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Blow Out the Candles

Cleveland rapper Draft Pick has plenty of reasons to celebrate

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Cleveland rapper Draft Pick has a birthday coming up. He's throwing an open-to-the-public party at the Phantasy to celebrate and has lined up a litany of Cleveland's best new artists slated to rock the stage with him that night to celebrate another year of repping his city musically. But as awesome as that night will be, it can't top a party his mom threw him 13 years ago.

You see, when Draft Pick turned 11, his mom threw him a party that included a guest appearance from Whammer (you know, the ill-conceived, short lived polar bear mascot that ran around Quicken Loans Arena (then called Gund Arena) when the Cavs wore black "Zubaz" inspired jerseys).  His closest family and friends gathered and ate cake, and he opened up a box with a Michael Jordan jersey in it. Life was good.

Then life changed.

By the age of 17, Draft Pick became a father. He dropped out of school and began a more "deviant" existence. Next came jail, alongside a marriage that turned into a divorce. That birthday party seemed like ancient history to a man who had gone through so much in such a short amount of time. This year, he turns 24, but he's lived enough to last three lifetimes. All of that experience gave the young artist some incredible perspective on life.

"It's not just about myself," he says of his music. "I'm not out here to party; it's my livelihood."

When he speaks, you don't hear the brashness of the artist on 2012's "Dat Life," a rambunctious song he released with his partner KPT and a slew of Cleveland talent like Celeb Forever and Ray Jr. The guys shout more than they rap, barking "you ain't bout dat life" over and over. Instead, you hear a guy who has been through the ringer and is never planning on going back.

Part of that is because the music he makes with KPT isn't necessarily reflective of who he is as an artist.  When KPT and Draft Pick make music, it's industry standard. The sound doesn't deviate from the current radio format that program directors embrace. The duo received plenty of praise over the last year since the release of their EP

Elevated, but the tone of that project was much flashier. That got the duo some good exposure as it traveled the country with acts like Bone Thugs N' Harmony and opened up shows for King Chip, Ray Jr. and countless others. But even as the group was cresting on a huge wave of popularity, Draft Pick knew he had another side to offer.

This year, he'll release E.Y.O.D. (Express Yourself Or Die), his first solo CD since he was 16, before all of the tumult and turmoil had a chance to shape the young artist into a man.When asked what's changed since that time, his answer speaks volumes.

"Back then, I wanted to be flashy and had a lot of punchlines," he says. "I wasn't making songs; I was really just freestyling. Now I'm a storyteller." 

Those of you that have copies of that old CD Grown Man's Biz from Draft Pick's early days will notice one other sizable difference. Producers.  His new project boasts production from Cleveland rockers iPhonic and platinum producer Young Yonny. Draft Pick prides himself on diversity, and it doesn't get anymore wide-ranging than those two influences. 

"With [iPhonic], these guys are musicians," he says. "I mean we just get in the studio and they pick up live instruments and we create music from scratch.  With Yonny it's just a blessing to be in the same room as him.  I mean, he's made hits with Trey Songs and Lil' Wayne, and working with him just lets me now that if I can keep working I might be able to be on the same list as those guys!"

So when you come to Draft Pick's big birthday bash at the Phantasy, the closest thing to Whammer you'll see is the pasty white, bearded behemoth opening act Referee.  The only cake being spoken of will be the dollar riddled flows of Wylie. Draft Pick's "home skillets" who attended that party his mother threw when he was a kid will be replaced by an opener named Jam Skillet, whose youthful facade could pass for a much younger party goer. But all indications show that Draft Pick plans on doing everything he can on stage that night to make the birthday party something that you'll never forget.

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