Andrew Roufa is familiar with the wrong side of the tracks. He has sold drugs, committed robbery and been handcuffed more times than he can count. As a result, he has spent more than half of his adult life in an institutional setting. But the Lawrence hip-hop artist is determined to pick up the pieces.
Crafting beats and rhymes under the alias Adru the Misphit, he's getting ready to release his debut, Dying on My Feet, on his 33rd birthday. Amid a backdrop of haunting beats, he uses nearly every second of the CD's available space to make sense of his chaotic past and uncertain future.
The album opens with "Reconstruction," a gritty confessional that lays the groundwork for his chronicle of a downward spiral: Let's backtrack to my life's darkest hour/I swore I had power/Just flippin' my little packs of crack and raw bags of powder/Turned three burglaries into a couple O-Z's.
Roufa was convicted on two counts of felony burglary shortly after he turned 18. He spent the next few years in and out of jail before establishing himself in the Manhattan, Kansas, hip-hop community, passing out homemade cassettes and performing regularly on college radio.
Then, at 22, he went into a drug-induced psychosis after repeated LSD use and was arrested. Three weeks later, he was sent to Larned State Hospital, where he was diagnosed as bipolar with psychotic features.
"It's really just a prison for the criminally insane," he says, recalling a setting similar to the mental wards in the movies. "A lot of these guys were rapists and child molesters. I didn't understand what I was doing there. My actual charge was disorderly conduct."
He documents his experiences in the hospital on "Nobody": I remember back to leather straps wrapped on my wrists/Needles jabbed in my hips on the whim of a judge/And maniac psychiatric savages with a grudge/They're the reason I'll spend my whole life addicted to drugs.
Life on the outside hasn't been much easier for Roufa.
"I was in the system so long that I thought that was all my life ever could or would be," he says. On the advice of his attorney, he agreed to leave the state of Kansas and he moved to downtown Kansas City, Missouri, staying at a Salvation Army rehabilitation center at first. With persistent mental relapses and a criminal record, he struggled to make ends meet, shuffling between group homes and hospitals and sometimes living on the street.
"You lose the need for sleep, and your thoughts are constantly racing," he says, describing his psychotic episodes. "It can get to the point where you lose touch with reality and start hallucinating and hearing things."
During this time, Roufa had frequent run-ins with the police, many of which, by his account, escalated to unnecessary force. "If a cop or corrections officer wants to chain you to a toilet, strangle you with his boot and suffocate you with pepper spray, there's nothing you can do to stop it."
He retells the aftermath of spitting at an officer on the track "KCPD": Ran out them squad cars six deep/Middle of the street/Gripping their heat, itching to bust with the bloodlust of a dozen demons/Muzzled my mouth to cover the screaming/Twisted me up, squeezing the cuffs till my wrists was cut and bleeding.
Roufa says he needed a fresh start.
"I had so many crazy memories in KC and just didn't feel safe or comfortable there," he says. He headed west to Lawrence, where he bumped into Jeremy "Nezbeat" Nesbitt, a seasoned local hip-hop artist who had also cut his teeth in Manhattan. Nesbitt encouraged him to start rapping again, eventually giving him a guest spot on the Nezbeat solo album From the Huge Silence and his group Archetype's Bleed for Them.
It wasn't long before he began forming what would eventually become his first long-player. "I write because it's like therapy to me," he says. "It's not a concern of mine to get onstage and make people jump around. I just want to create again."
Roufa's delivery is staggeringly quick and precise, reminiscent of rappers such as Nas and Rakim — two MCs from the period that Roufa calls hip-hop's "golden age." He spends little time on braggadocio or rapping about rap for rap's sake, but he proves on tracks such as "Vintage" that he's capable of throwing down. Along with his own beats, the album includes production from Nezbeat and local artists Miles Bonny, Johnny Quest and others.
Since rededicating himself to music, he's been able to better manage the ebb and flow of his mental state. He says on his redemption track, "Change": This is the beginning of my existence — it's a freedom fight. Next spring, Roufa plans to enroll at Washburn University to pursue a career in social work.