“When will his next EP drop? Will he win ‘Best Mixtape of the Year’ again? Why did he name himself after a car?”
83 Cutlass (born Chad Dawson) is probably unaware of the probing questions I have as he stands inside of Red Emmas on a Friday evening. He’s nodding his head to an inaudible beat when I approach him for what I thought would be a typical, awkward introduction. To my surprise, our greeting immediately segued into topics like Ghostface Killah, Baltimore architecture, and his passion for cappuccino.
“I’m f**king with this cappuccino latte art pretty heavy now,” he explains, afterwards advising me not to pick up any new coffee habits.
The rapper gained notoriety on the Baltimore hip hop scene from his self-titled debut mixtape released in 2012. The 8-track, 22 minute EP intrigued his audience with it’s authenticity, earning him the “Best Mixtape of the Year” award in the City Paper.
“I had a lot of trials and tribulations, you know addictions and all of that, most of the sh*t that most people go through. That’s why I choose to rap about the sh*t I rap about. It’s a whole different world out there: reality; as opposed to trying to deny or fabricate reality and make it some type of glamorous fantasy life that it ain’t.”
Although he won’t be releasing his next project until February, he’s still riding high on the success of his first mixtape, produced entirely by himself in the comfort of his home.
“The first album was more of a display of abilities for me,” he explains. “Some of my best songs had no beat. That was an accomplishment for me as a writer on those tracks, to have story lines and compelling structures like on “Five minutes to 5” and the “High Horse” song. Those things were great verbally and vocally, and to be a producer or a beat maker knowing when to step back is just as important as knowing when to step in.”
On his next project he hopes to be less experimental and more true to the grain of hip hop.
“This will be more of a cohesive album…it’ll be a lot more hip hop beats as opposed to minimalist or experimental, and it’ll be a lot more samples. I got a song I’m doing now called 747, it’s a continuation of the “Five Minutes to Five” joint. It’s gonna be real dope.”
During our interview I found that 83’s most impressive talents are the ones people often don’t catch onto in his music. Aside from wearing the hat of producer and lyricist, he also has an eye for architecture and interior design, loves offering historial context of Baltimore’s landmarks, and practices visual and graffiti art. Using only a copy machine, Xacto knife, and paste, he whipped together a piece of artwork for a CD that he circulated in New York, receiving lots of praise on it’s originality from New York locals (displayed below).
83’s passion for art and music has helped make his mark on the hip hop scene, however the place where his presence is least felt is the place everyone seems to be: social media.
“Being an artist, doing the vocals, doing the beats, and doing all my own album cover art, sometimes I get caught up in the creativity aspect of it and I fall very short of the promotion and market. You can’t do it all yourself, even Jesus had disciples.” he laughs.
Much of his promotional help comes from his official sponsor, Generation of Dreamers, an independent Baltimore clothing line who’s merchandise can be found in Japan, Europe, and Los Angeles. 83 has been featured in several photo shoots promoting the apparel, which in turn has helped market the rapper’s name, boost his social media presence, and get him recruited to perform at more shows.
Nevertheless, 83 believes that his credibility as a dope rapper still speaks through his music.
“Twenty-two minutes got me here.” he says. “I just want to be that independent device that can function and form and still adapt throughout time, without really too much help or too much modification.”