Featured Music: Wednesday, September 8, 2004
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Drinks in the face are nothing new to local underground MC Tahiti, a self-professed ‘loser.’
‘I’d rather be wack than carrying a mac-10 and be rappin’ about murderin’ black men.’
‘My mother tried to get me to sit down and learn the piano, but I just wanted to play Atari.’
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
License to Ill

If rhyming about life’s ups and downs makes Tahiti wack, then so be it.

By ANTHONY MARIANI

There’s gangsta rap — music cobbled together with ProTools and rhymes about poppin’ caps, slingin’ sacks, and pimpin’ ho’s. Then there’s underground rap. A whole ‘nother ball of wiggity-wiggity wax, this style forces itself in the opposite direction by employing real musicians and instruments and revolving around rhymes with a little more substance than what you’d find in last night’s police log.

Texas isn’t known for its underground rap. In the land of the Getto Boys, Three 6 Mafia, and South Park Mexican, flossin’ and bling-blingin’ reigns. No one wants to listen to anything that doesn’t drape over the ears like Tony Montana’s best white suit. Rappers concerned with the corniness of everyday, like having a broken heart or being unable to pay rent, are straight-up wack.

But one local rapper embraces the diss. Taking his cue from the most successful underground rap acts, like A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, and De La Soul (all East Coast-based groups), Tahiti uses his outsider’s perch to attack what he considers a lesser art, one that perpetuates African-American stereotypes, fosters unhealthy self-images, and simply sounds juvenile.

The title of his soon-to-be-released e.p. explains it all. The Birth of Wack holds a mirror to gangsta rap and gets a few good laughs at the tired, clichéd old reflection staring back. With a steely pen, an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture, and an ability to conjure comedy without being silly, Tahiti proves himself an accomplished satirist. His words are perfect complements to the sonics, provided by S-1 of the rap outfit Strange Fruit. Non-mechanical and as organic as a jazz band, the beats and melodies — a mix of bluesy saxophones, swaying rhythms, and soft, somber, twinkling synth lines — paint an urban skyline at night, where the world isn’t as black and white as gangsta rap suggests but more mysterious, more contemplative, more seductive.

Tahiti was raised middle-class. Both of his parents graduated from Howard University with degrees in music. His mother taught piano; his father served in the Air Force. The elder of two brothers, Tahiti always liked listening to pop, mostly old-school R&B (Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway). But his interest only went as far as listening. “My mother tried to get me to sit down and learn the piano,” he said, “but I just wanted to play Atari.” He signed up for band in elementary school on a goof. Claiming he could play the trombone, he was given a seat for a Christmas performance. Having never touched the instrument before in his life, Tahiti proceeded to hum his way through the event.

Growing up all over the country, from Michigan to California to Arkansas, Tahiti said that he actually learned of rap from — of all creatures — a white kid. The time was the early 1980s. The place: South Dakota. The song: The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” arguably the tune that both launched a zillion-dollar industry and forever changed American popular culture.

“I was obsessed,” he recalled. “I remember staying up late, trying to write my own rhymes.”

It was also around this time that Tahiti embraced his other artistic love, filmmaking. “I bought a home movie camera and just started,” he said.

Rap and filmmaking? Yes, Tahiti was born to be wack. He made it official in high school, when his Bionic Beat Crew — a DJ outfit he founded with one of his brothers and some friends — challenged another local DJ to a battle at a party. “We all had black jump suits, with Old English lettering on the back, turntables from RadioShack,” he said. “And this dude, he had nothing.” Then the kicker: “And he beat our asses.”

Tahiti’s two passions were just hobbies until he landed at the University of Arkansas. That’s when he and a friend began dee-jaying a radio show and spinning records at parties, and when Tahiti began studying film.

He continued his education — both inside and outside of the classroom — at the University of Texas at Arlington, to which he transferred in 1989 following another of his father’s reassignments. Then a perfect storm formed. At around the time Tahiti got his heart broken by a young lady and was given a book of song samples, he met some “cats” from Benbrook interested in the rap game. “I thought, ‘Man, this’ll help me get over this girl.’” Native Poet was created in 1991. “We ordered clothes from New York,” Tahiti recalled. “We tried to get that whole East Coast vibe.” With Tahiti as DJ, the group played shows at various venues across the Metroplex, including Trees, the Aqua Lounge, the Art Bar, and Club Exodus. Tahiti dropped out of school and began concentrating on both of his artistic loves while working various relatively white-collar jobs and fathering a son.

After the departure of some members, the group eventually reformed as The Free Agents, with Tahiti as one of the MC’s. Their single, “For All The Girls,” received some airplay on local commercial and non-commercial radio. The group performed at both South by Southwest and North by Northeast, two of the country’s largest music industry events, and all across the Metroplex. The videos made by the group were produced by Tahiti.

The Free Agents, according to Tahiti, are still together. They’re currently “working on stuff, at a home studio” — which, Tahiti said, usually means “watching old ’70s movies and playing PS2.”

Tahiti’s solo project is a direct result of The Free Agents’ inertia. “It’s definitely from not getting anything done with them.”

Beat-maker S-1 fell into the mix after one of his outfit’s local performances left Tahiti in awe. “I watched one of their shows, and he gave me a c.d. I listened to the beats, but I didn’t have any money. So I told him ‘I’ll shoot some videos for you, if you give me the beats.’ He hooked me up with seven beats for the e.p.”

In addition to S-1, a cast of thousands helped birth The Birth of Wack, including saxophone player Jason Davis, guitarist Joe Amato, violinist Leonard Haywood, singers Geisha Woodard and Ezell, DJ scratcher Wiz-T, producer Ty Macklin of Alpha and Omega Entertainment, and co-MC’s Chuck (from the Free Agents), Keynote, Headkrack, and Most Hi. “It is,” said Tahiti, “the anti-rap c.d.”

He’s right, on at least two tracks, including one in which our hero is chopped in the neck and pepper-sprayed by a woman he’s just said hi to, and the title track, in which Tahiti raps about being “wack like what your drunk uncle be dressin’ in,” “wack like big-screen, rent-to-own tv’s,” and “wack like Big Daddy Kane when he posed buck-nekkid in Playgirl.” Whatever Tahiti is, he’s not mainstream. “But, yo,” he raps. “I’d rather be wack than kick raps about jugglin’ crack or brag about brothas hustlin’ sacks / I’d rather be wack than carrying a mac-10 and be rappin’ about murderin’ black men / I’d rather be wack than turn my back on my black people while we under attack.”

Mainstream radio fare it’s not. Then again, Tahiti — with his privileged background — might not be allowed to rap about the streets, considering his distance from them. “Rap’s always been about rapping about what’s real,” he said. “I get dissed by women at clubs, I drive a shitty truck. I’ll admit that I’m a loser.”


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