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]
How did it lead to you signing a deal with Universal Republic in early March?
The record was played on WCYY and was the No. 1 most requested song for like a month. About three weeks into that, a Top 40 station in Portland, Maine called [WJBQ] Q97.9 picked the record up. At that point, my mixtape, We Smoked It All, was also in a local independent store called Bull Moose Music and the initial pressing sold out instantly. So there was this buzz like, 'Who is this kid?' Universal caught wind of how many spins I was getting out of nowhere and called up the radio station to try and find me. They called the record store. They even called my mom's house. [Laughs] Then they finally ended up getting my number and called me like 15 times one day when I was in class in Boston. I was convinced it was somebody trying to collect a bill because I have a lot of those random numbers calling looking for loot that I owe. So I didn't pick up. Finally, I got a text message saying who it was, called them back and they picked up the record.
It's interesting because this isn't how this is supposed to work today. Most successful artists make an impact on rap blogs first and then use that as leverage to get some kind of label deal.
Right, right. Honestly, I would have been elated to see my stuff on NahRight or something like that. If I had proceeded as an independent artist, that is probably the exact route I would have pursued. Dropped some freestyles, dropped a mixtape, and hopefully gotten some props for them. I know the formula. I'm familiar with it. Asher did it, right? But I'm really enjoying flipping the script and doing it the other way.
By bypassing the blogs, you haven't been submitted to the dreaded comment sections of some of those sites. Are you ready for the inevitable wave of hatred coming your way at some point?
I'm prepared for it. It might be different if this had happened to me when I was a stubborn 19-year-old but I'm 24 now and I know how to pick my battles. Trying to please every hip-hop head is impossible. It would be the stupidest thing I could ever do. But, you know, I was satisfied when I could go to the University of Maine and 150 kids came out to see it. So if only ten people appreciate me and my music, cool, I get it. If hundreds of thousands of people appreciate it, cool.
Thanks to your situation, it must feel a little like you hit the lottery right now. What's the biggest thing that’s changed for you in the last month?
I don't feel guilty when I buy Taco Bell anymore. [Laughs] Actually, not a lot has changed. I'm still living in the same house. I just did all the dishes and took out the trash. But it's all happened really fast in a surreal manner so I haven't had a chance to sit back and take it all in.
It has all happened pretty quickly for you.
I used to blaze a lot—and by "a lot," I mean all the time. But ever since this record deal shit happened, I find that whenever I smoke, everything hits me like a big paranoid ton of bricks. It's like, 'I'm going to be on TV and shit!' [Laughs] But as long as I stay in the moment and focus on one task at a time, I don't think I'll get wrapped up in all the nonsense. I don’t want to change. I'm actually thinking about calling my album Happy Medium. As in, 'I don't need to be large with a mansion and my exploits on the news and TMZ.' I'm happy being where I'm at right now: medium.—Chris Yuscavage