Rashad prepares to take over the hip-hop world – without leaving his hometown
By Travis HoewischerPublished December 1, 2011
Ask anyone what they had on their mind as a 14-year-old and their answers would likely stay within pretty small confines: girls/boys, skateboards/bikes, sports, etc.
Except for Rashad Thomas. He was shopping for an ASR-10 keyboard.
And he didn’t have to save up his allowance either; 14-year-old Rashad had a record deal with RCA.
In the two decades since the hip-hop wunderkind started making beats and writing songs in his room, he has climbed several jagged edges of the mountain that is the music industry, fiercely loyal to his vision throughout the climb.
It’s that tenacious focus that has kept Rashad from putting momentum over music; he once turned down a personal request from Beyonce to produce her first solo album to instead keep working with his rap group The 3RD, and when he felt he wasn’t being treated the right away at Universal Records, he walked away in 2003, shelving his Elevator Music album that had already gained national buzz from the single “Sweet Misery.”
Today, Rashad’s maturity as an artist, producer and performer has created his finest work to date; his stellar snare-and-horns production on Lincoln Way Nights, Brooklyn-by-way-of-Massillon star Stalley’s breakout summer record landed them both on BET’s 106 and Park and MTV Jams.
Now, he’s set to release what is essentially his first official album, Museum, a sprawling hybrid of R&B hooks, rattling bass and impressive bars, a robust showpiece for the Columbus artist’s diverse toolkit.
“I guess I love fluffy, great R&B music and hardcore-ass rap music. I want to see them side by side all the time,” he said.
The right opportunity to launch Museum has been a long time coming.
“It’s hard to say I never got a start, because I got my start – I just didn’t finish it off,” Rashad says, leafing through a stack of soul 45s at downtown’s Spoonful Records. “I’m excited man, I’m excited. I feel like everything has come up to this point. [Museum] is so much bigger – I definitely want to cover a lot of ground, and I want to get the chance to do it in one album, you know what I mean? But that’s my goal.”
Rashad’s early opportunities and his atypical trajectory have afforded him a unique position in the hip-hop industry. While the large majority of independent musicians stay that way due to a lack of label support, Rashad has been courted so many times and for so long that he has the luxury of keeping the music at the forefront of his mind.
“I didn’t get a chance to go through what everybody else did; I didn’t get a chance to become 16 and get a real job and have real life hit me,” he said. “I was 14 and got a $30,000 check to be in the music industry. So my mindset has always been that’s what I’m worth, you know what I mean? I would never turn back. Good things just continue to happen, so why would I stop believing now?”
Rashad’s production repertoire and publishing deals have allowed him to continue making a living without a major-label success – and without making the jump to either coast.
Staying in Columbus and working with local emcees and artists has become as important to his legacy as any of his own output; today, he considers himself a mentor to younger members of the hip-hop scene, the way people like Columbus legends DJ Shadow, J. Rawls and Camu Tao were to him.
“I should have and could have left, I know a lot of people that did,” he said. “I look at Kanye West, for example: he left Chicago to go to New Jersey, but that was a one-man project, and that’s what his whole life was. And my life is the exact opposite. I’ve never made a dollar here music industry-wise. But the town and the camaraderie I have with the people I work with here mean everything to me. I can go to L.A. by myself, but it wouldn’t be the same.
“I’m okay with being in Ohio and just doing my thing,” he added. “My dream is to have a beautiful mansion in Bexley, man, and build up my city. That’s how I look at it, that’s my Beverly Hills.”
More than staying true to his Ohio roots, staying in the Midwest has kept his music from absorbing too many of the trends he’s heard from West and East coast hip-hop, he says.
“I was just in New York and it seems like everybody was making the same tracks every day, just like the industry. And once you start doing industry things, you lose your voice,” he said.
Plus, the ability to place a marker on the hip-hop map next to the titans of the industry – all out of his third-floor apartment studio – is a source of pride.
“One time, I remember my video coming on right after a Jay-Z video, or something,” he said. “And I thought, ‘I did that in my room, in my house, up on Broad Street, without any big equipment.’ That’s amazing to me.”
Rashad has not only acheived such feats without any big equipment, but also without any of the big label drama that comes with that big equipment.
“The Internet allows me to give you my product, no filter. I don’t have to ask nobody – there’s no dude behind a desk saying, ‘change this, do this,’” he said.
Today, Rashad is still the same focused musician he was as a teenager plucking his father’s bass guitar and hand-looping keyboard licks on twin cassette players. Older, wiser and savvier, he’s poised to put Ohio on the map in a big way with the release of Museum.
“I’m a musically driven person, I’m not a musician who is driven,” he said. “I’m going to take hip hop seriously,” he said. “I’m not going to make some silly rap song and just sing on the hook to make some money; my rap music is going to be deep, and we’re going to talk about something. It’s going to be authentic.”
To preview tracks from Museum, slated for release just after the first of the year, visit www.elev8thegame.com.