The local MC talks getting humble and getting up to a bigger scale
Published: August 3, 2011
Rome Cee celebrates the release of the Extra Mile
For more information visit romecee.com.
This week Rome Cee releases The Extra Mile, a masterful hip-hop record spanning 10 different producers that takes humility and personal growth as its street-corner bravado. It’s his first with the Under Sound Music family, and it fits comfortably within that label’s stable of thoughtful, almost retro-styled East Coast hip-hop. At the very least, it displays the same sort of J Dilla affection. Last week City Paper sat down with the MC over coffee to talk about thinking differently in the street-rap game, growing up in a military family, and what it takes to break out of the neighborhood bubble.
City Paper: The theme through your music seems to be about learning, growing. It’s different.
Rome Cee: Yeah. Yeah, that’s it. I had a project I called Street Scholar, and it described me so well. I’m just constantly having these revelations. Sometimes it feels like a journey. My personal journey. I want people to grow based on my growth. Like, use me as the prototype. Like, I like where he’s going and I’m gonna do something similar. We need that here.
CP: Can you talk about that process of, I guess, becoming humble and losing the swagger? And what was it like being the guy without it?
RC: I believe that what you started out listening to has an effect on what you are. My rap stuff started out in New York. I was big on the East Coast artists—’94, ’95 New York—it was not only good to listen to but was inspirational. I was like, I can do that too. I felt like nobody in this city could do anything like that. In street culture, it’s a lot of swagger and I’m this and I’m that. But you know even in the streets, I still had my hip-hop roots and the guys I was listening to. It was about getting money, but it was also about like, Fuck all that pretty shit. I wasn’t going to be out buying chains so I can go into the hood and, like, shit on everybody.
I think I was still successful because, me knowing a lot of people in the city and stuff, it had a good reception. On the flipside, we’d see people doing the more swag thing and getting a better response than us, and we coming with the real stuff. It’s like we had to strive harder to get that respect. But we knew a lot of people, so it balanced itself out. I feel like if nobody knew me, the real humble stuff I was doing wouldn’t have worked.
CP: You were in a military family for a lot of your childhood. Do you think that contributed to being into different stuff, in terms of hip-hop, and having a different perspective?
RC: I was born on a Marine base in Camp Pendleton. Spent four years living in Germany as a kid. My father is from where I’m now, Waldorf Junction [in Northwest Baltimore]. So I was an army kid coming into the city, and it was a hell of a transition for me. It just made me have a chip on my shoulder, and I just had to be extra, extra, extra hard. I was always felt like I had to prove myself to other people. I know where I come from. My parents didn’t strive for me to be that guy. But as an adolescent whose home is in a pool of sharks, that’s all I knew.
I was different, and people would treat me funny because of it. So in plain sight, I’m just like you. But in the back of my mind, I was diverse and I tried to hide it. It’s definitely coming out in the music. I’m getting older, and I ain’t got time to hide it.
CP: How did you get started rapping in Baltimore?
RC: As far as just messing around, I want to say around ’94 or ’95 and that was spawned from me actually liking the rap that was out at the time. Maybe in ’09—I want to say—I started reaching out for more public attention. It went from a process of me putting out projects from my neighborhood. . . . Like, there was a guy in the hood, he had money, street money, and he was taking a lot of guys from the neighborhood and putting them out. He was trying to start a label, but I didn’t see him try to branch out to a much larger audience. I took that blueprint and realized, Hey, we can get out there. Sometimes I would do shows and nobody knew who I was, so I was like, maybe I need to take that blueprint and do it on a larger scale. It went from me trying to do a lot of stuff for myself, and I thought I knew how to do it right, but I didn’t. E Major showed me how to do it on a bigger scale.
CP: Can you describe what that small scale is? I don’t think a lot of people understand what happens at the street level in hip-hop.
RC: On the street level, it’s a lot of guys just pumping each other to be like what I call a “hood star.” A lot of times it’s guys hustlin’ and stuff like that. And at that level, it’s like a guy will go get CDs manufactured, might get a small run, and he’s content with selling CDs to people that know him. It’s a lot of shows where you get a small-time promoter and he picks 10 neighborhood guys, has ’em all bring people that they know, and if seven or eight people bring 20 people, next thing you know, there’s like 140 people there and it looks like a lot of people but, no, it’s just a network. . . . There’s nobody from BET or any media outlets. To me, that’s one of the first steps in trying to get your brand out there to something bigger.
It’s kinda cool—it’ll keep you sharp. But I don’t feel like it’s going to get you there.
CP: How many great rappers do you think there are in Baltimore that are stuck at this level?
RC: In Baltimore, we’re cursed and plagued. That’s the reason why we don’t see that many breakout artists. You get kind of stuck in a smaller scene of, like, neighborhood-type stuff. I think The Wire was good, as far as putting stuff out on that soundtrack on a massive scale. It’s not always just the artist’s fault. A lot of people don’t know how or who to reach out to. Like I said, at one point in time, I was stuck in that trap. In a place like Baltimore, I didn’t think there was really any place I could even turn to.
> Email Michael Byrne