“The music industry often says you have to do this or that to make it. But I don’t think he would sell out. He’s just the kind of person who’s very true to himself and true to his friends.”
By Jenny Hottle, senior staff writer
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Originally published on diamondbackonline.com
It’s peaceful in Edem Kwame’s Honda Accord.
It’s not the most conventional recording studio. But for the junior public health major, the black sedan is the perfect place to hook up his MacBook and record his latest mixes.
Kwame was in fifth grade when he began writing poetry. He loved learning the structure of different kinds of poems, whether it was a simple haiku or longer free verse. His interest in rhyme scheme and music quickly developed into a passion for rapping, and by middle school, he was participating in rap battles and writing song lyrics.
“Even outside of school, I kept writing,” Kwame said. “I would perform with the things I had. When I realized people enjoyed it, I knew I was on to something.”
With the stage name Deuce Caliber — D-Cal for short — Kwame was ready to sign a deal in 2008. Instead, his parents convinced him to enroll in college, but only as a fallback plan. His ultimate goal — to own a record label and maybe even launch a clothing line — stays in the front of his mind. Originally from Ghana, the Baltimore-raised junior has performed at various events on the campus, and his most recent mixtape, T.K.O., attracted the attention of WPGC FM’s DJ Reddz and entertainment blogs such as Ground Sounds, Advent Outpost and ThisIs50.com.
During free periods in high school, Nicole Reed said their friends often found Kwame freestyling in his car. He was dedicated, she said, and had promising talent.
“I love his songs, and I’m not even big on rap music,” said Reed, a junior neurobiology and physiology major. “He’s really diverse. He could make a song about anything and appeal to anyone.”
As the head artist of DoubleUp Music Group, a brand Kwame launched a few years ago, he not only raps and creates songs but also engineers and produces his own music and writes songs for other up-and-coming artists.
“It’s pretty amazing just watching his maturity increase,” Reed said. “We get to college, and I realize he’s actually serious about this. He’s very determined.”
By the time he was a freshman at the university, Kwame was writing songs every few days.
Just when it was starting to get difficult to stay on top of writing, recording and producing, Kwame met Keisha Thomas in his College Park Scholars program, Media, Self and Society.
The pair began to collaborate after Thomas came across one of Kwame’s older mixtapes and expressed an interest in producing music.
“At first I didn’t really think too much of it; I brushed it off,” said Thomas, a junior economics major. “But one day I actually sat down and listened to his music and saw the potential.”
Other students on his floor offered feedback on his songs, which Kwame said gave him the confidence to promote his music on the campus. He’s been rapping for nine years, but his friends still had to pull him together and calm him down before his first major event in Baltimore last summer.
But once he stepped onstage, everything changed.
“In that moment, I controlled the world,” Kwame said. “It’s a feeling of power and control. You’re the emcee; all eyes are on you. The crowd is waiting for you to tell them what to do.”
Kwame fought hard to get on the lineup for his first few shows. Now, with the help of his manager and photographer Eva Woolridge, the same people who were initially reluctant to let him perform are asking him to join their shows.
“I really think he has something special,” said Woolridge, a sophomore African-American studies and communication major. “We bump heads, but it’s a good challenge, and that’s why we work well together.”
Kwame finds inspiration for his music from his Ghanaian heritage and cites Phil Collins, Elton John and 50 Cent as some of his influences. However, it’s his dad — who plays everything from calypso and high life to euro rock and reggae — who truly drives him, Kwame said.
As he focuses on building a fan base on the campus and at nearby colleges and universities, Woolridge helps him continue expanding his style of music.
“It’s good to have people on your team that have different music tastes and ideas,” Woolridge said. “I want him to try more alternative rapping, use different kinds of beats that will make him seem more interesting to different people because that’s what’s in right now.”
In between all the lyric-writing and performing, Kwame continues to produce new songs with Thomas. Writing each one only takes him about 20 minutes, so he’s been able to release five mixtapes during his college career, each containing between 16 and 18 songs.
His songs have evolved since he first began writing back in middle school. His lyrics often are reminiscent of experiences during his childhood and early teenage years.
“All I Need Is Your Love,” a track from T.K.O., is a love song, but not in the typical sense. It’s about needing support from his parents and friends, Kwame said.
“I’m still not there yet,” he said. “I need support from my family and fans, who believe in who I am. You can’t do it by yourself.”
Kwame has never recorded in a professional studio. And though he’s pleased overall with the quality of his music, he said getting into a studio would give him the edge necessary to break into the industry. The first step, he said, is getting the attention of a professional sound engineer. Until then, he’d have to pay for studio time.
“I don’t have that notoriety yet,” Kwame said. “I do songs all the time, so that would be expensive. Right now, if I get the opportunity to go [to a professional studio], I would go.”
The potential for success is there, said Reed, as long as he remains grounded in his vision.
“The music industry often says you have to do this or that to make it,” Reed said. “But I don’t think he would sell out. He’s just the kind of person who’s very true to himself and true to his friends.”
Though some of his goals feel far away, Kwame is happily, patiently working toward graduation.
“One mistake people often make is putting all their eggs in one basket,” Kwame said. “At least now I can walk into the real world and know that if all else fails, I still have a degree. I will be able to wake up, feed my family and go to work.”