my drug man... I just love it."