Riding a bus to your own concert is a sacrifice most musicians wouldn't even think of. Besides, this is Dallas, so who doesn't just drive their car everywhere anyway? But for 20-year-old rapper $kaduf, there are no such luxuries. It's a matter of routine for him to make the three-hour bus ride from his home in Pleasant Grove just to come play a set at a club like Crown & Harp. There he'll wait and watch, studying his fellow musicians, before getting his own chance in the spotlight. Then it's another long wait, often until 5:00 in the morning, to catch the bus back home.
$kaduf is an undeniably talented young man, but just getting to this point in his career has taken plenty of sacrifice. One month shy of his 21st birthday, he shows up at his favorite place to get a burger in Pleasant Grove. It's basically just a gas station that serves food, without even a place to sit down and eat. Naturally, he shows up on his skateboard -- his fastest means of transport when distance allows.
He's in close proximity to the high school he attended and the apartment he shares with his disabled mother. "I have a father," he says. "But not a dad." $kaduf has never met his father and doesn't even like to look at pictures of him. He has gone by $kaduf since he was in elementary school, says another student used to tease him with the name. He does not know what it means, but it stuck.
"Whenever I start getting emotional sometimes I get a lot of thoughts," he says. Looking back, he realizes that he has always been writing; it's how he spends most of his time. $kaduf has been listening to hip-hop since he was 4 or 5, started taking it seriously at 11, making beats and free styling with a laptop. "I heard a few people from the hood," he says of influences. "And then mostly TV." He grew up watching Rap City and MTV Jams.
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$kaduf is a religious man -- "God gave me this gift to rap and I thank him for it every day," he says -- but even in the church he found corruption. He remembers participating in a fundraising drive for a new church one time and wondering why a new church was needed. "Later on that week, I see the pastor went off on vacation in Hawaii," he says. "I was like, 'What the fuck?'" Still, he wears a cross around his neck to this day.
"Through all this negativity in the Grove," he says, "I just did songs about what I love instead of trying to be like everyone else." He considers some of his contemporaries. "No one else here is doing what I'm doing. They're writing about getting bitches that they don't got, getting money that they don't got." $kaduf shrugs, says he spends what little money he has on his music. "They think you have to look like a rapper," he says, shaking his head. "I feel like I have to write my story."
$kaduf effortlessly freestyles through verses with autobiographical lyrics that anyone can relate to. He writes songs with a sophisticated sense of melody he can easily apply to a particular musical instrument or genre. "I know how to make a melody," he says. "That's all there really is to beat making." $kaduf is also great with hooks, tossing out simple lines like "Read all about it," for example, to make the song "Grove Side Blues" seem like a newspaper.
There's an intuitive sense to his music, as well, as $kaduf doesn't have formal musical training. And yet his recent Grove Side the Realist EP, released last October, makes great use of the intricacies of a jazz approach to hip hop. "I just listen to the melodies of jazz," he says. "I try to bring instruments in to show that the music for rap is more than big beats and bass."
Grove Side The Realist has a great sound with catchy hooks and incredible free styling. But there is an enigmatic weariness, perhaps a sadness, about $kudaf that is deeply moving, and throughout the record he explores his experiences growing up in Pleasant Grove. There are people playing dice in parking lots and getting high enough to fight over lighters; he recalls seeing someone get shot near an overpass when he was in ninth grade; and he laments a childhood friend who's in prison for armed robbery.
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So rather than get swallowed up in such a life, $kaduf has channeled it into his work. He prefers instead to write, make music and simply get a burger. "I don't have an image to obtain," he says. "I feel like I have a voice, but not an image." His voice is undeniably that of Pleasant Grove. "I'm sure there are people all over the world going through similar things," he says. "But all I know is Pleasant Grove."
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