I had the privilege of having an advanced listen to rapper Def MC 4Life's upcoming album, "Route7," which will be released on April 15. Def MC 4Life, also known as Justin Umstead, is a young man from Morgantown with a lot of ambition. Rap isn't my first choice as far as genres go but I can certainly appreciate the music as an art form.
The title, "Route 7," should ring familiar to most of us that live here in West Virginia who are familiar with the common roads, like Route 9 for instance. The title alone says, 'I'm from West Virginia, it's where I grew up and here is my story and here is my ambition.'
There is certainly some skepticism around "white rappers." They all get compared to Vanilla Ice. But, please, do not compare Def MC 4Life to Vanilla Ice or any other "has-been." Def MC 4Life is no joke. He is an ambitious young man who expresses his hard times and the pursuit of his dream; Def MC 4Life is also a husband, a father and a student.
I have to say, I love the album. On the other end of the spectrum from Vanilla Ice is Eminem. I would day Def MC 4Life is somewhere in the middle, with a slight lean towards Eminem.
As I cautioned, do not judge a book by its cover. "Route 7" is an album which reflects the hard times that Def MC 4Life has had to endure and the struggle to rise above it all. I hear a lot of hip-hop influences throughout the album.
This is not a poser who is trying to be a rapper. Def MC4Life is an motivated young man who knows how to rap. No matter where you are from, it doesn't matter. One thing to which most of us can relate: we all face certain struggles. Rap is just another way to express emotion through art. That is how I would describe "Route 7": art.
I personally can relate to the struggles of relying on public transportation and living off nothing but cereal. I have been there. Throughout the album, you here about Def MC 4Life's struggles, yet there is a high level of confidence which feels hopeful.
I had the honor of interviewing Def MC4Life recently:
GRAFFITI: Who are your top three music influences?
Def MC 4Life: My top three influences would probably be Nas, Fort Minor (AKA Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park), and The Game. I appreciate their lyricism, their vision, and their attitude and I try to incorporate those three characteristics in everything that I do.
GRAFFITI: Do you feel, in the song "Rain," that you have a certain closure with your father?
Def MC 4Life: I definitely do feel a certain degree of closure after doing the song. I actually have a music video in the works where I visit the grave site and the pond where he passed away. (The rapper's father died as a result of accidental drowning in 2009.) I was able to involve my half-sister Chyanna in the shoot and we spent hours talking about our biological dad and the memories and pictures we have of him. It was a healing process for both of us.
GRAFFITI: Do you feel your personal struggles, which you openly express in your music, can help others in a similar situation identify or relate?
Def MC 4Life: I go to great lengths to make sure the tracks I do are entertaining and my message comes across subtly, but I definitely think a lot of people can relate to life's ups and downs and the events that happened to me throughout the album. Every chance that I get to positively effect someone's life is a small victory - its a shared victory with that person.
GRAFFITI: I see you are a new father. Congrats! How old and what's the baby's name? Did having a child give you that extra push to pursue your dream?
Def MC 4Life: Thank you! Her name is Molly Jane and she is almost 3-months-old now. The second I found out that my wife was pregnant, I knew a lot of things were going to change. It definitely expedited the work on my project! Throughout my album I express my intent to wrap up my music hobby so I can provide the best life possible for my new family and I definitely intend to make good on that promise. I still want to do music occasionally, but no more solo albums - at least not for a while.
GRAFFITI: You seem pretty confident throughout the album. What else has been an inspiration to you? What gave you the drive?
Def MC 4Life: I think everyone has their own trials and tribulations. My personal challenge took place during a two year stretch of time between fall 2009 and fall 2011. My car broke down so I had to rely on public transportation to get to and from work and school. Often there would be gaps in service so I had to rely on my own two feet to get me from point A to point B. To combat the rainy days, snow, heat, and all-around nasty weather I would listen to beats on my MP3 player during my commute. A lot of my songs were written and improvised on my walks to and from work.
GRAFFITI: You are currently attending school as well, right? What are you other aspirations for the future?
Def MC 4Life: I attend WVU and I'm extremely close to graduation. I'm working on 150 credit hours so I can take my CPA exam and I also plan on taking an Enrolled Agent Exam (tax) next spring. As of right now I have five years of tax preparation experience and five years of cumulative business administration on my resume. My hope is to get on with one of the big four (tax preparation companies) and eventually start my own firm specializing in tax.
GRAFFITI: The song 'Mic Check' stands out, what is it about?
Def MC 4Life: 'Mic Check' is one of my (most fun) songs and it talks about the summer days I spent with my friends hanging out, partying, working on music, and not having a care in the world. I take the perspective of introducing a girl to some of my friends and capturing the flirtatious stuff I might say to her. I met my wife during one such party but it would be many months until we would begin dating.