‘I feel like I'm not street enough to be street and I'm not nerd enough to be considered a hip-hop nerd," says Orlando MC Godamus Rhyme at a Bumby Avenue bookstore, and he appears to be wrong on both counts, at least on the surface. Built like a freight train, with broad shoulders that test the fabric of his T-shirt and a mountainous bald head (though he's let it grow in a bit lately, softening his features just enough to keep the fellow café diners from moving over one table), it's hard to imagine that he couldn't walk the roughest neighborhoods without a problem.
In contrast, his reading material for the night is the just-released paperback edition of The Phoenix Endangered: Book Two of The Enduring Flame, a fantasy novel involving elves and unicorns with a dragon on the cover. And he takes his hip-hop pseudonym from a 1994 Japanime film called Fatal Fury, which seems more than nerdy enough.
"It came from the villain `Laocorn Gaudeamus`," says Godamus Rhyme (aka Alexander Minor), 27. "He kicked a lot of ass, so I always thought the name was dope. Everyone thinks it's from `Transformers'` Optimus Prime. I was a fan of the show, but that's not where it came from."
But like his initial appearance, the different facets that make Rhyme feel out of place in the polar ends of modern hip-hop can be deceiving. He was raised in the suburbs of Fort Washington, Md., by a happily married lawyer mother and preacher father, far from the gritty streets of Baltimore as seen on the HBO show The Wire.
"Baltimore City is not Maryland," says Rhyme. "It's its own animal. The rest is Maryland. Like every city, there are good and bad parts of Baltimore, but the bad part can be pretty bad. I never got in much trouble `growing up`. My parents weren't the type to spend wild money on me, but we were always comfortable. Looking back on it now that I'm on my own, I didn't have to worry about too much. Sometimes I feel like my parents did too much for me. Once I stepped outside the house and being on my own, it's like I was lost."
He grins at the thought of his safe upbringing. Until high school, he never gave much thought to hip-hop beyond chart-toppers of the day like MC Hammer. Even now, he admits, he enjoys Nickelback and System of a Down as much as anything in the hip-hop genre. In fact, for most of his life he wanted to be a singer.
"Michael Jackson was my first idol. I probably wore out my dad's Bad tape. If I had known about voice training, my parents probably would've done it. But I thought, ‘That's cheating. If I ain't got it, I ain't got it.'"
The summer before he hit high school, Rhyme started getting into hip-hop in a big way and converted his poetry into verses. In 2003, he moved to Orlando to attend Full Sail University's audio engineering program — he currently works full-time at Central Florida News 13 — and formed the respected hip-hop crew Caveman Theory with Redd Simpkins, Kap and DJ Dolo that combined his singing with his breathless, brisk flow.
Now on his own, Rhyme has crafted a bootleg mix tape (based on instrumentals from New York producer 6th Sense) that showcases his skills. The Adventures of Rhyme & Sense (available for free download at www.godamus.wordpress.com) features an hour's worth of a rapper on the verge of a breakthrough, pierced throughout with the giddy energy, clever one-liners and soul-baring confessionals of an artist unafraid to speak his piece on anything from money problems ("I'm worried about the day I can't afford tomorrow/And my pride won't let me ask for more to borrow") to the President ("I'm optimistic but realistic/'Cause at the end of the day he's a politician and government got a sickness") and even his least favorite 6th Sense beat ("This on some incense-and-candles shit/When all that I want to do is manhandle a bitch"). It's the kind of showing from an effortlessly crossover-appealing artist with rock tendencies that seems to point toward a post-rap phase and, with it, a greater light on Orlando itself. But Rhyme says he doesn't have much interest in either.
"I like the city of Orlando," says Rhyme. "I like the people on the scene here, but I can't focus on the city no more. I gotta think nationally. The only people who are making any noise `in Orlando` are people who have looked beyond the borders of Orlando and have had to stop caring about Orlando. I've seen too many make the mistake of trying to conquer Orlando. I don't need anybody to tell me I'm the best in Orlando. I know it. I'm very honest when it comes to my skill level.
"My whole direction and focus now is to make hip-hop more musical, but not to get away from hip-hop," says Rhyme. "I'm past making good hip-hop. I can make that with a cookie cutter all day. I want to make music people can feel. Sampling is the soul of hip-hop and that's why I can never abandon it."firstname.lastname@example.org