Though rapper Rickie Jacobs is a Park Heights native, his latest album Live Epic only drops the B-word once—in a skit between songs. “I feel like if I say ‘Baltimore’ five times, it’s just like saying ‘Candyman,’ I’m dead,” Jacobs says, laughing.
“It’s funny, because when people find out I’m from Baltimore, they automatically get surprised for some reason,” Jacobs says in a long conversation one afternoon in a Pikesville restaurant. “And that’ s bad, it shouldn’t be like that.” But he’s quick to point out that he has nothing but love for his hometown, whether or not it shows up in his lyrics as often as it does in those of other local MCs. “Just to let people know, I’m not gonna be the one that’ll turn my back. I’ll always know where I’m from.”
In a sense, Jacobs’ home base is the internet more than any geographic location. Over the last three years, he’s become more adept than most Baltimore rappers at playing the online media game and getting his music featured on some of the influential blogs that help make new artists into mainstream stars. He’s forged a fruitful friendship with New Jersey-based blogger Buck Marley XXX, and some of his releases have been sponsored by popular sites like You Heard That New and FLuD Watches. May’s release of Live Epic was preceded by The Prequel EP, which premiered on the web site of long-running rap magazine The Source. This spring, he flew to Texas to appear in a showcase of web-savvy rappers at the South by Southwest festival.
Jacobs’ career may be a product of the hip-hop blogosphere, but he tries not to get too caught up in the virtual world of potential views. “One of my goals was to get on 2 Dope Boyz, DJ Booth, You Heard That New,” he says, rattling off sites on which he’s now been featured. “At the end of the day, the presentations and the sponsors don’t really mean anything.” Live Epic, his third full-length project, wasn’t co-signed by any site, and arrived as a simply but elegantly packaged, cohesive artistic statement, brooding and thoughtful.
Jacobs, stick thin and usually dressed casually in jeans and a baseball cap, is 26 but could pass for much younger, despite a scraggly beard. His image matches the fact that he performs under his birth name, a rare everyman rapper in a genre full of street kingpin superheroes and over-the-top eccentrics. “I think why people gravitate toward me, is I’m one of a few artists from Baltimore that acts like a regular human being,” he says.
Jacobs started out in his teens making beats on his Play Station, long before it occurred to him to rap over them. “I was producing a few years before I started rapping,” he says. “I felt like the artists that I was giving beats to weren’t really doing my production justice, so I started rapping on my own.” Before long, he hooked up with local rapper Articulate and his focus shifted more to rapping. Other producers have made all the beats for his recent releases. “I got kind of tired doing beats and rapping, ’cause it’s not enough time in the day.”
Jacobs has never possessed the most commanding voice or charismatic presence on the mic, but his delivery has continued to sharpen on Live Epic, particularly with the assured double-time flow of “Free Mind Over Dose.” A debauched atmosphere of hormones and chemicals permeates the album, threatening to evaporate the rapper’s down-to-earth persona, but the songs ultimately sound more like cautionary tales than hedonistic celebrations. “Drugs N Heaven” features the refrain “I wanna get high,” before the song dissolves into a spacey interlude with samples of Dave Chappelle declaring “the whole world is just drug-infested.” When Jacobs begins rapping again, he spins a dark narrative about a girl who “started in a beauty pageant/now she a crack addict.”
After releasing his debut album Air Jacobs in 2010, Jacobs embarked on an ambitious multipart series, beginning with last year’s Die Brilliant and tracing a rough narrative backward through time. “Die Brilliant is like the last episode, Live Epic is the second, and I’m working on a project called Born King that’s gonna be like the very beginning,” he says.
While Jacobs’ music is moving backward, he’s had to adjust to some major forward-looking changes in his real life. “I just became a parent, so reality bit me, and I actually had to get a job,” he says, noting that the birth of his son in September had him worried that he’d lose focus on his career, just as he was starting to get some traction. With two albums and an EP out in the space of a year, though, that seems like a minor concern now. The Prequel came about when he decided that some of the songs he’d recorded for Live Epic shouldn’t make the cut. So he released the EP in April while announcing a May release date for the album he’d just started over from scratch, putting the pressure on himself to make the album of his career. “I never thought I would get this productive, but I had to.”
Rickie Jacobs performs at the Golden West cafe with Disturbed Individuals and Eze Jackson Thursday June 14. for more information visit rickiejacobs.com