“First thing’s first, rest in peace to my mom,” begins rapper Justin King’s opening track, “THINGS,” on the debut album Dreams and Things. The album was recorded in part as a tribute to his parents, who shaped King as an artist and musician, he says.
“For almost my whole childhood, she had health issues,” King says of his mother. “I saw her fighting and being overly strong. She was an artist, and I felt like that was so inspiring to me.”
King lost his mother in 2016 when the rapper was 18 after she suffered cardiac arrest. Needing a change of environment, he came to live in Texas, where King developed as a musician, playing music together with his father.
It was also during this time that King started drumming for Fort Worth jam band Cherry Mantis — an unexpected place for a rapper to get his start.
“I just drummed for anything because I liked all music,” King says. “But I always kind of had that thing in the back of my mind that I wanted to be a singer, rapper guy.”
In 2018, tragedy struck again when his father, suffered a heart attack and died.
“How could this happen twice?” King remembers asking. “I wouldn't have ever gotten into music if it wasn't for him. He helped me in so many ways to start being a drummer and love music and everything. I will always love him for that.”
After losing his father, King's younger brother Collin (aka Creazo king) moved to Texas to stay with King and his girlfriend. That was when the idea that had been swirling in the back of King’s mind finally came to fruition.
Creazo king had been working in hip-hop music production since 2015, so he encouraged his older brother to have a go at laying down some tracks. When the first single, “Dreams feat. Ladi," was released last year, the brothers knew that they had created something special.
With a lot of extra time on his hands because of pandemic lockdowns, King decided he "could finally be that rapper guy,” he says.
Working together with his brother on this project has been something of a full-circle moment for King.
“I think all of all of those things that would usually bring me down I had to use to create,” King says. “My parents were very encouraging on that, and in everything I do, I think about making them proud, especially me and my brother working together. They always wanted that.”
As an artist, King is focused on his reality rather than a kind of imagined life many rappers create in their rhymes. King and his brother agreed that he just would not sound genuine rapping about Xans and X6s.
“I couldn’t go in for 10 tracks talking about hoes and cars and money, because I’m not balling like that,” King says with a laugh.
King doesn’t rap to create new worlds. He raps to understand his own.
“My reality is a man who lost his parents pretty recently, and I’m trying to figure it all out,” King says. “I have one car and I got a girlfriend; I need to rap about what I know. I help my family, and they help me. That’s what I know.”
The result is an album that is both devastatingly honest and brimming with love and positivity for friends, family and the music community at large.
King says that going to high school, playing music and just living in Fort Worth was foundational in creating the laidback feel of the album.
“The whole Cow Town feel, there’s just something about it,” King says. “I don’t know, it shaped and molded me in how I move and do things.”
King’s Cherry Mantis family joins the rapper on the album’s seventh track “Show” — a song celebrating the vibes of a good show and also shouts out the North Texas cities that have hosted the band through the years. The song also mentions “Luis, Luis on the bass,” referring to his longtime friend and bandmate Luis Martin Moreno.
“He’s such a huge inspiration just because of how much he does with music,” King says. “He went to UTA [University of Texas at Arlington] for music education, and now he goes to SMU [Southern Methodist University]. He plays tuba, guitar, bass. He sings. We write together.”
As for King’s musical aspirations, he intends to further develop his skills and presence as a rapper while continuing to play with Cherry Mantis, who is working on their latest studio project and playing a drive-in show Feb. 20 in Pantego.
“I’m still working on other things to get this vision out,” King says. “We’re working on a couple of music videos. We’re trying to get the concepts out right now, but I’m really trying to paint a picture with that.”
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