It never hurts to be the new guy.
You know the appeal — he walks in out of nowhere and steals all the attention.
That's how it was when a lanky newcomer named Hozey-T took the stage at the Record Bar during a recent Soul Providers Crew set. In black Jordans, a black T-shirt and a fatigue-print KC hat, the kid looked as much like a sidelined ballplayer as a rapper, but his attitude made it clear he wasn't playing games.
Hozey-T's heart was heavy.
Just a week before, his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brother and longtime friend, 25-year-old Brandon Fauntleroy-McDowel, had been shot and killed in a carjacking near Case Park.
So when Hozey-T performed his song "Rise," it was backlit with the flicker of fresh pain: These niggas gold zillionaires because they held a Tec/Whatever happened to community and self-respect? /...We need to rise.
The Soul Providers didn't draft Hozey-T because they were short on talent. The Providers are some of Kansas City's most talented practitioners of underground hip-hop, including stage-dominating rappers such as Reach, sought-after producer D/Will, energetic up-and-comers like Dutch Newman and time-tested DJs like Ataxic. Hozey-T was fresh on the scene, having just graduated from Missouri State University in Springfield. Rapper Les Izmore, a fellow MSU alum, introduced Hozey to the Soul Providers.
At the Record Bar, Izmore and other members of the crew flanked Hozey-T onstage but kept a polite distance while he spit these words: You can catch us in a snapshot/Chillin' with the homies with our hats cocked/Throwin' up the deuces with relaxed eyes/Only ones still livin' — rest are victims to a bad block/Or a jealous nigga pissed because his bitch just got her ass rocked.
The crowd around the base of the stage grew thick. Women swayed their hips, dudes bobbed their heads, all of them chanting the key word of the chorus: My folks we need to (rise)/Fake gangstas need to (rise)/My sisters need we need to (rise)/Trap stars, we need to (rise).
There was time for Hozey-T to perform only one song, but when it was over, the crowd was left with his funny name on their lips.
Hozey-T's real first name is Holsey, last name Turner — "like Tina," he says. In his neighborhood, growing up, everyone pronounced his name "Hozey." It might make new audiences giggle, but, he says, "I didn't want to say Lil' Hozey or Young T, whatever everybody else is saying right now. I'm good on that."
Turner lived in the T.B. Watkins projects off 12th Street. "It's a lot better now than it was when I was growing up," he says. "Just about all of my friends that lived down there, something's wrong, you know? They're in jail, about to go to jail or dead."
The Record Bar show wasn't the first time that inner-city violence had compelled Turner to air his frustration through music. "Rise" was written in the summer of 2005 after two 20-year-olds, DeMarco Harvey and Nathan Buie Jr., were shot and killed outside a party.
Harvey and Buie were acquaintances of Turner's. When he wrote the song, he says, "It was just a lot of frustrating things that I got out, for the reasons why I think people do things. It's my way of telling people, 'Get a grip,' you know, 'What are you doing?'"
Turner was no angel, and at the first sign of troublemaking, his mother shipped him off to Houston. He lived with a strict, militaristic uncle who forced him to clean up his act. When Turner returned to Kansas City for high school, he enrolled at the Paseo Fine Arts Academy with a focus in creative writing.
Turner's creative writing turned into a passion for spoken poetry, which evolved into rapping — Christian rap.
"That's basically how I learned to rap and get my thought process together," he says. "Everything I wrote was really deep 'cause it had to be, 'cause it was Christian."
After high school, Turner went to Missouri State University, majoring in communications. He ran into Izmore one day in May 2003 during a campuswide party. A DJ was spinning records on the green when Izmore and Turner spotted each other.
"He just looked like a rapper to me," Turner recalls. "And he was like, 'Yo, you rap?' And just then the DJ dropped a beat and we just started rapping, and we been doing shows ever since. We been tight ever since, man. We got mad respect for each other."
Back in high school, Turner bought a Triton music-sampling keyboard and figured out how to make his own beats. During his college years, the material for an album emerged, and Turner drove from Springfield to Kansas City dozens of times in order to record it in his hometown, at 64111 Studios.
On his debut, Who's the New Guy?, Turner sounds like a cockier version of Lupe Fiasco. The lyrics are complex but not forced, tumbling out easily thanks to Turner's fine-tuned enunciation and unhurried pace. If there's one thing that's lacking, it's his beats, which are mostly simple keyboard-synth loops and tic-tic-tic, snare-bass affairs. Because of his spoken-word background, Turner sometimes prefers rapping a cappella, and the beats he gets from producers make all the difference. A track not on the album, called "I'm Made," produced by Krush Groove, is already getting spins in clubs such as Zen by DJs who are digging the lyricism backed by a danceable beat. He'll also get some beats from D/Will soon.
Turner is shopping his debut around town — you might call it a "soft" release. He's been selling copies and collecting feedback in order to tweak things here and there before pushing the album for real. But with CD sales lagging on a national level, Turner knows it's a shaky time to be getting into the business.
"We need to protect what we got, or we ain't gonna have it," he says of the hip-hop industry. "One day I woke up and pondered whether or not I really wanted to be associated with the culture, because there's so much shit going on. To grind in hip-hop, you gotta deal with some scumbags. Do I want to put myself through that? Every artist gotta sit down and think about that sometime."
If "Rise" is any indication, Hozey-T won't be hanging up his pen anytime soon: I'm not venting on my soapbox/I'm in the mood, like, writin' us a life without the roadblocks/I'll keep writin' til my soul stops/And leave a thick trail of flames on the stage when my show stops.
Get to know Hozey-T at MySpace.com/HozeyWho