RhymeStyleTroop: The Heart of the City

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Photo courtesy of RhymeStyleTroop

San Diego emcee RhymeStyleTroop teamed up with Philadelphia production team Dead Poetz Society for an album titled “The Heart of the City.” The 12-track album is tailor made for fans of raw beats and rhymes. Dead Poetz’ chopped samples perfectly complement the lush lyrics of Troop.

The Heart of the City is produced entirely by Dead Poetz Society and comes to us courtesy of Goon MuSick. The project features appearances by D-Styles, 60 East, and Mista Sinista.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to RhymeStyleTroop about her love of Gang Starr, her road to sobriety, working with Dead Poetz Society, and their new album, The Heart of the City.

TRHH: Why’d you call the new album The Heart of the City?

RhymeStyleTroop: Well, you can’t spell “heart” without “art” and specifically in order to really put your heart into your music you gotta be in touch with your inner child. To me, my heart and art goes hand in hand. I can’t have one without the other. Meaning that skills and technicality is not good enough. If the soul is not the pulse behind it, to me, it’s not good enough. Anybody has skill, anybody can pick up a microphone and rap. When I hear music at least I want to feel what they’re conveying. I wanna feel that shit. Me being from San Diego — South Bay I feel like I’m the best emcee right now, you know what I mean? I am and I say that with pride and with honor because nobody can fuck with me in the sense of battling, recording, just as an emcee of my caliber.

Not saying it stops there, I’m going to continue to grow and expand. But to me, I am the heart of the city. I am Hip-Hop. I embody this culture to the T. I don’t just pick up a microphone on the weekends and post something and say, “Oh, I’m an emcee.” This is something I give my life to. I gave my soul to Hip-Hop but I never gave my soul to the industry, hence why The Heart of the City. The album cover, shout out to my boy Kenos, he’s the one who did it, it’s the heart chakra. To me it was being in that energetic frequency of my heart chakra and what that means is just being more in tune with why I fell in love with Hip-Hop in the first place.

TRHH: To that point, you have a lyric on the song “Heart Chakra” where you say, “What good is music without the message?” What do you say to those who believe music is supposed to be fun and they consider music with messages boring and preachy?

RhymeStyleTroop: They have every right to feel that way. They’re just not in the spirit of acceptance and openness to hear those things, and that’s okay. Sometimes even in my playlist I’ll go from some Gang Starr to let’s say some Gucci Mane [laughs]. Totally different feel, but I still feel it. I still feel the soul behind them both — behind the group and the emcee. It just depends. For me personally, what I love about Hip-Hop is the message in the soul. So, whether you’re talking about that street shit or whether you’re talking about some conscious shit, I need to feel that shit! More so with the feeling of the message and the messenger too as well.

As I get older I’m learning that the messenger is just as important as the message, because that’s how you’re going to feel the message. That’s how the audience is going to be able to accept it and receive it. So, with music being too preachy I mean it’s just probably because it’s not your artist that you want to hear that message from. A lot of other emcees could be saying what I’m saying in different ways and maybe a fan of Hip-Hop prefers the way that they’re relaying it, and that’s cool. Me as an artist, I’m not for everybody and I don’t wanna be, because then I wouldn’t be me.

TRHH: How did you end up doing the album with Dead Poetz Society?

RhymeStyleTroop: We followed each other on Instagram and were seeing each other’s music and stuff and I really rocked with their sound and they rocked with mine. Ended up just talking and it gradually just turned randomly into, “Oh, let’s work.” We wouldn’t say a whole album yet, just like on a track. I don’t know, randomly one day I was in my room I’m like, “Nah, I could feel a whole album with them. I don’t want to work on one track with them, I want an album.” Because the type of feeling that conveyed from their beats was hence related to the heart chakra. It just felt like that soul of Hip-Hop that I really love — that boom bap. It reminded me of Gang Starr production, I’m like, “Yo, let’s do it!”

We started getting on the phone and building and talking about life, which is to me is really important. If I want to work with you on an album I want to build with you and see where you’re at in your conscious state and if it matches the talent. To me that’s very important for me personally as an artist. Not every time do I get the opportunity to do that, like for instance I have a song with Edo.G. We didn’t know each other. It was an introduction through Tone Spliff, so yeah, it’s not every time that I get the opportunity to do that. But for the most part I’m a very personal person, so, I like to get on the phone — I’m very old school about it.

TRHH: How is The Heart of the City different from Cypher?

RhymeStyleTroop: Very different. Cypher is more like a soldier in the trenches. Heart of the City is a soldier healing from the war wounds.

TRHH: Okay, explain. The war wounds happened during Cypher or between the two?

RhymeStyleTroop: While I was making Cypher I was dealing and healing with my sexual trauma, also getting clean off drugs and alcohol, and also life. It was hard. So much other things, betrayal, you know it was like literally a soldier in the trenches but without an army. How do I feel now from the Heart of the City is being more real with myself, being more accountable, and healing from those war wounds and not allowing myself to stay stagnant and to get back into more of a flow state. I feel like with Cypher I was more aggressive — raw and gutter.

With The Heart of the City I’m singing a lot, I’m showing my feminine energy, which my feminine energy is super sacred for me. The masculine energy comes off way easy. To me that’s too much of an easy route for me to take, so, I challenge myself to honoring the divine feminine within myself and being able to put her out there in the forefront. Which is being in self-acceptance as a whole, because it’s like as above, so below. You can’t have life with just the good, you gotta have it with the bad. The Heart of the City is me being really vulnerable,where Cypher was me being more protective and defensive.

TRHH: you mentioned getting clean, how were you able to do that?

RhymeStyleTroop: So, in the beginning I did it off self-will and with God and praying. A lot of it was self-will, so, what happened there was I had relapsed. I had two years and some change clean off drugs and alcohol, but I had relapsed recently and my new clean date is September 15th 2023. This time I’m in a program now. I have a sponsor, I’m working the steps of NA, I am being more realistic that it’s not just the drugs and alcohol. It’s the relationships, not the people, because I’m not blaming the people. It’s the dynamic of the relationships in which my trauma leaks out. So, this time around I’m being more uncomfortable and I’m not relying on just self-will. I need people’s help, I need a program, I need to work the program, I need to step out of my comfort zone.

So, this time it feels more real because of that. Self-will only takes you so far in life. It’s like a metaphor, like me driving and I was driving for like 2 years and some change, being in charge of my life, so I thought. And then finally I came to a stopping point where I almost crashed, and I don’t want to get too much into details, this is still a metaphor, by the way, I wasn’t drinking and driving. I almost crashed and it could have been a fatal crash, but it wasn’t and I thank God. There was a divine intervention and I told God,”Hey, God you take the wheel because I gotta go in the back seat. I gotta be a student again.” So, right now I feel like I’m in like student energy for a lot of things because I’m open to grow off the knowledge I already had. The knowledge that I had accumulated so far that led me to a point, but I can’t ascend or evolve if I don’t get uncomfortable with myself, meaning being real about my character defects, and about my triggers, and about the dark parts about me and accepting them, nurturing them, understanding them, and forgiving myself.

It’s easy for me to forgive other people, it’s hard to forgive myself. I’m very hard on myself, which is good to a point because it makes me very resilient and stuff. With life, I’m very open about things because my thing is I want to be genuine as possible with my audience, with my fans, with my music. Not just talk about the good shit, and the accolades, or whatever you wanna call it. Also, the human shit because to me the artists I love they’re real! They talk about their hardships. Those are the artists that I’m influenced by. They can cry, they can be mad in front of you, but they never give up. And for me, I’m never gonna give up. I might have setbacks, but my thing is now I don’t want a setback to be the same as it was before, because then I’m not evolving. It’s just a continuous cycle.

TRHH: Okay, you mentioned the artist that you’re influenced by, who are some of the artists that have influenced you?

RhymeStyleTroop: Gang Starr!

TRHH: [Laughs] I’m shocked. Your name is obviously taken from a Guru lyric. Is Guru your favorite emcee of all-time?

RhymeStyleTroop: Yep! Take it Personal! Yes, hands down. Guru is a perfect example of being a philosopher as an emcee. He’s Guru! He talks about the good and the bad that he sees in the hood that he deals with himself. You know, “Scandalous, money, greed, and lust/Trife life, there ain’t no one you can trust,” you know what I mean? He talks about it all. He has songs like Mass Appeal where he basically conveys his skills and his technique and how all these other wack emcees can’t fuck with him. And he had songs like Betrayal with Scarface that makes you think like, “Damn. I could relate. I’ve been betrayed, too.” I mean the caliber that he reaches in, in his soul it’s genuine, it’s authentic, it’s life, it makes you think. Especially Moment of Truth, right? I could keep going, Jazzmatazz, I mean there’s so much things.

For me, he’s the pinnacle of the embodiment of what I say an emcee is really at the core. Knowing their roots, their jazz roots, their knowledge of self. But also, too not just being this wise guy where it’s all perfect, “Hey, I’m a human, too. I make mistakes. Check it, don’t go down the path that I did. I made a mistake.” To me, Guru has influenced my pen, my soul, the way I look at Hip-Hop in such a beautiful way. And a lot of people! Every time I mention Gang Starr or someone mentions Gang Starr we have that same light about us like, “Oh my God, yeah, Gang Starr!” There’s a certain love and appreciation and this light. It changes someone’s aura completely when you just throw Gang Starr out there. It puts a smile on my face every time because it makes me happy. It brings me back to why I fell in love with Hip-Hop. So, Guru is my favorite emcee for sho.

TRHH: I won’t ask you your age but you seem very young. How did you discover Gang Starr?

RhymeStyleTroop: [Laughs] I grew up with an older brother, I grew up with the older cats in the hood and they would always bump underground Hip-Hop. I was influenced by a lot of graffiti artists in my hood and they would play Gang Starr, and they would play Jeru, they would play different artists. I was blessed to be around cats who are older than me and much wiser than me. It’s a blessing to be around people who are much wiser than you, have more of a wider variety of exchange in knowledge than you do. I was never that cat that felt intimidated or anything, if anything I was like, “Hell yeah, homie! That’s cool, teach me! Teach me something. I wanna be exposed to doper shit.”

I’m a student of Hip-Hop before anything else. What I mean by that is I’m constantly learning about new songs that are maybe even older songs. I’m not one of those Hip-Hop cats that you could throw all these things and I’m like, “Yeah, I know exactly!” Sometimes I don’t, because of my age too as well. Not even that, like even maybe an older cat, there’s always new things to discover and uncover. I’ve always been open, I’ve always surrounded myself with OG’s to just soak up game and polish up those jewels from my own.

TRHH: On the song “Reflection” you say, “I eliminated all distractions/Learning how to respond and not create reactions.” The last part stood out to me because the reaction thing is tricky. What’s the secret to responding to people and not creating a reaction?

RhymeStyleTroop: Being present and allowing your emotions to be visitors — keyword “visitors.” They’re not there to stay there to live there in your mind. I’m still learning this, by the way. I’m not a master of responding and I don’t think I ever will be. I want to get better that’s why for me a reaction is more of a defense mechanism. A response is more valued because it’s coming from a calm place. Usually when you’re answering from either being like overly excited or overly aggressive it doesn’t really convey as well as it would be if you’re more present and calm. It could still convey that passion or that authority, but in a calm setting there’s power in being calm.

There’s power in being present as you’re able to adapt and adjust to circumstances and think three steps ahead. You’re like, “Well, if I react in this way then this is going to happen. Do I want that? No. Okay, then let me not do that.” Not all the time do I choose to do that and I see that with certain things. That’s why I’m working on that and I will continue to work on that to be honest with you. Life is life, from business, to relationships, to health, to addiction, to so many things. If I just keep being open to being present, meaning being clean, being genuine, then I have a better chance of responding and reacting than I did yesterday.

TRHH: On the single “Originate” you say “becoming that person I needed as a youth.” How are you becoming that person?

RhymeStyleTroop: Showing up for the youth, showing up for the younger cats not in the way that’s preachy or belittling, but just showing up for them and conveying it through my actions. What I mean by that is being honest. All a teacher is, is a finger reflected back into you. It’s a direction, it’s not the answer. A teacher is not God. I never want kids to think that my success is their cap point. I want them to be better and to do better than me. I will use my little sister as an example, I always talk to her about life, the good and the bad, especially the bad! Like, “Hey, I hope you don’t do drugs, but let’s be realistic, maybe you will or are going to. This is how you should go about it,” or “Hey, if you decide to drink make sure you don’t go in the car with someone who’s drinking.”

So, let’s be realistic with these kids. Not that we’re saying” “Hey, go do this and go do that,” but be realistic in teaching them what we weren’t taught. And teaching them in the sense of being action oriented. For me, like I want the people around me to follow their passion because that makes the world a better place. When you’re following the things that you love and you’re passionate about it, you don’t really have time for depression, you don’t really have that much time for anger. Not that it can’t happen, yes it can, but you’re more quicker I find to snap out of it because you have a purpose. And it’s accepting that gift from God, because gifts don’t come from anything other than God. Having a higher power in your life you, finding somebody that’s greater than you, which is a higher power, knowing that you have a support system, and if you don’t, get a support system. Get cats who are more knowledgeable than you know that you want what they have. “You’re like, “Damn, I like the way that person carries herself.”

So, the best way to teach this younger generation is just by our actions, also too by having that open conversation and hearing them out and not just being like, “Oh, don’t do this, don’t do that.” It’s a new generation, you know every generation has its own dilemmas, and its own strengths. So, it’s about capitalizing on the last generations strengths, but being patient and humble enough to learn about this new generations’ dilemmas, which in my opinion is drugs. Drugs has always been there but now it’s like these kids are dropping. Fuck fentanyl. Bro, fuck fentanyl. A lot of kids have dropped because of fentanyl. There is a war on drugs, there is a war on poverty consciousness.

Poverty consciousness to me is giving your soul to systematic oppression. It’s a trap. They put liquor stores on the corner and they put malnourished foods everywhere, where’s the raw organic foods? And then you go to the suburbs and it’s totally different. Not saying that we don’t have a choice, because we fucking do. That’s what we need to remember is we do have a choice. It’s just a little harder being brown and black because we’re exposed to more negative. But it doesn’t mean it’s not possible because it fucking is. It is. I’ve seen it, whether from afar or up close, whether from myself or not, I’ve seen it. It’s a matter of perspective.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with The Heart of the City?

RhymeStyleTroop: World tour. This album, while I was making it, while I was selecting the beats, the energy I was in, it was such a beautiful time. That time like I said I was vulnerable. The best art comes from vulnerability in the spotlight. There’s strength in vulnerability. And to me I’m manifesting a world tour.

Purchase: RhymeStyleTroop & Dead Poetz Society – The Heart of the City

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About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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