For Profit, hip-hop is no laughing matter.

Profit of Rage 

For Profit, hip-hop is no laughing matter.

For music fans, especially the obsessive branch, few things provoke more frustration than the prospect of an amazing artist shrouded in obscurity. Even today, with microspecialized Web sites and 'zines guaranteeing publicity for puzzling genres (the phrase "hip-hop polka" produces 19,400 hits) and far-flung locales (landlocked Midwestern indie rockers boast expansive knowledge of the Iceland scene), some stellar talents remain undiscovered. Lost in rural fields or dead-ended in cul-de-sacs, these acts' recordings never escape their birthplaces, much to the equal chagrin of their creators and connoisseurs who like to claim comprehensive collections.

These fringe performers aren't often satisfied with their lot, but sometimes they resign themselves to it. After all, having friends and family show up for makeshift barn or basement gigs beats nothing. But sometimes, when they're especially passionate, these artists can project their inner voices so loudly that people can hear them through city clamor.

Phillip "Profit" Richberg lives on the rural outskirts of Blue Springs. A music-minded entrepreneur whose rap alias stands in stark contrast to his financial standing, Profit sells mix tapes from his backpack and trunk. He shells out money for studio time, creates beats, then peddles them to interested MCs for a price that only slightly outdistances his costs. For three months in 2001, he operated a bathroom-sized kiosk at the Independence Center mall, distributing low-rider T-shirts and his own discs; he left when a Christmas rent hike proved too taxing.

It's not an unfamiliar scenario, but here's the twist: Profit deserves better. Though Kansas City boasts several gifted lyricists, it also offers a glut of trend-chasing, flow-impaired hacks whose lyric sheets belong under the Onion headline "Artist Starving for a Reason." Profit boasts a level of maturity and conviction few of his peers can match. His gruff bark and often-irked tone suggest he's DMX's dopplegangster, but Profit doesn't explore the same nihilistic depths. There's a blinking neon exit sign in every pitch-black abyss. Profit describes doing dirt, but he gives equal time to staying clean.

Last year, he released the two-disc opus A Boy to a Man, which invited comparisons to Nas' classic Illmatic, and not only because of its almost identical cover design. It combines nearly every element of critically acclaimed hip-hop: densely detailed street stories, virtuosic live instrumentation (including a stunning song-ending piano solo) and a crossword-puzzle writer's knack for stringing underappreciated words in challenging patterns. It could've made best-of lists; more important, it could've changed the landscape in an area where Tech N9ne still towers, prestige and recognitionwise, over all comers. There was one problem: Almost no one heard it.

Profit tried. He sent the disc to a number of clubs, few of which responded and none of which discussed booking him. He hung a few posters, alerted some longtime friends from his teen years in Grandview, and waited. Nothing came. Davix, his ten-instrument-playing collaborator, split for California. Profit kept sharp by freestyling at every opportunity, assigning sharp stream-of-consciousness sonnets to his frequently updated answering machine, where his mastery of syllabic rhythm surely amazed telemarketers.

Eventually, he received a call that was worth the effort. The Bunker, an Independence-based club known for balls-to-the-wall metal, decided to take a chance on Profit and a fellow outsider, the Raymore-spawned X Dash. The pair played to an impressive crowd, warranting a return visit from both on Thursday, April 10. At the last gig, Profit came unarmed with product, but this time he'll have a backpack full of A Boy to a Man available, 28 tracks for $10. Many rock acts take for granted the opportunity to play shows and sell their discs, but for an unknown quantity in a genre that terrifies club owners even when the headliner is a star, nothing comes easy.

As a result, Profit takes his craft seriously. At his shows, no freeloaders clog the stage, there are no time-wasting chants and no clown-around snap sessions. "I'm struggling as an artist, an individual and a man, and I don't have a lot of jokes in my head nowadays," he explains.

It might be easier for Profit to break down barriers if he were more punch-line-powered -- cheerful children are the first to escape the orphanage. But even if he's not smiling, Profit's no thug. He's just deep in thought.


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