Caddy Da Don lives large while a summer jam takes off
Published: July 27, 2011
“Feel free to quote this—these crab cakes are terrible.” David Rice, better known as rapper Caddy Da Don, is seated in a pricey restaurant overlooking the Inner Harbor, enjoying the finer things in life. But at the moment, the Baltimore native’s aspirational lifestyle is clashing with his discriminating taste for local seafood delicacies. “Terrible, terrible. It’s a salmon cake—that’s not a crab cake,” he says, grimacing.
Rice, however, knows that he’s lucky to be able to taste even a mediocre crab cake. Less than two years ago, he was serving a prison sentence that nearly stopped his music career dead in its tracks shortly after he began building a local buzz in 2006 and 2007. “I went through some federal issues and was charged with money laundering—they said I was using illegal money to purchase legal houses,” he says. “Basically, at the time, I was trying to find a way out of the streets, so I was doing some different things, but evidently it wasn’t meant to be. Now music is my job, that’s what I do, that’s it, that’s all.”
Rice, 29, was serving a five-year sentence ,which was shortened unexpectedly to two and a half years, and by the end of 2009 he was a free man. “I was blessed to get an appeal,” he says. “I got in court and got my time back and was released.” After a celebratory homecoming, Rice once again quickly became a ubiquitous presence on the Baltimore hip-hop scene that he now speaks ambitiously about taking to new heights. “I don’t mind putting the city on my shoulder— I got big shoulders, I can carry the weight,” says the MC with the imposing 6-foot-2-inch frame.
Seated across from Rice is the man with the best chance of helping him realize his dreams: Tony Austin, the Baltimore native who’s held jobs in the music industry from A&R at Def Jam to co-owner and president of the Russell Simmons Music Group. After Austin launched his own career as a rapper last year, he decided to found a new independent label, Monarch Entertainment Group, with Caddy Da Don as its marquee artist. Austin singles out Rice’s booming instrument as the key to his success: “Caddy has a very big voice.”
“I’ve been asking T for advice since ’05, ’06, and he always told me the same thing—it takes one hot song, and when I get that hot song, he’s gonna tell me,” Rice says. That happened earlier this year, when his album Day of Da Don was released and spun off the single “Grindin’ on Me,” a clubby, melodic anthem with an instantly memorable hook by producer King Midas that’s been racking up daily spins on 92Q. “When I heard it, all I could think of was it had a Miami feel to it, big cars, pretty women, a summertime record,” Rice says. So last month, he flew down to Miami to shoot the forthcoming video for the song, which Austin shows off a preview of on his iPad. Rice plays the part of a celebrating kingpin much like the city’s biggest current star, Rick Ross, helped in no small part by a crew that also shot some of Ross’ videos.
Ross also played an indirect role in Caddy Da Don’s unlikely first breakthrough on local radio last year. When Ross’ “BMF” hit big, name-checking famous crime figures, Rice put his own twist on it based on the illicit activities of his youth, rapping about Baltimore hustlers such as Melvin Williams and Peanut King, and it struck a chord. “I touched on subjects only certain type of people would understand, and it kinda got the attention of a lot of people who were like, ‘This dude ain’t playin’,” he says. “These are people I actually know and met.”
For all the bravado of his music, Rice ultimately comes across as a reserved, thoughtful guy who speaks as much about learning the tools of his trade as about what he hopes to accomplish with them. And as a dedicated father and son, music has also become a way to cope with personal problems. “I’ve got a mother that’s very ill that I take care of—she just had open-heart surgery a couple weeks ago,” he says. “So the studio to me is like my relaxation. If I was an alcoholic, the equivalent to me having a drink is going to the studio.”
Just six months after Day of the Don, Rice and Monarch are capitalizing on the success of “Grindin’ on Me” by returning to the mixtape circuit with this week’s release of Powder Met Blow. And while the new tracks are decidedly more street-oriented than the song garnering airplay at the moment, the title is a metaphor for the strength of the music that Rice now pushes. “I feel like I am the best product possible, top of the line,” he says. The mixtape also introduces the Monarch Made Men, the label’s supergroup comprised of Rice, Austin, and other up-and-coming local MCs.
Much of the credit for the success of “Grindin’ on Me” deservingly goes to producer and hook singer King Midas, but Rice notes that several rappers passed on the beat before he heard its potential, and the two have capitalized on their immediate musical chemistry with several more collaborations. Rice also gets most of his tracks from Monarch’s in-house producer and longtime friend D. Banks, who’d risen to become one of the most in-demand producers in local hip-hop during the rapper’s incarceration. “I discovered D. Banks in 2005,” Rice says. “When I was away, we used to keep in contact, and I had told him, you need to get out and network, get your music out to the artists, because I didn’t know I was gonna be blessed to come out so soon.”
Tirelessly recording and performing since his release from prison, as if making up for lost time or simply appreciating his freedom, Rice has gotten a steady stream of gigs opening for the kind of national hip-hop stars in whose footsteps he hopes to soon follow. “I opened up for everybody—Yo Gotti, Jeezy, Jim Jones,” he says. “It’s about time for people to open up for me now.”
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