When it comes to the rap game, the Midwest isn't the easiest place to make a name for yourself.
While East coast rap is characterized by wordplay, delivery and complex metaphors, the West coast is known for gangsta rap with aggressive lyrics and heavy beats.
The South replaced lyricism with simplistic rhymes, catchy verses, and a distinct sound, but when it comes to the Midwest, it can be difficult to define the "typical" sound.
Born in Columbia, MO, yet raised in St. Louis, where people are less accepting of local rap, 23-year-old rapper Evi Da Prince knows the struggle of coming up in the Midwest.
“It’s a good feeling knowing people think you can bring something to the industry,” he said. “They’ll tell me ‘I hear you and don’t hear 2 Chainz, I hear you, a brand new wave.’ A lot of people that I didn’t even think would give me the time of day [are] hitting me up about their favorite songs.”
At just 14, walking around with his Walkman, the sounds of Biggie and Pac in his ear, Evi began to realize his passion was in music.
But those dreams didn't translate well with those around him.
“At first no one really supported me,” he explained. “They were like ‘it’s just another dream, you need to stick to school,’ but the older I got and the better my sound started to get, that’s when my family was like ‘okay, he's actually good.’
Small town rappers like Evi can easily be underestimated, yet instead of trying to break the small town mold, this Missouri native has learned to embrace it.
"You got to be proud of where you’re from, in order for where you’re from to embrace you and support you,” he explained. "I like it when people label me a small town CoMo (Columbia, MO) rapper because then they hear the music and it’s kind of like… ‘wow I didn’t expect that.’"
He added, “Nobody’s really checking for the next big thing from [Missouri], so you have to do what you don’t want to do and earn the respect. Then the people that know us, they don’t look at you as a star they look at you as some they grew up with, you really have to earn the respect.”
Continue reading as Evi reveals the dark side of the music industry, and why he advises independent labels over mainstream.
When a hit single titled “I’m Supa” begin generating buzz, big names took notice, and led to his first contract back in 2009 with a Def Jam affiliate called Citi Under Siege.
But in the midst of things, the Midwest rapper learned “that just because you’re signed doesn't mean everything will work out like you think.”
He reveals, “If you got a hot record you don’t need a big label to break that record because really they’re going to take most of your money, give you a single deal, and then drop you unless you happen to be one of the few that seep through the cracks to get a decent deal.”
Now one of five artists signed to Savage Block Productions LLC, an independent label, he’s no longer confined to the image a label wants to portray.
Evi shares that becoming an independent artist has helped establish his brand.
"I can really tap into what I do and polish my skills," he explained. "As far as videos and photography, stuff I didn’t have in the past, now I do [with Savage Block.]. I'd say just market yourself, build a brand, and be the best you can be, not just what a label wants you to be."
When asked about his first project America’s Nightmare, Evi responded, “It was so like … why? We didn’t know sh*t, and I don’t know who I thought I was, but I was not myself. I was everybody else.”
From America’s Nightmare to More About the Music, to his recent project Groundwork, the growth is more than evident.
“I’m learning to stay true to who I am, instead of trying to do what’s hot,” he explained. “I really learned how to tap into personal feelings and real life situations and storytelling. I learned how to switch up my flow and how my voice should sound on certain beats. Every time I do a new project it’s a completely new learning process.”
Groundwork is a 16-track EP embodying the diversity of Evi Da Prince as an artist. Tracks like ‘Overrated,” a conscious-style track reveals who the young rapper is, and how he got to the point he’s at. ‘My Brothers Keeper,’ with lyrics so deep that it’s impossible for you not to feel something,. Then there’s singles for the ladies, like ‘Curtain Call,” that Evi lends his own vocals and songwriting to. And rounding out with records like ‘Ben Frank,’ featuring Jennings rapper M.V.P. that has potential to be a hit record, Groundwork has something for everyone.
With his debut album Headstart set to release this year, Evi is continuing to push his project and grow as an artist.
He says 2013 is going to be his test year, “I’ve learned a lot of the music and the industry so now it’s all about applying it.”
Download Groundwork here.