Mad Dukez, the Deleted Scenes tour and the art of the freestyle
blog by Ben Kirst • November 07, 2012 @ 12:20pm
Mad Dukez, one of the hardest-working rappers you’re going to find coming out of Buffalo, is nothing if not prodigious. In just the past year, Dukez has released five singles and five EPs and mixtapes, has a full YouTube video channel and appears as an impromptu guest on audio and video work by his friends in the Essential Vitamins Crew—and now he’s working on a full-length album, Getting Gatsby’d, in preparation for a spring release on the local, independent hip-hop label DTR45.
Oh, and he’s currently on the road. After wrapping up a jaunt through the Midwest on the Fresh Cut Grass tour with Prhym8, Mad Dukez is slated to perform with his producer, Fresh Kils, at 9 p.m. Friday at Duke’s (253 Allen St., Buffalo) when the Deleted Scenes Tour with RJD2 collaborator and Rhymesayers artist Blueprint rolls into Allentown. Advance tickets are $8.
So who is Mad Dukez? He is considered one of Buffalo’s top freestylists, a member of the acclaimed jazz / hip-hop trio Type Relevant and a clever lyricist with an ear for beats that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Definitive Jux release. He’s a suburban kid who eschewed that lifestyle to make his home in the city, bouncing from neighborhood to neighborhood—he’s lived in Riverside, Kenmore, North Buffalo, the West Side, Kaisertown and is currently over on the east side of Main Street—like the rhymes he manufactures. Dukez honed his craft in freestyle competitions and open mics around Buffalo and has sharpened his skills with, as he refers to it, #madwork. And the work keeps on going.
Here’s Dukez in excerpts from an interview from this past summer, explaining how he developed his verbal technique.
On getting started:
It’s funny, because it started with me torturing my brother and sisters. I got two sisters and a brother, and I would just torture them with hearing me rap. I was just terrible—every third word was “rapping and singing.” So I’d be like, “When I show at the place, I’m rapping and singing!” and just starting this terrible tangent, and they’d be like, “Shut up, shut up!” But it was cool, though, because eventually, when I started getting better, they would say “Alright, at least it’s not rapping and singing…” When my sisters and my brother started giving me the thumbs-up, I was like, all right, you don’t terribly suck now…I started going deeper into it.
I always liked to read. Finding different ways in which I could use my words other than just in speech. Creative writing class also helped me. That’s when I made the transition to making real music, when it started off as a poem, and then it started to get some real rhythm to it—the rhythm just started to come into it, and it became a song. It started at one page at a time, then putting them together…
I was like, 16, 17 (when) I really knew I could make a song. I didn’t tell anybody I could do it, I was just doing it myself…My favorite parts to work on were the choruses, because I put so much into them, and take out and leave in as I see fit. So, where everything else was like Legos—the song structure, something I build—the chorus was Play-Doh. I could do whatever I wanted with it. And that’s when I started to realize I could make good music.
On proving he could perform on stage:
I tried to do the battle rap thing in Buffalo. Got nowhere. I went to Niagara Falls, a place called Lion’s Den. I was down in—remember old Fast Frank’s (now the Bend in Allentown), they’d just put on the beat and you’d just go in. I was trying to outshine the other nine guys on the list.
I was real shy about it. And I was like, you know what, screw it—I’d put my name on the board, wrote it in chalk, and I was just be staring at it like, Oh my God, what have I done—my brother and my sisters only think I’m OK! What’s going to happen? It got to be my turn, they put the beat on and I just closed my eyes and went in. And that’s how I got started.
I did a lot of freestyling with my friend Cove from EVC. Going to the open mic, you started hearing these (other) guys, and you just cut loose and people would say, “Wow, that blew me away!” I was just like (sighs) “Thank you. I thought you were gonna throw stuff at me.”
It’s like skydiving. My favorite thing to do, especially in the middle of freestyling, is to look out in the crowd and talk about something that everyone is experiencing at the same time. That way, everybody knows that it’s a freestyle. They know it’s current. I don’t look for setups, I don’t look for anything, I just take each moment. That’s how I come up with my music—it’s that inspiration. That’s where I get my ideas from…It’s like a rush of information and I am just picking and choosing what I want to do.
I try to keep it pure. A lot of people say about freestyling, “Oh, that’s not freestyling, you’ve got to have a couple lines in your head.” Nope. I just go in there, and whatever comes out, comes out. It’s wonderful. As long as I keep reading books, reading magazines and keeping up on things, I have no problem freestyling about anything, anywhere.
I got that way —I don’t want to give away too many secrets—but I got that way by walking all over Buffalo, freestyling to myself. Cars passing. Police sirens. Sirens going off. A dog barking. Incorporate everything happening around you—even pebbles on the ground. Make that be a line—like, a pebble rolling / my father did the same thing growing / rolling stone… and then go on a whole different tangent. That’s what sharpens my skills. And what I do on stage is complete freestyle. Take it out of thin air. Let the ether decide.