The Next Great White Rapper Hails From Wells, Maine
Ryan "Spose" Peters. Though you may not be familiar with his name, you're probably familiar with his current hit, "I'm Awesome"—a self-produced, self-deprecating rap song from his 2009 mixtape, We Smoked It All, that debuted at No. 54 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart last week and moved more than 33,000 digital downloads to land in the Top 30 on the iTunes Top Songs list. Unfortunately, that's probably just about all you know about the 24-year-old rapper from Wells, Maine—because despite the fact that he recently inked a deal with Universal Republic, Spose has taken the path less traveled when it comes to making his mark. His presence on rap blogs is essentially non-existent, he still lives in Maine, and, outside of a few local press clippings, he's gotten almost no national media attention. So VIBE.com caught up with Spose by phone (where the rapper was kicking it in the parking lot outside of a Taco Bell in his hometown, no less) to find out more about the man behind one of the fastest-growing songs in the country.
VIBE: You're at an interesting place in your career right now. You're a rapper with a huge hit song on your hands, but it feel likes a lot of people out there still have no idea who you really are. So let me start by asking this: Who the hell is Spose?
Spose: [Laughs] I've been a full-fledged independent artist since 2006. I've been grinding and doing live shows. I probably did 100 of them per year in Maine the last two years. But I have to be honest: To think a year ago that my song would be Top 30 on iTunes would have been bewildering. I didn’t plan for this. I mean, two months ago, I was delivering pizza and I had just gone back to college to get my English degree at Suffolk University in Boston.
How did you actually start rapping seriously in Maine? It definitely doesn't seem like the ideal place to launch a hip-hop career.
I was in a band in eighth grade in 2000 and they kicked me out because I was too bossy. So I had this dude from my hometown named DJ Food Stamp, who is now the house DJ for UndergroundHipHop.com, who kind of mentored me. He turned me on to a lot of stuff like Dilated People, Jurassic 5, early OutKast, and Jay-Z. I started trying to rhyme myself and I sucked. But I spent all of high school rhyming everyday and by the time I graduated, I had really found my voice as an MC.
Did you have a studio available to you during high school?
Nope. [Laughs] I recorded most of it right at my mom's house. I had a computer and a Radio Shack mic. It wasn't until my junior year of high school that I ended up recording my first song at a legit studio. I caught the bug and started working on my debut album, Preposterously Dank, which I released in 2007. And then I started touring.
Let's talk about "I'm Awesome." The first thing people recognize is the beat—the xylophone, the accordion, the drums. It's a strange combination. How did you come up with it?
I recorded that in my basement. I did the drums on an MPC and played the keyboard to incorporate the other sounds. I actually borrowed the keyboard from my grandfather. [Laughs] And I ended up only using intentionally corny instruments. It's a pan flute, an xylophone and an accordion. It doesn't get any cheesier than that.
The subject matter is pretty out there, too. The song is called "I'm Awesome" but you're basically making fun of yourself throughout the course of it. Outside of just being a white rapper, it's one of the things that's helped fuel comparisons to Eminem and Asher Roth.
Conceptually, the track was an experiment to see how far I could take it. Though it might not sound like it, the record was a well-thought-out idea on my behalf. It was intentional for me to self-deprecate myself and throw myself under the bus to see how far I could take it, but at the same time, I still wanted it to come across as entertaining and captivating.
How did it end up getting played on the local radio station?
It's funny. We don't have a rap station in Maine. There used to be one when I was growing up but it disappeared shortly after my first album dropped. So the first time I heard it was actually on a local show called Spinout on 94.3 WCYY, which is the rock station I grew up listening to. They'd never played a rap record, so I didn't even think there was a chance to be on a local show. But once they played it, people started calling in and reacting to it.
Did you think it would become as big as it has become?
Honestly, that cosign was as good as I thought I would do. My hope was that I could use that radio play in my bio and maybe get some shows in New Hampshire or even Boston and push myself as an independent musician, step-by-step. I never thought I was going to climb the ladder to the top, escalator-style, you know? [Laughs]