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Richmond rapper treading own path

on December 3, 2009

Last spring, Richmond-born rapper Locksmith rounded up a group of inner-city kids and took them to the Greek Theater in Berkeley to see his rap partner Left take the stage.

The kids roared in approval as the rapper came into view, but just as quickly, he was gone. He wasn’t there to perform. Left was receiving his master’s degree from the University of California, and he and his partner in The Frontline, perhaps Richmond’s best-known hip-hop act, made sure that the teenagers from their hometown bore witness.

“I mean, how many of these kids get to see something like that?” Locksmith says.

In a genre where rappers can make – and waste – fortunes celebrating gold teeth and curvaceous women, Locksmith stands out. He doesn’t drink or smoke, doesn’t claim to be a thug, and goes out of his way to distance himself from the get-drunk-and-get-high cornerstones of modern Bay Area rap. He yearns for a strong community in the face of violence, and speaks weekly to parent-less teenagers about the value of education.

And while his music would never be confused with a ‘Just Say No’ public service announcement, Locksmith says he’s doing his best to buck the image of the gangster rapper.

The De Anza High alumnus says that as a youngster, his structured upbringing helped him stay away from the streets of South Richmond. He grew up with both of his parents, older brothers and sisters, and a slew of neighbors and family friends who were there to keep an eye out when others weren’t around. He played sports, too, which kept him busy and opened his mind to going to college. During high school, he became drawn to Islam, his father’s religion, and swore off drugs and booze.

“I’m not here to put the clamps down on anybody else’s artistic expression,” he says. “I definitely have my views, and I feel like a lot of people are just following a certain gimmick or a certain lead. So when it’s ‘in style’ to have misogynistic lyrics, people will follow that. And I think it’s a problem. I don’t condone it, I don’t do that. I choose to create the type of art I want to create.”

After two albums with Left as The Frontline, the half-Black, half-Persian Locksmith is now working on his first solo album, which is being produced by fellow Bay Area rapper E-A-Ski. He calls his new material more creative and more mature than his old battle-rapping riffs, and says he’s staying away from the driving, party-hard ‘hyphy’ sound that has defined Bay Area hip-hop in the last several years.

“I’m not perfect,” he says. “But I am trying to be as authentic and as real as I can be, and pull from an authentic and sincere place. And I think that’s what the kids and people respect the most.”

20091202_rapper.mp3|Locksmith on life, music|Richmond-born rapper Locksmith, a member of the group The Frontline, describes how his hometown has affected his music and his life.

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