Grabbing the mic and stepping onto a makeshift stage, X launches into a fiery acappella intro, letting it be known that he's got genuine skills. Joined by hulking henchman Skitzo, X runs through the title track from his debut album, There Goes the Neighborhood. A couple of soccer moms head straight for the exits, and a trio of sixtysomething grandmothers titter, but a handful of teen-age girls rise from their chairs and start grinding. Maybe the 4-H was worth it after all.
X Dash grew up Frank Hensley in Raymore, Missouri, attending private school and rhyming along to records in his bedroom. During eighth grade, he started putting pen to paper, crafting juvenile prose and trying out various deliveries. He dubbed himself X-1 (after the plane that broke the sound barrier) and began taking the rap game seriously. Though X gained a reputation as one of Raymore's premier MCs, the opposition wasn't tough.
"Growing up, I didn't have a lot of people to battle," recalls X, now a communications major at William Jewell College in Liberty. "In Raymore, there weren't a lot of MCs standing in line to rap against each other. I was one of the only kids who rapped. There was never any fierce competition."
Hoping to immerse himself in the industry, X joined Tech N9ne's Strange Music street team, promoting Tech's Anghellic album locally and traveling out-of-state last year to plug Absolute Power. Though X learned the nuances of record promotion, his mic ambitions weren't panning out as planned.
"I didn't feel like I was improving," he says. "It was time to get rid of X-1 and become something else. I was trying to figure out how to be more authentic with my lyrics and hit the crowd, so I became X Dash. X-1 was just a kid from Missouri who knew how to rap. X Dash was the performer that I needed to develop into."
When he met Lock-N-Load Records' co-owner Keith Loneker, X Dash did just that. Struck with the young MC's work ethic but unswayed by his mic abilities, Loneker cautiously agreed to produce a couple of tracks.
"He had some rhythm problems at first, and he wasn't very mature," Loneker recalls. "But we deal with so many rappers on a day-to-day basis who aren't hungry for it, who aren't willing to get out and promote their shit. So our whole deal was, like, let's just throw an album together and see what happens. The first three songs we did, I thought they were terrible. But we kept working, and at some point he just got it."
X's transformation probably had something to do with the time he put in sharpening his game at Tremors. Too young to be served at the bar, X spent many a night onstage at the now-defunct Lawrence nightspot, a trial-by-fire experience that tested the burgeoning rapper's mettle.
"I remember going out and being so nervous, because at Tremors, if you're one of the first acts, no one's really caring what you're saying or who you are," X says. "You get a little nerve-racked, you don't remember when to take your breaths. You just wanna rush it and do your set and get out of there."
X, Loneker and his 5150 Mental Productions crew (Will "the Weirdo" Wilson and Anthony "Tone" Wisdom) spent the next eight months holed up in the studio, patiently creating tracks for X's Lock-N-Load debut.
"It was a long process," X says. "At my age, eight months is a long time -- you change your ways of thinking, change your ways of acting, who you hang out with. The thinking of the album was to let people know that I had some lyrical skills on rockin' the party but also on some personal shit that's happened to me, to make people feel what I have to say."
What X has to say on Neighborhood is an unapologetic blend of uptown anthems, sex raps and tales of strife, all of which bump to 5150's patented blend of bubbling beats and bouncy choruses. Bombsquad alumni Skitzo, Cassanova, GQ and Ten-10 make appearances, as do BoChamp, Mr. Fieldtrip's Shannon Mahaney and R&B crooners 3 a.m. "Grin on My Grill" features a whirlwind performance from Tech N9ne, and "Lost in Time" showcases X's serious side, which he intends to explore on Neighborhood's "more lyrical" follow-up.
"Songs on there, like 'V.S.O.P' and 'Freak You,' are geared towards the party," X explains. "Those don't really hold a personal sentiment to me, but I love doing those at shows because it feels like we're just up there having fun."
Neighborhood's CD release party at the Bunker attracted 300 revelers, and the disc has already sold well thanks to word of mouth and X's street-style promotion. Of course, it hasn't all been easy. The pale-faced MC has been accused of biting the entire spectrum of white-boy rap, from Eminem to Vanilla Ice. To his credit, X shrugs off the naysayers with aplomb, underscoring a newfound sense of maturity and the ability to take success as it comes.
"I never was a Vanilla Ice fan, so when I get compared to him, I'm outright insulted," X says. "Eminem's one of the illest lyricists that's been around this millennium. So if I'm being compared to him by way of skill or lyrics or talent, that's a compliment, but if it's just based on skin color, that's just ignorance."