Back in 1994, on a regular day in East Baltimore’s Chapel Hill Housing Projects, a 9-year-old Desmond Pollard jumped up bright and early. He cleaned himself up, threw his Nikes on, exited his unit, and took a stroll through his courtyard. He passed crack sales by kids his age in new clothes screaming out product names and prices, stepped on crushed-up vials with multicolored tops that swam in puddles, walked in between dope fiends that were tilting and decaying, saw hoopers to the right and left beating down the court because their lives depended on it, and waved to grandmas who raised generations and generations of kids all under the same roof, and finally, met up with his pops.
From there, Pollard and his pops took a trip to New York. Pollard’s father had a close friend in Queensbridge and liked taking him along on the three-hour trip up the turnpike. At the time, Pollard’s only personal connection with Queensbridge came from “Illmatic,” Nas’ classic 1994 debut album. His older brother David had always put him onto the latest music, but hearing “Illmatic” was different; it changed something in him.
“The album really wasn’t that big in Baltimore at the time,” Pollard (who now raps as FMG Dez) tells me at 2:45 a.m. over a cup a coffee at the Bun Shop, “but the vibe in Queens was crazy.” Most of the town is asleep as Dez reminisces, all the while punching his phone to add new rhymes to his notepad app as they come to him during our conversation. Dez going to Nas’ neighborhood made him realize that “every line Nas spit was true.” The trip made him realize he wanted to be “a reporter” like Nas and “rap about [his] hood in the same way.”
Nine-year-old Dez returned home to Baltimore with high ambitions of being a rapper: “From that point on I knew what I wanted to do with my life. That trip changed my life.”
He started scribbling rhymes but never told anyone that he was taking rap seriously, and for good reason. This is Baltimore, the only big predominately black city in America that hasn’t produced a hip-hop artist with major crossover success. Being from Baltimore and making it as a rapper seems impossible and seemed even more impossible then. Dez had no local rappers to point him in the right direction in his formative years. Baltimore may be the only city in America that praises its dope dealers more than its rappers and professional athletes combined.
Two years after that fateful trip to Queens, Dez’s father “caught 10 years with the Feds,” and that’s when he “really learned the things [he’d] been rapping about.” Dez eventually went to jail himself a few times after he was caught with drugs and a firearm, from 2001-2002, 2005-2006, and again in 2012.
“I feel like prison raised my level of consciousness,” he says. “All of my knowledge on the legal system came from our racist court system.” The system and its injustices made him want to learn more. He began reading about African-American history and studying religion and books such as “The Art of War,” “The Prince,” and “every classic [he] could get [his] hands on back then.” Now, he says, “that knowledge of history and the system makes it into my raps.”
Dez’s talents as a rapper also improved: “I became more of technician. I studied that craft. I didn’t know how to count a bar, I didn’t know what a bar was. I was in love with music and now I’m in love with the craft too.” Dez has released three mixtapes: “The Autobiography of Dez,” “Street Fame Volume 1,” and “Fuck Da Fame.” He is the CEO of Flawless Music Group (FMG), for which he designed the logo and handles the careers of up-and-coming artists Dee Dave, FMG Twizzle, and FMG Ball. Dez’s next release, the “Road 2 Riches” EP, is set to drop later this month.
Meanwhile, Baltimore feels like it is finally developing a hip-hop scene to call its own. Recently, it seems as though something has started to change in Baltimore rap. Rappers such as Lor Scoota and Young Moose are generating interest outside of the city. Last June, Dez opened up for Chicago drill rapper Lil Durk at Shake and Bake. He took the stage like a prophet, dressed in all white, with Louis Vuitton accessories. His FMG chain lit the rink it seemed. I was lost in the mix. The crowd went nuts, singing all of his songs word for word.
When he yelled “FMG” at the end of his set, the crowd followed Dez onto Pennsylvania Avenue. It seemed like it took Dez a month to reach his car because of the mob of people requesting Instagram pictures with him. He posed for them all. That reaction wasn’t due to cheesy radio fame and it didn’t come from over-the-top YouTube videos. Dez’s love came from real street people who appreciate good music.
So far, Dez has only teased “Road 2 Riches” with the intro track where he cleverly sets up the concept of the album, a day in the life of a hustler. “The intro kicks off with how I used to start my days and follows a trajectory from the mission to the money to the partying that goes down after the work is complete,” he says.
Ghostface Killah’s touching tale of troubled childhood, ‘All that I Got is You,’ and “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” came to my mind while listening, but as always for Dez, it goes back to 1994 and that trip to Queens with his pops: “Coming up listening to Nas inspired me to be a storyteller.”