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Jay Verze( Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
When asked about his inspiration to pick up a microphone, Jay Verze (born Darius Exum) doesn't cite Snoop, Wayne or Eminem.
"When I was younger, my father played old records in the house," Verze said. "I was the biggest Temptations fan."
You won't mistake any of his music for "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," but Verze's answer makes sense after hearing his most recent effort, "21117" (named after the zip code of his hometown, Owings Mills). Verze has a singsong flow that puts melody over wordplay, an artistic choice that has launched plenty of rap careers (Wiz Khalifa, most recently).
"I love singing," Verze said. "For my song 'Cruisin',' I didn't want to focus on the lyrics too much. I had the melody in my head first."
That might make some hip-hop traditionalists (read: curmudgeons) cringe, but that type of rapping has become immensely popular in recent years. Verze, an observant and mature teen, has taken mental notes on how rap has diversified its sound since he began listening at age 7.
"Starting at a young age has given me time to make mistakes and to learn the game as much as I can," he said. "I know what not to do."
Verze is cautious about how he presents himself. He knows the perceptions older people have of his generation, and he aims to change them.
"People always think we're loud, ignorant, hot-headed," he said. "People think we're immature. But that's not everybody. I don't smoke or drink, honestly."
His next project is a currently untitled EP Verze hopes to release next summer. To hold fans over, he plans to release a new single, "David Ruffin," named after -- who else? -- the Temptations singer.
Verze says Baltimore's rap scene is still finding its place, which he considers an exciting prospect.
"It hasn't really taken off yet," he said. "A lot of new talent is coming out but it's not to the point where a label can come in and say, 'OK, let's find somebody.' We're still developing our sound."