Unsigned Hype


Somebody's banging on my front door and it's rocking the house harder than the beat I'm laying down in my bedroom. If I didn't know better, I"d think the jump-out squad was knocking the door off the hinges with a battering ram. When I peek through the peephole, I see Fat Mike bouncing around like he's about to wet his Red Monkey jean shorts. At eighteen, he's three years older than me and if you saw him on the block you'd swear Biggie had been born again.

"Open the door, son!"

When I do I get bum-rushed. Fat Mike is out of breath, and sweat drops pop off his forehead like a thousand little balled-up fists.

"They chose my demo, son!" he says, working hard to catch his breath. "And you know what else? Mixmaster Magic told me I had some banging beats!"

Now I'm officially floored.

For those of you who've been living under a rock for the past fifteen years, Mixmaster Magic is THE radio DJ in hip-hop on the "nation's number one station," Power 97. Not only is Mixmaster Magic a hip-hip pioneer, he's a hip-hop institution. Every rapper who's had a hit record for the last ten years has premiered their song on his show, Magic Hour which is syndicated on five hundred thirty radio stations across the country and simulcast online.

"Yo, son. He said your beats sound like a cross between Pharrell, Swizz Beatz, and Just Blaze all rolled up in one! Round one is this Friday at 7 p.m.!"

I've never seen Fat Mike run before, but he's already gone. Now all I see is his back—and rolls of sweaty, jiggly flesh as he barrels up the block. The 40 bus stops on the corner and burps a cloud of white smoke.

My moms gets off and waves to Fat Mike just as he hits the boulevard and melts into the chocolate people parade. Moms will be forty on her next birthday. She's not all secretive about her age like a lot of women because according to her, "each year you live is a blessing to be celebrated." That might be true, but I think it also has to do with the fact that she doesn't look a day over twenty-five. My friends always tell me how fine she is with her "mocha china doll face" and "matching coffee colored hair and eyes." It's my sonly duty to act offended, but as long as they're respectful my fuss is just a front because I know it's all true.

Moms is not even halfway in the house before I'm up in her grill like charcoal and cheeseburgers.

"Unsigned Hype picked Fat Mike's demo!"

She gives me that plastic, parade-float smile she uses only in family photos.

"Tory, that"s great for your music, but you know how I feel about Power 97."

I didn't mention that Moms is real religious. She thinks you shouldn't listen to, watch, or read anything that goes against the Bible. Translation: don't entertain anything that could possibly be entertaining.

"Moms, a lot of hip-hop isn't supposed to be real. It's the rapper's imagination. No different from a movie or a video game."

Now why did I go and say that? She starts quoting Scripture, saying something about casting down imaginations and making thoughts obey Christ. Man, I wouldn't know how to do that even if I wanted to. Sometimes it's like she's speaking a foreign language. And I'm kind of disappointed because I thought she'd be happier for me.

She rubs my head and pulls me into a hug. "But I'll follow the competition as long as you're in it, because you're my modern-day Mozart and I love you."

I've never been a saint. The only saints I know are the names on churches and schools around my way like St. Ursula, St. Peter, and St. Something on the abandoned building at the end of my block. I'm the youngest of three brothers, and I never knew my pops. He died when my moms was still pregnant with me. He was coming home late from work one night, and according to my moms it was a botched robbery attempt. They didn't get any money because my dad fought back. That part makes me feel proud, but in the end I guess he still lost.

My older brothers, Corey and Devin, say they remember him. They were three and two, so I guess they would. Because I don't have any actual memories of my dad I've created my own out of stories I've heard and pictures I've seen.

In my mind these memories are as real as the ones that Corey and Devin have. I've always wondered if Dad really is somewhere looking down on us or if that's just something people say to create the illusion of an afterlife.

My moms is the executive assistant for a partner in a law firm in New York City, so we have it better than most kids on my block. She found religion five years ago and anytime I say that she goes into this "it's not about religion, it's about relationship" thing. How can you have a relationship with somebody you've never seen? She actually talks to God like he's going to answer and calls him “Father” and really means it. She even told me he can be the father I never had. Okay, Moms. Right.

But I'm cool with the religious stuff because she doesn't yell as much anymore. It's only when she tries to push it on me that it becomes a problem. I still remember her drinking White Zin and going to the club with her girlfriends one Friday a month. Now she hangs out at church on days besides Sunday. And she won't even do the Harlem Shake when I play one of my beats for her. And she’s the one who taught me how to Harlem Shake!

I'm in tenth grade now, but after school lets out next month, I won't be going back. I'm dropping out because I know what I want to do with my life, and what they teach in school (if you want to call it teaching) isn't preparing me for my vocation. Geometry can't show me how to make music, and being in the school band is not going to get me a record deal.

I guess since I've been talking to you this long I should tell you my name. It's Tory Tyson. But I go by Terror Tory because I bring terror to all producers and DJs. And when I blow up (pun intended), I'm not taking sides, I'm taking over—terriTory, that is.

I've been into producing music since I was like ten years old. I started deejaying at friends' birthday parties in my neighborhood in Mount Vernon around the same time. Mount Vernon is a small city right outside of the Bronx. I mean small like 68,000 people.

My dad left behind a huge record collection. I'm talking hundreds of records. I have popular stuff and rare stuff with songs you can't get off “best of” CDs. I make more money when I spin at parties for older folks in their thirties and forties than I do at parties for people my age. So those old records do come in handy.

The older folks' parties I do are mostly for my mom's friends, which means they knew my dad. They're always telling me my DJ style is just like his was, and that I look just like him. It doesn't seem right that these people have actual memories of my dad and I don't. I wonder what the guy in the sky who made my moms a widow has to say about that.

But enough of the sentimental stuff.

My record collection is also where I get all the hot samples you hear in my beats. I'm ready to come out with my own record instead of spinning everybody else's. I've been saving all my money from my gigs so I can stop recording in the bedroom I share with my brothers and record a professional- sounding demo in a real studio. That's when I'll start sending my stuff around to record labels in the city.

Now I'm going to tell you why you should be glad you're getting to know me now instead of later. One day I'm going to produce songs for all the top hip-hop artists. That's where Fat Mike comes in. He's the best emcee in Mount Vernon and he also works in the mail room at Power 97. I met him through my brother Devin's friend Cheryl who is Fat Mike's sister.

That's how I found out that Fat Mike was looking for beats. He became my first client when he paid me $100 to produce the three songs on his demo. I charged him another $7.25 an hour to record in my bedroom. I know, you're wondering how I came up with $7.25, right? That's minimum wage in New York. Talent fees can be negotiated, but studio time is never free. Fat Mike said that's what the rap stars say when they come through the station.

Because Fat Mike is always hanging out at Power, even on his days off, he knew about the Unsigned Hype demo contest before it was even announced on the air. The contest has three rounds, so if he wins, I win, because my music will be heard all over New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut at least three times. Even better than that, the winner gets a recording contract with Vantage Records, the hottest hip-hop label on the planet.

Fat Mike already told me that once he gets signed he wants me to produce everything he does. After that happens, all I need is one hit for my production fees to go through the roof. Then I can charge as much as $30,000 for each song I produce. So by the time I'm eighteen, I'll get a Lexus SUV. Then I'm getting out of Mount Vernon and buying me a crib in Harlem, where my dad used to teach. One thing my moms taught me is that we don't rent, we buy. Our two-bedroom house might not be the greatest, but it's ours.

Simply put, once I come out I'm going to be the man. Watch me. I have it all figured out.

My best friend, Boo Boo (I've known him since kindergarten and I still don't know his real name), just got home from juvenile detention last week. He was sent to Woodfield for six months for breaking all the windows out of our band teacher's F-150. We're the same age, but I feel a little older than him now because his life was on hold for half a year while I was learning a lot of things on the outside.

I'll let you in on a little secret. Boo Boo asked me to go with him the night he trashed Mr. Pisarcik's truck. I told him he was crazy. My moms is a lot nicer these days, but she'd still kill me for doing something like that. And to tell you the truth, even though Mr. Pisarcik is always giving me and Boo Boo detention, sometimes for no good reason, messing up his truck didn't seem like the right thing to do. A better way to get back at him would've been to take his loud, jingling key ring and lock him in the band room at the end of the day. It would've been awhile before anybody knew he was in there since he's usually the last one to leave school. And even when he got out he wouldn't have been able to start his truck because he keeps all his keys on that same ring. But the best part would have been Mr. Pisarcik waiting for a tow truck in this part of town at night.

In case you couldn't tell by his last name, Mr. Pisarcik is white. And the only thing over here that would have looked like him at that time of night would have been those spanking white cross trainers he wears with those colorful ties and striped shirts. Nothing would have happened to him, but I know he would've been spooked out of his mind, for real.

Since Boo Boo's been out, he's joined up with a group called the Young Warriors. Yancy and Carl, the two men who run the group, are in their twenties. They're into helping people my age stay out of trouble and off the streets. They're some pretty cool dudes, and not just because they bought and reopened the recreation center that's been closed down for as long as I can remember. They drive nice cars, but not all tricked out with rims and tinted windows. Yancy has an Accord, and Carl has a Camry. They dress nice too, usually a sports jacket and slacks and a crisply ironed shirt. No ties or pointed-toed shoes because that would be wack. Just some casual leather shoes they could rock with jeans if they had my style.

Wait, I haven't even told you my style yet. I'll start by telling you what it's not. I'm not into looking like no gangster (not that my moms would allow me to do that and live in her house anyway). But braids or stuff on my teeth? That's not me. Tattoos are also out. I can't see myself being a wrinkled old man explaining to my grandkids why I have words and pictures painted all over me. Plus, how's the artwork going to look on a shriveled-up old body anyway?

I think some people would do anything no matter how crazy it looks, just because they see it on TV or in a magazine.

Followers. That's something I'll never be.

But as far as my clothes go, I like jeans that fit me and a nice shirt. Like Kanye West or Jay-Z. They don't look all hard, but they still look cool. That's me in a nutshell.

In a short amount of time, Yancy and Carl have been able to get all kinds of people involved in the Young Warriors, from teenagers to schoolteachers. The first thing they put together was a community barbeque where everybody helped remove the graffiti from the building. They'd heard about my DJ skills, so they hired me to do the music. They even paid me as good as the older folks do—$150 for the event. Another cool thing they started is a basketball league. Now most of my friends go up there after school to ball. They're also planning on having block parties once school lets out, and they told me they want me to spin for those too. It's looking like it's going to be a good summer.

There's something else I wasn't going to tell you, but I might as well since I'm spilling half my guts anyway. I saw this fly young thing at the barbeque. She looked like a teenage version of Beyoncé minus the tight clothes. I'd never seen her before, and that's surprising because Mount Vernon is only four square miles. She didn't look at me or anything, but I still think she could like me if she actually saw me. I was trying everything to make her notice. I did my best scratching, mixing, and cross fading, but she wasn't moved by anything I did or played. Then she left before it was over. The next time I'll put on Jimmy Spicer's "Adventures of Super Rhymes." That's an old-school song that's thirteen minutes long. That should be enough time for me to introduce myself and get her number.

In school, the week leading up to Unsigned Hype is off the chains. The whole school has heard about the contest because everybody and their momma listens to Power 97 (well, everybody except my momma). People have heard that Fat Mike is going to be in it, but nobody knows that I made all of his beats. So I take it upon myself to anonymously leak that bit of information because Moms says you should let other people praise you instead of you praising yourself. And the praise comes quick and thick. A girl I don't even know corners me in front of the "Shhhh!" sign in the library. She sucks her teeth, puts her hand on her hip, cocks her head to the side and whispers loudly, “So you're the one whose music is supposed to be on Power 97?"

I nod my head yes and her face lights up like Times Square. She covers her mouth and unleashes a scream that crescendos.

"That is tight—Tight—TIGHT!"

Another guy asks me, "Those were your beats I heard on Fat Mike's demo?"

When I tell him they were he removes his Yankee's hat out of respect and covers his heart with it. He gives me a pound and shakes his head.

"I got one word for you, my dude. Phat-tacular."

By the end of third period the word on my beats has spread around the school like hot butter. And now it's on like popcorn. Even Mr. Pisarcik congratulates me. As he's talking, I can't help but stare at his key ring. I feel guilty for thinking about locking him in the band room.

Then at lunch, Gessie Johnson sits next to me. She's the prettiest girl at South Side High School, and she's only a sophomore. I feel like Biz Markie in that old school song "The Vapors." People catch the vapors when they start acting different toward you once you make it. I haven't even done anything yet, and people are already catching it. So how are they going to act when I really blow up? Maybe that's why Gessie Johnson sitting next to me isn't as big a deal as I thought it would be. Or it could be because she was the prettiest girl in the whole world—but that was before I saw that girl at the barbeque.